Retroflex sounds

Peter J. Claus pclaus at HAYWIRE.CSUHAYWARD.EDU
Sat Jun 20 14:36:14 UTC 1998

Although George Thompson has already made the point, and again I am
speaking to an issue for which I have very little expertise,
it seems to me that the almost random and non-systematic (not part of a
series of similar phonemes) development of retroflexion in a few examples
within a family could probably be found to have happened with almost any
sound shift.  To take this as a serious objection to the probability of
the effects of contact would seem so unreasonable as to disallow any such
argument in any language family.  Indeed, if one used a parallel argument
(similar sound and meaning occurring in unrelated languages) against the
occurrence of cognates without origin in genetic or
historic contact, where would historical linguistics be?

On Sat, 20 Jun 1998, George Thompson wrote:

> In response to the recent post of Sandra van der Geer:
> >in Australian Aboriginal languages.
> >
> >Consequently, it may be wiser not to conclude anything on the ground
> >of presence of lack of retroflex sounds. It seems to be intrinsic to
> >human speech.
> >
> While it is very useful to have the evidence of retroflexion cited by van
> der Geer, Miguel Carrasquer Vidal, and Lars Martin Fosse, -- reminding us
> that such phonemes are widespread in human language --, the *particular*
> problem of the origin of retroflexion in Vedic remains an open one. This is
> the view also of Hans Heinrich Hock in his recent overview of the problem
> "Pre-Rgvedic Convergence Between Indo-Aryan (Sanskrit) and Dravidian? A
> Survey of the Issues and Controversies" [in the volume edited by Jan
> Houben, *Ideology and Status of Sanskrit*, 1996].
> Leaving aside Subrahmanya [who appears unwilling to agree with anything],
> perhaps we can all agree that the problem is this:
> In the Common Indo-Iranian period there is no retroflexion [at least no
> phonemic retroflexion]. Then after the two branch away from each other
> retroflexion appears in Indic. It happens that retroflexion also appears in
> Dravidian [even if the phonemic system of proto-Dravidian is quite
> different from that of early Indic [e.g., Vedic].
> Now, either retroflexion arose internally or it arose as a result of
> contact between two distinct language families in the Indian sub-continent.
> As far as I can tell, there is still no definitive argument in favor of
> either one of these alternatives.
> Is this something everyone would agree to?
> Best wishes,
> George Thompson

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