Retroflex sounds

Jacob Baltuch jacob.baltuch at EURONET.BE
Sun Jun 21 01:51:23 UTC 1998

(Jumping threads)

George Thompson wrote:

>Also, recalling the examples of retroflexion from East Norwegian and
>West Swedish which Lars Martin Fosse cited on the list a few months ago, I
>wonder how cogent this "minimal pair" is, since it is derived from two
>different languages [or dialects]. Can such minimal pairs
>[retroflex-dental, or retroflex-alveolar, etc.] be cited *within* the same
>dialect? In other words, it is still not clear to me that there are many
>languages outside of the Indic linguistic area in which retroflexion is

Good point. The southern Italian and Sardinian retroflexes seem to be
allophones of /l/ since the posters were saying they only occur as
geminates. I don't know about the Asturian example. There /ll/
becomes a non-geminate retroflex so if a real [d] (non lenited,
etc.) exists in that dialect then maybe, but we'll have to wait
for confirmation from Miguel. In any case the examples adduced so
far also seem to contrast with the Indian example in that they are
not a system involving a whole series of phonemes of the language.
I would imagine such isolated features would, for the sake of economy,
tend to get simplified out of the system (even if it is the case that
they are phonemic). Which brings me to the following: isn't a unique
feature of the Indian linguistic area the stability of retroflexes?
If proto-Dravidian had them, that's something like 5000 years of retro-
flexion. This doesn't seem to be the case in the other examples where
the retroflexes seem to be (relatively) ephemeral intermediate steps
in sequences of phonetic changes. Is that really the case?

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