Alternation (linguistics)
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In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
, an alternation is the phenomenon of a
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful Constituent (linguistics), constituent of a linguistic expression. The field of linguistics, linguistic study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology (linguistics), morphology. In English, morphemes are ...
exhibiting variation in its
phonological Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds or, for sign languages, their constituent parts of signs. The term can also refer specifically to the sound or sign system of a ...
realization. Each of the various realizations is called an alternant. The variation may be conditioned by the phonological, morphological, and/or
syntactic In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature an ...
environment in which the morpheme finds itself. Alternations provide linguists with data that allow them to determine the
allophone In phonology, an allophone (; from the Ancient Greek, Greek , , 'other' and , , 'voice, sound') is a set of multiple possible spoken soundsor ''phone (phonetics), phones''or signs used to pronounce a single phoneme in a particular language. Fo ...
s and allomorphs of a language's phonemes and morphemes and to develop analyses determining the distribution of those allophones and allomorphs.


Phonologically conditioned alternation

An example of a phonologically conditioned alternation is the English
plural The plural (sometimes list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated pl., pl, or ), in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical number, grammatical category of number. The plural of a noun typically denotes a quantity greater than the ...
marker commonly spelled ''s'' or ''es''. This morpheme is pronounced , , or ,The vowel of the inflectional suffix - may belong to the phoneme of either or depending on dialect, and is a shorthand for "either or ". This usage of the symbol is borrowed from the ''
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the first and foundational historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a com ...
''.
depending on the nature of the preceding sound. # If the preceding sound is a
sibilant consonant Sibilants are fricative A fricative is a consonant manner of articulation, produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two Place of articulation, articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teet ...
(one of ), or an
affricate An affricate is a consonant that begins as a stop consonant, stop and releases as a fricative consonant, fricative, generally with the same place of articulation (most often coronal consonant, coronal). It is often difficult to decide if a stop a ...
(one of ), the plural marker takes the form . Examples: #*''mass'' , plural ''masses'' #*''fez'' , plural ''fezzes'' #*''mesh'' , plural ''meshes'' #*''mirage'' , plural ''mirages'' #*''church'' , plural ''churches'' #*''bridge'' , plural ''bridges'' # Otherwise, if the preceding sound is
voiceless In linguistics, voicelessness is the property of sounds being pronounced without the larynx vibrating. Phonologically, it is a type of phonation, which contrasts with other states of the larynx, but some object that the word phonation implies vo ...
, the plural marker takes the likewise voiceless form . Examples: #*''mop'' , plural ''mops'' #*''mat'' , plural ''mats'' #*''pack'' , plural ''packs'' #*''cough'' , plural ''coughs'' #*''myth'' , plural ''myths'' # Otherwise, the preceding sound is voiced, and the plural marker takes the likewise voiced form . #*''dog'' , plural ''dogs'' #*''glove'' , plural ''gloves'' #*''ram'' , plural ''rams'' #*''doll'' , plural ''dolls'' #*''toe'' , plural ''toes''


Alternation related to meaning


Morphologically conditioned alternation

French has an example of morphologically conditioned alternation. The feminine form of many
adjective An adjective (list of glossing abbreviations, abbreviated ) is a word that describes a noun or noun phrase. Its semantic role is to change information given by the noun. Traditionally, adjectives were considered one of the main part of speech, par ...
s ends in a
consonant In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are and pronounced with the lips; and pronounced with the front of the tongue; and pronounced ...
sound that is missing in the masculine form. In spelling, the feminine ends in a silent e, while the masculine ends in a silent consonant letter: *masculine ''petit'' , feminine ''petite'' "small" *masculine ''grand'' , feminine ''grande'' "tall" *masculine ''gros'' , feminine ''grosse'' "big" *masculine ''joyeux'' , feminine ''joyeuse'' "merry" *masculine ''franc'' , feminine ''franche'' "sincere" *masculine ''bon'' , feminine ''bonne'' "good"


Syntactically conditioned alternation

Syntactically conditioned alternations can be found in the
Insular Celtic languages Insular Celtic languages are the group of Celtic languages of Brittany, Great Britain, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. All surviving Celtic languages are in the Insular group, including Breton, which is spoken on continental Europe in Brittany, ...
, where words undergo various initial
consonant mutation Consonant mutation is change in a consonant In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are and pronounced with the lips; and pronounced ...
s depending on their syntactic position. For example, in Irish, an adjective undergoes
lenition In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and ...
after a feminine singular noun: *unmutated ''mór'' "big", mutated in ''bean mhór'' "a big woman" In Welsh, a
noun A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Organism, Living creatures (including people ...
undergoes soft mutation when it is the direct object of a
finite verb Traditionally, a finite verb (from la, fīnītus, past participle of to put an end to, bound, limit) is the form "to which Grammatical number, number and Grammatical person, person appertain", in other words, those Morpheme, inflected for grammat ...
: *unmutated ''beic'' "bike", mutated in ''Prynodd y ddynes feic'' "The woman bought a bike"


See also

* Apophony *
Sandhi Sandhi ( sa, wikt:सन्धि#Sanskrit, सन्धि ' , "joining") is a cover term for a wide variety of phonology, sound changes that occur at morpheme or word boundaries. Examples include fusion of sounds across word boundaries and the ...
*
Allophone In phonology, an allophone (; from the Ancient Greek, Greek , , 'other' and , , 'voice, sound') is a set of multiple possible spoken soundsor ''phone (phonetics), phones''or signs used to pronounce a single phoneme in a particular language. Fo ...


Notes


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:Alternation (Linguistics) Linguistic morphology Phonology