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Swedish: sk > [xW]

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by Gavril, Sep 17, 2013.

  1. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA

    As I understand it, the Swedish sequences sj, stj, and sk (before a front vowel) are pronounced as [x] or [xW] by some speakers. How (i.e., through what phonetic process) is it thought that sk- developed to [xW] before a front vowel, but not k- or s- in the same environment?

    E.g., if skärm is pronounced [xWerm], why is kära not pronounced [xWera], or sida as [xWida]?

    Thanks for any help.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2013
  2. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Hm, are you talking about [ɧ], the standard pronunciation, or about [xʷ] as an alternative realization?

    I wouldn't say that I'm familiar with the latter, but I could outline the underlying mechanisms of the distinction between [ɧ] and [ɕ] if that's what you are asking.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2013
  3. Kadabrium Junior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    If you want to shift the s in a simple syllable si- as well, the i will be combined with s in order to complete the shift and hence be lost, you'd have to pronounce one more i separately, which is unfavorable.
    Furthermore, sj doesn't actually end in j like kj and tj do (it ends closer to u), so it is in a way naturally incompatible with a single i. You don't really pronounce si as s-j-i, deliberately inserting a j either.
    sj before any other vowel, on the contrary, is already a consonant cluster and can take whatever vowel both before and after a shift.

    As for sk, my guess is that the k in it was first palatalized to s-kj-, and a subsequent merger of kj and tj yield stj.
  4. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    The standard pronunciation. I've seen [xW] used in phonetic transcriptions of words such as skärm, even though it may not be as exact a transcription as [ɧ].

    I'm wondering about how sk- is thought to have developed to [ɧ] -- e.g., did it first require the broader change of k- to [ɕ] (or a similar sound) before front vowels?

  5. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Ok, fair enough. Before we start, there are a few things worth noting about this phoneme (you might already be aware or don't care, but I'll drop it just in case).

    Firstly, it contrasts with the previously mentioned [ɕ] and the distinction between these two is somewhat blurry, probably mainly due to our orthography lacking a standardized way to write any of them, instead resorting to various polygraphs. Hence, many speakers, even among those who make this distinction, are unaware of them actually being two separate phonemes (similar to English [ð] vs [θ], I imagine) and they are usually referred to (by non-linguists) as front ([ɕ]) and back ([ɧ]) sje-sound or tj-sound and sj-sound when (if) discussed.
    Secondly, not all people make this distinction. In addition to the tendency among younger people to merge the two (the existence and/or degree of this process is debatable however), there are three main dialectal diversions: 1) Scanian, which has a number of alternative realizations of /sj/ (and possibly /tj/), 2) Northern dialects, in which /sj/ have merged with /tj/, resulting in the two being allophones pronounced as [ɕ] (or [ʃ]), 3) Eastern (Finnish) dialects in which the following differences (compared to standard Swedish) are present: [ɕ]→[t͡ɕ] and [ɧ]→[ɕ].

    And finally, while both of these phonemes are relatively uncommon in most other languages, they are the only (voiceless) fricatives "between and [h]" and as such, every loanword containing a fricative from within this range is assimilated into one of these (voiced fricatives, that are not [j], are devoiced, affricatives are reduced to fricatives). As such, all occurrences of [ɕ] and [ɧ] can be group into native and non-native. Most importantly, these contrast by virtue of native "sje" only occurring initially (except for compounds), while assimilated "sje" can occur in any position. Additionally, while there are definite patterns/tendencies when it comes to assigning assimilation group for non-native words, some are floating and occur with both pronunciations. However, since these are loans, there are practically no minimal pairs (unlike the native group) and as such, there is no confusion.

    Ok, so to your actual question, and do note that these are only my own conclusions which I've failed to either verify or disprove. (Also, do note that the following analysis is based purely on "sje" of native origin.)

    It's probably fair to say that there are two core mechanisms through which these sounds have arisen, [k]→[ɕ] / _Vfront (also, [g]→[j] / _Vfront), and /i/→[j] / _V.

    This pattern is easily recognized in the case of [ɕ], which is consistently spelled kVfront and tjV. I interpret the latter case to have originated from a /i/→[j] with the [t] triggering devoicing. The [t] was later lost in Standard Swedish (due to the incompatibility of affricatives), but remained in Finland Swedish and laid basis for its realization of /tj/ as [t͡ɕ]. These processes could be summarized as [k]→[ɕ] / _Vfront and [tj]→[ɕ] / _Vfront(through →[j] / _V, [j]→[ɕ] / t_ and [t]→[Ø] / _ɕ) respectively.

    If we take this pattern and apply it to the various spellings of [ɧ], we get something that could be described as a pattern. There are four native spellings of of [ɧ] , sjV , skjV, skV front and stjVfront. If we begin with the latter two, we can conclude that they are essentially the process described above ([tj],[k]→[ɕ] / _Vfront) proceeded by an , while the other two are somewhat new arrangements. In the case of sjV, we recognize the previously mentioned →[j] / _V, again, proceeded by an , which is similar to skjV, which differ by the additional [k]. The latter could be further broken down into [k]→[ɕ] / _[j]/Vfront.

    If we analyze the four spelling variants while ignoring the , we can conclude that they all end up with a [ɕ], or its voiceless counterpart [j] (which is later devoiced to [ɕ] by the ).

    skVfront = [k]→[ɕ] / _Vfront
    stjV .....= →[j] / _V, [j]→[ɕ] / t_
    sjV ......= →[j] / _V
    skjV ....= →[j] / _V, [j]→[ɕ] / k_

    As such, we can conclude that the process from which [ɧ] originates could be described as [s+ɕ]→[ɧ]. That said, going back to your initial question... Why exactly does trigger a "velarization" of [ɕ]? I don't know (and neither do Finland-Swedes).

    Sorry, I can't fully answer your question, but to sum up. There was an initial fricativization of [k]→[ɕ] which later resulted in an assimilation of [s+ɕ]→[ɧ]. The fact that the latter is absent and the former partial in Finland Swedish should be a strong argument for them occurring in that chronological order. Also, I hope I made sense all the way. If not, please ask, it should be possible to present this more comprehensively.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2013
  6. Kadabrium Junior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    What about skicka then?
  7. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    It goes into the skVfront-group. :)

    As for the examples presented above: skärm - [ɧærm], kära - [ɕæːra], sida - [siːda] (only velars are effected).

    By the way, I'm still not sure what you mean by "[xW]"...
  8. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hi Tjahzi,

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. I had one question:

    What about the change of [sj] > [ɧ]? The changes of sk(j)- and stj- to * (and then further to ɧ) seem fairly straightforward, but in the case of sj-, I would have expected a development to [ɕ], [ʃ] or similar. Did sj- merge (phonetically) with stj- and skj- while the latter two were still being palatalized to * (or a similar sound)?

    That's fine -- I was mainly curious about how the changes k > ɕ and tj > (t)ɕ fit into the change sk(j)/stj > ɧ, and based on what you wrote, it seems that the first two changes were indeed important in this process.

    By the way, the reason I initially wrote [xW] instead of [ɧ] is that (as I wrote in message #3) I had seen [xW] used in rough transcriptions of this Swedish sound, and I didn't know (or had forgotten) that [ɧ] was a more phonetically accurate representation.

    Last edited: Sep 21, 2013
  9. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Think of this entire process as having three steps, of which the second is optional.

    1) Formation of a fricative through either [k]→[ɕ] / _Vfront or /i/→[j] / _V.
    2) Loss of preceding stops.
    3) Merging of +[ɕ]/[j]→[ɧ].

    Since [j] is the voiced counterpart of [ɕ], a preceding will have the same effect on both of them and as such, sjV (and skVfront) is essentially the same as the other two, except the absence of step two.

    I see, fair enough. I would say that it's not overly accurate though. The labialization only occurs when proceeding rounded vowels.
  10. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA

    Just to be sure, when you write [j], do you mean the glide heard in English "yes"? I would think of [ʑ] as the voiced counterpart of [ɕ] -- perhaps sj- went through the stage [sʑ] before becoming [ɧ]?

    In general, if a glide like [j] develops into a back fricative like [ɧ], I would expect that it first became a palatal fricative of some kind: e.g., I think the change from Latin iustus > Modern Spanish justo went through a stage where the initial consonant was [ʒ] or similar.

    I've heard something that at least sounds similar to labialization in words like skida: is the vowel of skida rounded?

    It may not be actual labial closure that I heard, but it does sound like constriction of the vocal passage followed by widening.
  11. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    You are of course correct in that "the voiced counterpart of [ɕ]" should be [ʑ]. However, I was speaking strictly from a Swedish perspective. While not everyone might agree with me, I'm of the firm opinion that Swedish lacks voiced fricatives and that the voiced counterparts of [f] and [ɕ] are more accurately described as the approximants [ʋ] and [j]. A feature that could be said to illustrate this is the fact that while voice assimilation can be both retrograde and anterograde, it's always voicelessness that spreads. As such, [ɕ] and [j] are practically allophones when adjacent to a voiceless consonant, which is why I just talk about the +[ɕ]→[ɧ] process. It's essentially the same as +[j]→[ɧ].
    Well, by virtue of having a wide inventory of rounded and unrounded vowels, the most common non-labial fricative, , is normally rounded (/labialized) when adjacent to a rounded vowel (long and short /y/, /o/, /u/, /ö/ and long /a/). While [ɧ] occurs in a less varied environment, I'm confident to say that same pretty much goes for it as well, rather than the roundness/labialization being an inherent feature of it.
  12. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA

    In English (or at least the form of it that I speak), a sound like [h] is partly assimilated to the vowels that follow it: e.g., the word heat is pronounced closer to [çit] (where ç is a voiceless palatal fricative) than to [hit].

    If the pronunciation of heat were actually [hit], you would hear glottal constriction when the [h] was pronounced and subsequent release when the was pronounced, and a non-English-speaking listener might mistake this glottal constriction for labial closure, transcribing the word as *[hWit] or *[xWit]. Maybe there is a similar factor causing non-Swedish speakers to think they hear [xW] in words like skida, etc.?
  13. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Yea, that sounds plausible.

    I believe the most likely explanation is either 1) [ɧ] has been observed in a "rounded environment" (its most common) and as such been interpreted as being inherently labialized or 2) due to that very fact that [ɧ] often occurs in conjunction with rounded vowels, some speakers do indeed (more or less) labialize it in all environments, and these people are the origin of the "labialization theory".

    I don't labialize [ɧ] (more than or [h]), and neither do I hear people around me do so.
  14. alegomenon New Member

    Per Lindblad's dissertation "Svenskans sje- och tje-ljud" from 1980 goes through phonetic analyses of these sibilants, dialectology, sociolinguistics, and even a discussion on how they have been notated by different linguists. If anyone's interested, I can scan the English summary (18 pages).

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