Initial f > h in Iberian Romance

  • jabogitlu

    Senior Member
    USA-English
    It means that in Castilian (and Basque, I suppose, but I don't speak that language so I don't know), some words originally written utilizing initial "f" consonants were softened to "h" consonants.

    I believe the oft-cited example here would be Latin "filia" (daughter) which changed to "hija" in Spanish. For contrast, it is still written "filha" in Portuguese.
     

    former_chomsky_advocate

    Member
    English, USA (Great Lakes)

    In terms of phonology, the F lost its buccal qualities (mouth) while retaining its pharyngeal qualities (blowing of air) what remained from F, after loss of buccal qualities was an H.

    Some attribute this, oddly, to a "Basque substratum," the idea being that Basques couldn't pronounce word initial F (but had no problem with word internal F) and thus merely "aspirated" this F. Modern day Felipe yielding Pelipe instead of Helipe notwithstanding, this "basque substratum" is all but thoroughly rejected by anyone who has read linguistics past the 1960s.

    Ralph Penny discusses this phenomenon extensively, in his "history of the spanish language," which is better titled simply "historical phonetics."

    In short, word initial F became an H, then became 0 (null) zero.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In the Gascon variety of Occitan (or in the Gascon language if you regard it as such) many words derived from a Latin ancestor starting in "F" begin with "H". I only mention this because Gascony adjoins Euskadi.
     

    former_chomsky_advocate

    Member
    English, USA (Great Lakes)
    I say oddly, because there's no evidence whatsoever that this is some sort of unique Basque influence. Aside from F- words becoming P- words (rather than H- words), F- to H- to 0- is a commonly enough occurring phenomenon cross linguistically.

    I've even heard it said that the Basques had an extended lower jaw, thus not allowing the upper teeth to touch the lower lip, and thus explaining the F- to H- phenomenon. When asked if there had ever been skulls produced that exhibited such phenomenon, the answer was "no."

    Nevertheless, this "Basque Substratum" is still widely accepted by many philologists, mainly of the Berkely and Madison (WI) tendencies.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I say oddly, because there's no evidence whatsoever that this is some sort of unique Basque influence. Aside from F- words becoming P- words (rather than H- words), F- to H- to 0- is a commonly enough occurring phenomenon cross linguistically.
    But the fact that it happened in three different languages in the same geographical area (Basque, Spanish, and Gascon) seems to support a connection... How is that coincidence explained by modern linguists?
    Or does the problem lie in the word "substratum"?

    I've even heard it said that the Basques had an extended lower jaw, thus not allowing the upper teeth to touch the lower lip, and thus explaining the F- to H- phenomenon.
    That is obvious crackpottery, but it doesn't mean the "Basque substratum" (or "Basque influence") theory is wrong.
     

    former_chomsky_advocate

    Member
    English, USA (Great Lakes)
    But the fact that it happened in three different languages in the same geographical area (Basque, Spanish, and Gascon) seems to support a connection... How is that coincidence explained by modern linguists?
    Or does the problem lie in the word "substratum"?

    The fact that it also happens in languages far removed from not only the same geographical area, as well as far removed from the linguistic family, suggests that it's a natural pheonomenon of language change, versus some sort of direct influence. Japanese has undergone the same phenomenon, and I don't think that anyone would suggest that it's because of language contact with Basques... Coincidence? Possibly.

    This book contains references to many languages that have undergone precisely this phenomenon. Bybee, Joan L. 2001. Phonology and language use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


    She discusses it in part here: http://www.unm.edu/~jbybee/Mechs%20of%20Change%20as%20Universals%20of%20Language.doc

    It is important to note that the implementation of any sound change is a complex phenomenon, involving differential progress of the change in phonetic and lexical environments and different effects of the change in terms of contrasting segments. These factors are extremely important for an eventual understanding of how and why sound change takes place, as well as for the eventual outcome of the change.

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    That is obvious crackpottery, but it doesn't mean the "Basque substratum" (or "Basque influence") theory is wrong.
    There is one interesting article, whose exact name escapes me, describing a mass exodus from the Italian peninsula circa 100 AD, who had an initial F- dropping going on, who moved en masse to the Iberian peninsula near Osca / Huesca, that does support a language influence phenomena. The title is something like "An oscan-umbrian influence." Read in a course with a very knowledgeable professor.

    In short, my personal view is that many local phenomena, once contrasted cross linguistically, no longer seem so local.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Spanish and other Romance languages have undergone a change that reduced word-initial [f] to and further to [ø].
    Apart from Spanish and Gascon, which other Romance languages underwent this sound change, at the same period of history?
     

    floatingboy

    Senior Member
    USA-English
    I think that the concept of the Basque substratum is assumed because the shift did not occur in other Romance languages, and not even in other major Iberian dialects (not sure about subdialects such as Asturian, Leonés, etc). Castille was close to Basque country, so that seems to be the obvious conclusion. That there is Basque influence in Castillian is undeniable. Whether or not the conclusion that the f-->h shift is due to a Basque substratum is well-founded is another point altogether.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    I would like to point out that H>0 change is I believe older than the Romance splittings from Vulgar Latin. The fact that F>H>0 also occurred in Castilian is a convergence.
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    In Romanian this shift also occurred:


    Istro-Romanian fil'u
    Aromanian hilj
    Megleno-Romanian il'u
    Daco-Romanian fiu

    Spanish hijo, pronounced ijo


    Istro-Romanian fl'er
    Aromanian heru
    Megleno-Romanian ieru
    Daco-Romanian fier

    Spanish hierro, pronounced ierro
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    (not sure about subdialects such as Asturian, Leonés, etc).

    I have a book of short stories in the various languages of Spain and a quick look shows:

    Asturiano

    hijos = fios
    hace = fai

    Leonés

    hablar = falare
    huían = fuxían
    hilera = filera

    Aragonés

    hojas = fuellas
    hierros = fierros

    Extremeño

    haciéndole = jadiéndulu
    hacía = jadía
    hacer = jadel
     

    zpoludnia swiata

    Senior Member
    chile english, spanish, german
    I read somewhere that the Basque language in Antiquity was more widespread in SW France, as far north as Bordeaux, and that the Basque Country of Spain was always its historical southern limit, with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula being inhabited by Iberian speakers (an Indo-European language) and Celtic speakers. I don't know if those languages manifested a similar f to h (to 0) sound change.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    It is interesting that other Latinate languages kept "v" from merging with "b" by making it into a voiced "f", but Castillian kept the bilabial "v", eventually merging it with "b", while probably making its initial "f" into something like an unvoiced bilabial "v", which was unstable.

    Could Chinese have been influenced by Japanese?
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I read somewhere that the Basque language in Antiquity was more widespread in SW France, as far north as Bordeaux, and that the Basque Country of Spain was always its historical southern limit, with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula being inhabited by Iberian speakers (an Indo-European language) and Celtic speakers. I don't know if those languages manifested a similar f to h (to 0) sound change.

    Apparently the Basque language was at one time spoken over quite a wide area of the Iberian Peninsular. Castilian and Gascon both developed in areas where Basque was spoken. However, Aragonese also devloped in an area where Basque was spoken, but does not display the f>h shift.

    Iberian was not an Indo-European language. See here:
    http://www.webpersonal.net/jrr/index.htm
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In fact, Iberian is thought by many to have been related to Basque, although it's difficult to judge because the remaining paleographic evidence is very scarce.
     

    zpoludnia swiata

    Senior Member
    chile english, spanish, german
    Apparently it has never been shown that there was any relationship between Basque and Iberian. There are ideas that Iberian was Indo European, though based on just a few words. Probably that hypothesis is no more feasible than its connexion with Basque.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    According to the website that Hulalessar linked to, the hypothesis of Iberian being Indo-European is much less plausible than the hypothesis of it being related to Basque!
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks for the heated discussion everyone, although I don't undersntand most of them.
    I gathered from your discussion that "Iberian" is different from "Spanish language". Right?
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The Iberian language was spoken in the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula until the Roman conquest. It is now extinct; or, according to some theories, it was an ancient form of the Basque language. We only know about if from a small number of inscriptions (see Hulalessar's link, above).
     

    miguel89

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hi,
    I have a question related to this thread's topic:

    There must have been a time when /h/ was allophone with /f/, in words which kept this phoneme (fuerte, fue, etc.).

    Then, when and why did /f/ split from /h/ and was considered a separate phoneme?

    Miguel
     

    miguel89

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I was referring to /f/ being articulated as [f] in some contexts and in others (as you say), which at some point should've been distinguished as separate phonemes, hence modern opposition 0/f. My question is about this process.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I'll guess that f and h were allophonic only word initially before a full vowel. Words with [fr], [fl], [fw] (as in fue), etc., kept the labiodental sound from Latin.

    If I remember correctly from my studies of Medieval literature, F became H in standard language systematically only in the initial position followed by a simple vowel.

    ex)
    hacer but satisfacer
    exception almohada for almofada

    forno - horno
    fillo - hijo
    fablar - hablar
    fumo - humo

    With the dipthongs apparently there was a lot of hesitation ocurring so you could find redoubled forms like huera for fuera, huego for fuego but also fierro for hierro.

    Also in later centuries there was a push to reinstate the f, which was partially successful in cultisms
    huerma back to forma
     
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    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    Then, when and why did /f/ split from /h/ and was considered a separate phoneme?
    The f > h change only applied to popular vocabulary. Learned words and unassimilated borrowings from neighboring languages continued to be pronounced with [f]. But with time, a lot of learned words become normal words, and a lot of borrowings eventually become assimilated… So starting around the 13th century the distribution of initial [f] and could no longer be acquired as a matter of phonological context and word class. People just had to learn that some ordinary words started with (hijo, horma, hambre, …), and some with [f] (fijo, forma, fama, …). From this point on, the two sounds correspond to distinct phonemes.
     

    Beachxhair

    Senior Member
    English-England
    Hello

    I was wondering why Spanish has the letter 'h' (el humo, hacer) where the other romance languages have 'f' (faire, fazer, fare...)


    I know it has something to do with Latin and changing pronunciation...I was wondering how Spanish acquired the 'h' while other Romance languages retained the 'f'?

    Thank you
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    The Wikipedia article does not actually address the question posed here, which is why Latin (and Old Spanish) f becomes h in Modern Spanish. I think we need to do better than that.
     

    Peter94

    Member
    Abcdefgh
    Wikipedia said:
    The letter ⟨f⟩ represented variously a labiodental [f], bilabial [ɸ], or glottal fricative (like the English ⟨h⟩) that later disappeared from pronunciation (/h/ is completely silent in Vulgar Latin), where now an orthographic ⟨h⟩ represents it, except learned words (i.e. words borrowed directly from Classical Latin), before a glide, or another consonant.

    That's quite a good explanation for me. There were changes in pronunciation that later, apparently, led to changes in orthography. Yes, the second part of this sentence is not explicitely backed up by the article, however the article says above what I've quoted:

    Wikipedia said:
    When Spanish spelling was changed in 1815, words with ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ were respelt etymologically in order to match Latin spelling whenever possible.
    Now we need to look closer at the Spanish language reforms. This article is a good trail.

    I think we need to do better than that.
    Of course we do.
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    The Wikipedia article on the Basque language ("Influence on other languages") discusses the notion that the mellowing and loss of /f/ in Spanish might be due to Basque influence. Caution: The Wiki article notes that the idea is "widely postulated" but "equally strongly disputed". Substratum influence is often difficult to "prove".
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    The Wikipedia article on the Basque language ("Influence on other languages") discusses the notion that the mellowing and loss of /f/ in Spanish might be due to Basque influence. Caution: The Wiki article notes that the idea is "widely postulated" but "equally strongly disputed". Substratum influence is often difficult to "prove".

    I've heard the Basque substratum hypothesis before, but I don't know if I believe it. I think you can get from [f] > pretty straight forwardly if it proceeds through a bilabial intermediate.

    Consider the Japanese series [ha hi fu he ho] (は ひ ふ へ ほ) in which bilabial [ɸ] is the same phoneme as . Then you have a second step in which becomes null.

    According to the wiki on Asturian, in Eastern Asturian dialects, words that are facer elsewhere in Asturian are pronounced [haser] in this dialect. The wiki distinguishes this from silent grapheme 'h' by a dot (ḥ), but I don't know if people faithfully do this is real life.
     

    sotos

    Senior Member
    Greek
    I think that we can safely reject a "generalized deafness" hypotheses.
    I think so, but I mean that hearing involves some training, too. For example, we all know the myth that "Japanese cannot pronounce the sound li". However, I have clearly heared some Japanese pronouncing "li" in Japanese words (where the official transliteration is ri), without themshelves realizing it. When I questioned them, they insisted that they said "ri" and non "li".
     

    Peter94

    Member
    Abcdefgh
    That happens when the sound is an allophone in one's language. Poles would also insist on /n/ being always laminal denti-alveolar (usually described "pronounced with tongue touching upper teeth"), but only few people recognize laminal post-alveolar and velar allophones of it, before /t͡ʃ d͡ʒ/ and /k g/ respectively.
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)

    Brilliant article!
    Could we say this /ɸ/ sound that occurred before /r/, /l/, /w/ and sometimes /j/ is the voiceless equivalent of /β/ which still is the pronunciation of intervocalic "v" as in "cueva, cava, la vida"? If so, I've still heard this type of "f" sporadically in some speakers. I thought it was laziness.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Brilliant article!
    Could we say this /ɸ/ sound that occurred before /r/, /l/, /w/ and sometimes /j/ is the voiceless equivalent of /β/ which still is the pronunciation of intervocalic "v" as in "cueva, cava, la vida"? If so, I've still heard this type of "f" sporadically in some speakers. I thought it was laziness.
    That's the right sound. Were these Spanish speakers? (From where?)
     
    I little off-topic...
    But we have some old alternate pronunciations to the normative forms, and can still hear them in some countryside regions; some haches and efes are pronounced as jotas, for example… jediondo instead of the silent hediondo, jiede non hiede, jalar not the foreign halar, juerte instead of fuerte, juerza instead of fuerza, jijo I would guess it comes from hijo, Jelipe for Felipe, jondear for hondear, jondo for hondo, etc.

    Saludos
     
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