From apical [r] to uvular [ʀ]: what the apico-dorsal r in Montreal French reveals about abrupt sound changes
Yves Charles Morin
Université de Montréal
This article re-examines the various models and empirical bases for the dorsalization of apical rhotics in the light of relatively recent observations made by Santerre (1982) by means of x-ray motion pictures, bringing new evidence that this change need not necessarily be abrupt, as often claimed (cf. Bloomfield 1933), but may involve gradual changes in the relative strength of primary and secondary articulations of the rhotic, as hypothesized much earlier by Jespersen (1889). Santerre’s study also supports Jespersen’s claim that a uvular fricative/approximant [ʁ] develops earlier in the dorsalization process, while the uvular trilled [ʀ] appears later as a reinforced variant of this fricative/approximant [ʁ], probably on social and communicative grounds. Santerre’s study of a single Montreal informant was conducted in the years 1970 at a time when a radical evolution from apical to dorsal articulation was under way in that city – an evolution well documented in a series of sociolinguistic studies (cf. Clermont & Cedergren 1979; Sankoff & Blondeau 2007), which conclude that this development is strongly conditioned by social factors and represents the spread across the linguistic community of a socially prestigious norm. The change observed by Santerre involves a classic form of lenition in syllable-final position that need not have been triggered by social factors. On the other hand, and contrary to implicit claims in Jespersen’s hypothesis, the dorsalization in other contexts does not develop at the same pace. One may hypothesize that dorsalization normally begins in word-final or preconsonantal position and is later generalized elsewhere, a process that might be sensitive to social factors. Imperfect learning by children during the early stages of acquisition – not examined in this article – may have been another factor responsible for the rapid spread of dorsalization in Montreal, as hypothesized by Passy (1891a) for similar changes in Europe, who argues that the child’s immature uvular rhotic, normally abandoned in the later stages of acquisition, may be retained when it becomes socially valued in the community.
In: Sánchez Miret, Fernando & Daniel Recasens (eds.). 2013. Studies in phonetics, phonology and sound change in Romance. ISBN 9783862884452: 65-93. (pdf e-paper)
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