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I apologize for how this question may be perceived. I am casually learning linguistics with no curriculum. I can understand that this question may have many possible answers, but I am not quite sure how else to ask this question. I can also understand if all that may be provided to me is some resource on lists of natural ways languages evolve.

Basically, I've come up with two place names, "Yallet" and "Helverly". I'm trying to create enough of a naming language that would allow me to create names that seem to occur naturally in the setting.

Both Yallet and Helverly are locations, and so I was wondering if there was a way for the root "let", meaning town, to conceivably evolve to "ly".

Can this evolution happen naturally? If so, I would happily read on such transformations. If not, I would be very appreciative of an explanation as to why it would not be a natural evolution.

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It is a two-step process, and both steps are very natural and frequently encountered in natural languages. The steps may occur in the other order as well, but the order here deems more common to me.

  1. Loss of the final stop let -> le. This occurs very often, French is a prominent example of this because the final stops are preserved in writing, but lost in pronunciation (with some exceptions when there is a following vowel).
  2. A vowel shift le -> li, in this case a raising. Again, this step is very natural because /e/ and /i/ are neighbouring vowels in the vowel diagram.

These two steps use your assumption that let is the older form that evolves into ly. A more sophisticated construction could assume a common ancestor for both forms, e.g., lit that evolves to li by the loss of the final consonant and to let by lowering the vowel.

EDIT: As you are generally interested in sound laws, there is a resource named Index Diachronica that lists a lot of sound changes collected from many sources.

  • Ah -- you said the same thing as me while I was writing my answer! :) – Oliver Mason May 9 at 8:44
  • In fact, the "-ly" suffix in English (daily, yearly, northerly) comes exactly this way. The "-ly" comes from Old English "-lic", in which the vowel was pronounced as "i:". So, loss of the final stop then a vowel change, shortening in this case. – Keith Morrison May 10 at 16:22
  • It is very uncommon for phonemes to just disappear into thin air as part of a specific bu systematic sound change. Usually one sound changes into another, or leaves some sort of effect on neighbouring phonemes as it disappears. If the sound is weak anyway, such as a /w/, this might explain its disappearance in Greek, as illustrated by oenology (from Greek oinos, originally woinos) related to English wine. The only example I know of a stop disappearing is the p in Proto-Celtic. One process is compensatory lengthening where you get a bit more vowel in place of the consonant. – David Robinson May 22 at 19:05
  • So the -lic in @KeithMorrison's example may have been /i:k/ some of the time but it was basically on a journey from /lik/ to /i:/. Another example is I for German ich. This is described here. So I would say it is more likely that the two steps would be related, rather than the inherently less likely circumstance that two completely separate changes would just happen to occur in sequence in the same situation. – David Robinson May 22 at 19:16
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    Phonemes are lost all the time. Greek lost all terminal stops, and English lost word-initial stops in front of /n/ (knight, gnat, etc) and, /t/ is lost if it's between a fricative and a nasal (or /l/) without any other corresponding alteration on the surrounding phonemes: "Christmas" is an obvious example. – Keith Morrison May 23 at 14:55
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In order to see whether -let and -ly are related, there are several options:

  1. One of them is the 'original' morpheme indicating a settlement, and the other one is derived from it. Maybe the /e/ in /let/ was pronounced [i:] at some point, and then the /t/ dropped.
  2. They both have a common ancestor, maybe /ley/. In distinct geographic regions it ended up being pronounced differently, and so it developed into distinct /let/ and /ly/. Or some clerk mis-spelled it /let/ by accident and it stuck.
  3. They are unrelated, maybe coming from different languages historically.

You would be most interested in 1 or 2. Language often changes to make things easier to pronounce, so think about how you would pronounce a word in a lazy or sloppy way, slurring the sounds, so that it is still intelligible, but not exactly as it was spelled. And then think how you would write it down.

In the past, spelling was not normalised, so differences like you describe can easily crop up. It was only (in the West) with the emergence of dictionaries and printing presses that spelling really mattered.

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