Author Topic: Etymology of alveolar flap [Help]  (Read 1238 times)

Offline Matt Addison

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Etymology of alveolar flap [Help]
« on: March 27, 2016, 08:55:08 PM »
Hi guys!
I'm trying to find as much linguistic information as I can about the American English [ɾ]. I've just started my MAs and I have no idea about where I can find (or even search) the etymology of an allophone or its terminus a quo. Is that even possible?
« Last Edit: March 28, 2016, 07:59:10 AM by Matt Addison »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Etymology of alveolar flap [Help]
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2016, 05:20:07 PM »
What do you mean by "etymology"? That term refers to the origin (usually of the meaning) of a word.

Do you mean the historical origin of where that allophone comes from in the history of American dialects?

It's very difficult to trace the exact origin of sound features in dialects given that we only have recordings from the last 100 years or so, and because it isn't a simple answer in most cases.

The basic process is lenition (that is, weakening*), where the full stop is reduced to a much shorter gesture in the same location. I imagine this occurs naturally in many languages and dialects, just very rarely and not systematically. For some speakers of American English it occurred rarely and naturally and then started to become more frequent, and eventually, due to sociolinguistic reasons, the way those speakers spoke became the norm.

(*Technically in this case we could also consider one of the motivations to be assimilation to the non-obstructed articulation of vowels, where a tight/long stop closure was weakened to being a looser/shorter closure more like the open articulation of the vowels that surround it. Stop lenition occurs often, as in Spanish for example, where stops become fricatives between vowels.)
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Offline Matt Addison

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Re: Etymology of alveolar flap [Help]
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2016, 07:36:10 AM »
Thanks a lot for your information!
I thought I would find answers on some historical phonology books, but now I guess it's not as simple as that. Maybe I should check old movies and corpora for registers, I don't think this phenomenon is really old.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2016, 07:38:43 AM by Matt Addison »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Etymology of alveolar flap [Help]
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2016, 03:25:40 PM »
Movies rarely contain especially natural speech, especially of the sort you would need to observe the change in progress.

The way that people speak in older American movies is actually an artificial accent designed by an Australian with many features of a Midwestern dialect. That was the case in the 40s-60s I believe, and before that of course movies were silent.

If there are old recordings of radio (but the earliest radio wasn't recorded anywhere, of course, just broadcast) that might work.

In this case music might be a good option because it is likely to have been recorded early, preserved, and relatively widely available today. And music is always innovative so it would, at least sometimes, show recent changes, maybe even changes in progress.

The other two places to check:
1. Dialectal information for America-- which dialects do not flap the t/ds intervocalically? At least in the northeast they might not.
2. Dialectal information for the UK/Ireland-- do any dialects there have flapping? It has been said that American English is actually more similar to original Shakespearean English given changes that have occurred afterward in England. So that makes things complicated, and I don't know about this particular issue.

Why do you think it is a relatively recent phenomenon? Why not since at least  the 1800s?
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Offline panini

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Re: Etymology of alveolar flap [Help]
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2016, 04:30:14 PM »
Flapping exists in Australian, New Zealand and Irish dialects of English as well, so its history is not new. What probably happened was that it got introduced by Irish immigrants at some unknown point in the past, and it spread to other speakers, analogous to how vowel fronting ([uw] → [ɪw], [ow] → [ɛw]) has stricken American English in the past 30-40 years.