Whorf's law

Whorf's law is a sound law in Uto-Aztecan linguistics proposed by the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf. It explains the origin in the Nahuan languages of the phoneme /tɬ/ which is not found in any of the other languages of the Uto-Aztecan family. The existence of /tɬ/ in Nahuatl had puzzled previous linguists and caused Edward Sapir to reconstruct a /tɬ/ phoneme for Proto-Uto-Aztecan based only on evidence from Aztecan. In a 1937 paper published in the journal American Anthropologist, Whorf argued that phoneme was a result of some of the Nahuan or Aztecan languages having undergone a sound change changing the original */t/ to in the position before */a/. The sound law has come to be known as "Whorf's law" and is still considered valid although a more detailed understanding of the precise conditions under which it took place has been developed.

The situation had been obscured by the fact that often, the */a/ had then subsequently been lost or changed to another vowel, making it difficult to realize what had conditioned the change. Because some Nahuan languages have /t/ and others have /tɬ/, Whorf thought that the law had been limited to certain dialects and that the dialects that had /t/ were more conservative. In 1978, Lyle Campbell and Ronald Langacker showed that in fact Whorf's law, had affected all of the Nahuan languages and that some dialects had subsequently changed /tɬ/ to /l/ or back to /t/, but it remains evident that the language went through a /tɬ/ stage.

In 1996, Alexis Manaster Ramer showed that the sound change had in fact also happened before the Proto-Uto-Aztecan high central vowel */ɨ/, not just before */a/. Today, the best known Nahuan language is Nahuatl.

This page was last edited on 2 May 2016, at 00:02.
Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whorf's_law under CC BY-SA license.

Related Topics

Recently Viewed