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.
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