Initial dropping

Initial dropping

Initial dropping is a sound change whereby the first consonants of words are dropped. Additionally, stress may shift from the first to the second syllable, and the first vowel may be shortened, reduced, or dropped, which can mean the loss of the entire first syllable of a word. These changes have occurred independently in several Australian Aboriginal language groups.

Initial dropping may affect all initial consonants, or only some or one of them. It may affect all words that start with those consonants, or sporadically affect some words and not others. In some languages, it seems to have only affected interjections, and words commonly used as vocatives such as pronouns and kin terms. Like all sound changes, it may affect an entire language or just some dialects, and may affect multiple adjacent languages or dialects.


Initial dropping is caused by the nature of stress in Australian languages: although stress is usually on the first syllable, the pitch peak of stress occurs late in the syllable, so that stress applies to the vowel and the following consonant, but not the preceding consonant.

econdary effects

Cluster simplification

The loss of the initial vowel can result in a difficult consonant cluster. Some languages avoid this by disallowing initial dropping if the result is a difficult cluster. In Mbabaram for example, initial dropping doesn't occur if it results in a cluster other than nasal + stop.

Prestopped nasals

Unlike many other languages, where nasalization tends to begin early so that vowels preceding a nasal consonant are nasalized, in Australian languages nasalization tends to begin late, so that nasal consonants may be preceded by a short oral stop.

In Olgolo, nasal consonants in the second syllable had such a pre-stopped allophone if the first syllable started with a stop or a IPA|/w/, and the vowel in the first syllable was short. When initial consonants were dropped and initial vowels shortened, the occurrence of the pre-stopped nasals was no longer predictable: Olgolo had innovated a series of pre-stopped nasal phonemes.

List of initial-dropping languages

For details about the extent of initial dropping in a particular language, see that language's article.
*Bidjara (Gunggari and Yanjdjibara dialects)
*Dharambal (Wapabara dialect)
*Many Paman languages
*Western Desert Language (some dialects)

ee also



*cite book |last=Dixon |first=R. M. W. |authorlink=R. M. W. Dixon |year=2002 |title=Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development |location=Cambridge |publisher=Cambridge University Press |pages=589–601 |url=

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