Prosthesis (linguistics)

Prosthesis (linguistics)

Prothesis in linguistics (from Greek "pro" "before" + "tithenai" "to put") is the prepending of phonemes at the beginning of a word without changing its morphological structure. In terms of orthography, it is a form of metaplasm. The prepending of a vowel is called vocalic prothesis, with the vowel known as prothetic vowel. Similarly, the term prothetic consonant is in use.

Prothesis should not be confused with the morphological process of the prepending of a prefix, as in "rhythmic" → "arhythmic".

The opposite phenomenon, of the disappearance of the initial sounds, is called aphesis.

Prothesis in word formation

Prothesis may be a way of word formation during borrowing from foreign languages or during derivation from protolanguages.

As a well-known example, /s/ + stop clusters (known as "s impurum") in Latin gained a preceding /e/ in early Romance languages (Old Spanish, Old French). [Heinrich Lausberg, "Romanische Sprachwissenschaft" ("Romance Linguistics"), Vol. 1, Berlin, 1956, pp.64-65 de icon] Hence, the Spanish word for "state" is "estado", deriving from Latin "status".

Some Turkic languages avoid certain combinations of consonants at the beginning of a word. In Turkish, for instance, Smyrna is called İzmir, and the word "station", being borrowed from French becomes Turkish "istasyon".

In some dialects of Nenets language, the initial syllable cannot start with a vowel, therefore when borrowing the initial nasal consonant prothesis "ng" [ŋ] is used.

Hindi borrowing from English words with initial "i"; sp-, sk- or sm- clusters: school → iskuul, special → ispesal.

During the evolution from the Protoslavic language words in various Slavic languages employed prothetic consonants. Compare: Russian "okno" ("window") vs. Ukrainian "vikno" or Belarusian "vakno". Another example: Polish "wątroba" from PS "ǫtroba" (cf. Russian "utroba") [Paul V. Cubberley, "Russian: A Linguistic Introduction" (2002) ISBN 0521796415, [ p.35] ]

Prothesis as sandhi

Examples of a prothetic vowel performing external sandhi are known, e.g., in Italian language. Compare: "la scuola" ("the school") vs. "in iscuola" ("at school"). It is therefore conjectured that the origins of the Romance prothesis are phonetical ones, rather than grammatical ones, and initially prothesis was for breaking consonant clusters with the preceding word ending in consonant. This hypothesis is corroborated by the absence of prothesis in Romance dialects that had lost their terminal consonants [Richard D. Janda & Brian D. Joseph, "Reconsidering the Canons of Sound-Change: Towards a “Big Bang” Theory", in: "Historical Linguistics 2001. Selected Papers from the 15 International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Melbourne, 13-17 August 2001", Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co. (2003), pp. 205-219]

Prothesis in second language

Phonetical rules of the native language may influence pronunciation of a second language, including various metaplasms. For example, prothesis is reported for Crimean Tatars speaking Russian language. [ [ "Crimean Tatar-Russian as a Reflection of Crimean Tatar National Identity"] ]

James L. Barker writes: [James L. Barker, "Accessory Vowels (Voyelles prostetiques et autres)", "Modern Language Notes", Vol. 40, No. 3 (Mar., 1925), pp. 162-164; [ p.162] ] : "If an Arab, an East Indian, a Frenchman, Spaniard, or Italian is given the following sentence to read: "I want to speak Spanish", he reads it in the following manner: "I want to speak (i)/(e)Spanish". In this case there is no 'parasitic' "i" or "e" before "sp" of "speak", but there is before "sp" in "Spanish".

ee also

* Apheresis
* Epenthesis


Further reading

Andrei A. Avram, " [ On the Status of Prothetic Vowels in the Atlantic French Creoles] " (pdf file), " [ Antwerp Papers in Linguistics] " Issue 107 (2004)

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