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The Genesis of Spanish /θ/: A Revised Model

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Ian MacKenzie



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This article proposes a revised model of the genesis of Castilian Spanish /θ/, based on (i) precise tracking across the Late Middle Ages of the orthographical d → z change in preconsonantal coda position and (ii) the potential for auditory indeterminacy between denti-alveolar variants of [s] and the non-sibilant [θ]. According to the findings, two non-sibilant phonemes, /θ/ and /ð/, are likely to have come into existence by the early 1500s, merger at the expense of /ð/ occurring shortly thereafter. This effectively inverts the normally assumed chronology, according to which devoicing preceded and indeed was implicated in the genesis of /θ/. The revised chronology weakens the teleological analysis of /θ/, which treats its genesis in terms of a functionally motivated widening of the articulatory distance between similar-sounding sibilants. Instead, the emergence of Castilian /θ/ is argued to be a natural reflex of the auditory permeability between the denti-alveolar type of [s] and the non-sibilant [θ], with analogous evolutions occurring outside the domain of Castilian Spanish. As part of this overall approach, the article assumes dissibilation (understood as the converse of assibilation) to be the fundamental process in the genesis of /θ/, rather than interdentalization.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mackenzie I

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Languages

Year: 2022

Volume: 7

Issue: 3

Online publication date: 22/07/2022

Acceptance date: 15/07/2022

Date deposited: 07/09/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2226-471X

Publisher: MDPI


DOI: 10.3390/languages7030191


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