Compensatory lengthening

What is compensatory lengthening?

In cases of compensatory lengthening, a vowel is lengthened following the deletion of a consonant or vowel that was present in the underlying representation. Compensatory lengthening (CL) is often recorded as a sound change from one stage of a language to another. For example, at some point in the history of Latin, the consonant /s/ was deleted before sonorant consonants. When the /s/ occured at the end of a syllable (in the syllable coda), the vowel preceding /s/ was lengthened at a later stage, as shown in (1a). When /s/ occurred at the beginning of a syllable, however, no change was observed. (Here and throughout, periods are used to indicate divisions between syllables. A colon indicates a long vowel.)

(1) Compensatory lengthening in Latin

a) *kas.nus > ka:.nus 'grey'
*kos.mis > ko:.mis 'courteous'
*fi.des.lia > fi.de:.lia 'pot'
b) *sme.reo > me.reo 'deserve'
*snu.rus > nu.rus 'daughter-in-law'

Although CL is often taught as a common type of diachronic sound change (a historical sound change whose effects can be seen by comparing an earlier stage of a language to a later stage), its effects can also be seen in the sound systems of contemporary languages. (This makes sense, since today's phonology so often feeds into tomorrow's sound change.) In this module, we discuss an example from Turkish. We owe the data and generalizations discussed here to (Sezer 1985).

You can work through the discussion in this module by moving through the links below.

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