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Unexpected obstruent loss in initial obstruent–sonorant clusters: an apparent example from Basque*

  • Juliette Blevins (a1) and Ander Egurtzegi (a2)

The apparent loss of initial obstruents in Basque borrowings from Romance (e.g. laru ≪ Lat. claru) is striking. While Proto-Basque is generally reconstructed as lacking initial clusters, the expected repair in loans, based on typology, phonology and phonetics, is copy-vowel epenthesis, not obstruent loss. Indeed, there is evidence for a vowel-copy process in Basque in other loans with obstruent–sonorant clusters (e.g. gurutze ≪ Lat. cruce). We suggest that initial obstruent loss before /l/ but not /r/ is related to Romance developments. In the Romance varieties in contact with Basque, /fl pl bl kl gl/ all show evidence of neutralisation to /ʎ/ word-initially. We hypothesise that obstruent loss in words like Basque laru reflects influence from local Romance languages at a time when Basque lacked /ʎ/. In contrast, vowel copy conforming to Basque syllable structure was the norm in Romance loanwords with clusters not affected by this process.

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An early version of this paper was presented at the CUNY Phonology Forum 2016 Conference on Sonority. We are grateful to the audience there, as well as Phonology reviewers and editors, for comments and corrections. This research has been partially funded by the Endangered Language Initiative of the Graduate Center, CUNY, and, for the second author, by the Spanish MINECO (FFI2016-76032-P; FFI2015-63981-C3-2; FJCI-2014-21348), the Basque Government (IT769/13) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Symbols used in this paper are as follows: >, < = ‘changes to, from’; ≫, ≪ = ‘borrowed into, from’; *=‘reconstructed form’; **=‘expected, but unattested historical form’.

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