Preaspiration in North Germanic

A one-year Carnegie Research Incentive Grant has been awarded to Edinburgh University’s Lecturer in Theoretical Phonology – and AMC affiliate – Dr. Pavel Iosad. The grant will fund a project entitled “Preaspiration in North Germanic: Internal variation and language history“, linked to current research on the phonological systems of North-Western Europe at the University’s school of Linguistics and English Language.

The project aims to elucidate the range of variation found in the realization of preaspirated stops in two varieties of Norwegian. From previous research, it is known that several varieties of Norwegian show preaspiration of fortis stops in words like takk ‘thanks’, as well devoicing of sonorants before such stops, in words like like salt ‘salt’ and vent ‘wait’. However, instrumental study of this phenomenon is yet in its infancy: whilst Pétur Helgason’s work has identified the existence of several types of preaspiration across North Germanic varieties, the extent of the dialectal differences in the properties of preaspiration remains largely unknown. This under appreciation of diversity in preaspiration types is particularly striking when compared to the broad range of variation in preaspiration found in a language like Scottish Gaelic, despite the comparable (or even shallower) time depth.

In the course of the project, acoustic data on the realization of preaspiration in a range of controlled contexts will be used to evaluate the similarities and differences between two varieties of Norwegian (northern and western). The results will be analysed using a quantitative approach to the comparison of patterns of variation inspired by work in historical sociolinguistics. Furthermore, an understanding of the diversity or otherwise of the phenomenon of ‘preaspiration’ can inform our ideas of whether contact explanations are necessary (or indeed sufficient) to explain its prevalence in unrelated languages in north-western Europe.


Highlighted: the word tott in a recording from Evje in Setesdal captured in the Nordic Dialect Corpus: