The extremely common approximant sound [j] is sometimes subject to fortition; since it is a semivowel, almost any change to the sound other than simple deletion would constitute fortition. It has changed into the voiced fricative [ʝ] in a number of indigenous languages of the Arctic, such as the Eskimo–Aleut languages and Ket, and also in some varieties of Spanish. Via a voiceless palatal approximant, it has turned in some Germanic languages into [ç], the voiceless equivalent of [ʝ] and also cross-linguistically rare though less so than [ʝ]. Another change turned [j] to an affricate [dʒ] during the development of the Romance languages.

Fortition of the cross-linguistically rare interdental fricatives [θ] and [ð] to the almost universal corresponding stops [t] and [d] is relatively common. This has occurred in most continental Germanic languages and several English dialects, several Uralic languages, and a few Semitic languages, among others. This has the result of reducing the markedness of the sounds [θ] and [ð].

Fortition also frequently occurs with voiceless versions of the common lateral approximant [l], usually sourced from combinations of [l] with a voiceless obstruent. The product is a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative [ɬ].

In the Cushitic language Iraqw, *d has lenited to /r/ between vowels, but *r has undergone fortition to /d/ word initially. In Friulan ž >> d : yoyba, jobia > dobia, doba ; gel (tosc. giallo) > dal ; giovane > doven ; giugno > dun [2]

In addition to language-internal development, fortition can also occur when a language acquires loanwords. Goidelic languages frequently display fortition in loanwords as most initial fricatives (except for [s̪], [ʃ] and [f]) are disallowed in the citation form of Goidelic words. Thus initial fricatives of loanwords are strengthened to the corresponding unlenited variant or the nearest equivalent if the fricative is not part of the phoneme inventory.

Examples from Scottish Gaelic:[3]

/v//p/Scots vervane, werwanevervain’ → bearbhain /pɛɾavɛɲ/
/ʍ//kʰ/Scots quhel ‘wheel’ → cuidheall /kʰujəl̪ˠ/
/w//p/Middle English wallballa /pal̪ˠə/
/f//p/Latin fundusbonn /pɔun̪ˠ/ (foundation)
/θ//t̪ʰ/Norse þrǣlltràill /t̪ʰɾaːʎ/ (slave)
/h//t̪ʰ/Scots hogsheidhogshead’ → tocasaid /t̪ʰɔʰkəs̪ətʲ/
/j//kʲ/English yawlgeòla /kʲɔːl̪ˠə/

Post-nasal fortition

Post-nasal fortition is very common in Bantu languages. For example, Swahili l and r become d after a nasal prefix, and w becomes b; voiceless stops become aspirated. In Shambala, l and r become d, and h and gh [ɣ] become p and g as well. In Bukusu, v [β] and w become b, y becomes j [dʒ], and l, r become d. In other languages, voiceless fricatives f, s, hl become affricates pf, ts, tl; see for example Xhosa.[4] This is similar to the epenthetic stop in words like dance ([ˈdæns ~ ˈdænts]) in many dialects of English, which effectively is fortition of fricative [s] to affricate [ts].

See also


  1. Carr, Philip (1996). Phonology. Macmillan. p. 24. ISBN 0333519086.
  2. Sach- und Sprachatlas Italiens, sub vocibus
  3. t
  4. Jeff Mielke, 2008. The emergence of distinctive features, p 139ff
  • Crowley, Terry. (1997) An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.
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