« Berber Ghosts in Arabic | Main | The issue of the Glottal Stop in the QCT »



David Marjanović
Different from any orthography that deviates from the spoken language in the world, the spoken Classical Arabic is more conservative than its spelling.

There are small exceptions elsewhere. For instance, the pronunciation of Austrian Standard German keeps long consonants behind long vowels and diphthongs (creating overlong syllables), while the orthography does not: schlafen is /ˈʃlaːfːm̩/. This is obvious enough that my dad, whose native language you can deduce from my surname and who consequently has lots of trouble with both vowel and consonant length, routinely misspells this particular example with ff!


Dear David, thanks for your example. I'm not quite sure it adds up though!

The f in the German word schlafn corresponds to English and Dutch p.

Had this word originally been a geminate **slaappen, it would have had a reflex pf in German, e.g. Dutch kloppen German klopfen. Whatever the origin of the long f in Austrian Standard German is exactly, I don't think it goes back to an older situation of German where consonant length was contrastive after long vowels.

But I might be missing something!

David Marjanović

Of course the *p was short. The High German consonant shift turned short aspirated plosives into long fricatives. Behind long vowels and diphthongs (and behind /l/ and /r/, which I forgot to mention), these long fricatives were then shortened in Upper Franconian and Central German at some early point during the OHG period, and this shortening is carried on in the modern spelling but never reached the Bavarian or the Alemannic dialects – or the standard pronunciation that is used where such dialects are or were spoken.

Moulton (1954 – on JSTOR, which is hard to access for me) mentioned this shortening, and also mentioned that early OHG spellings without this shortening exist, though I think he didn't mention which dialects those spellings belong to.

It's not just this one word or just f either. Reisen "travel" and reißen "rip" are a minimal pair for consonant length south of the White-Sausage Equator; [z] is a completely exotic sound that I had to learn to articulate when I started to learn French and English.


Thanks for the explanation, I was sure it was going to be more nuanced than I was seeing!

David Marjanović
(and behind /l/ and /r/, which I forgot to mention)

Oops, I shouldn't have brought these up: plosives behind these behaved as long and became affricates rather than fricatives. Long fricatives do now occur behind /l/ and (former) /r/, but this is due in some cases to syncope (Kirche, OHG kirihha; compare church, OE cirice), in others to a later process that turned /p͡f/ into /fː/ in just these positions (Dörfer, schärfer, helfenKarpfen escaped somehow), where it was again shortened north of the White-Sausage Equator but not south of it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)