Sindarin Grammar P15: Sibilant Mutation

Sindarin Grammar P15: Sibilant Mutation

Sibilant mutation results from an ancient preceding s that was caused various mutation effects before being lost. The two best examples of sibilant mutation are the preposition o “about” and (possibly) the conjunction a “and”. The most complete description of sibilant mutation appears in a discussion of one of the etymologies of “and”:

a “and” (< as(a) = Q ar): in S. this a leaves the initials b, d, g, m, n, s unchanged; but changes p, t, c > f, th, ch; and aspirates vowel (a h-annon “and gate”), and r, l > rh, lh. In older Sindarin gw became chw < sw (for gw is only the S. initial form of basic [ancient] w-: as wath “shadow”, initial form gwath, i-wath “the shadow”, a chwath “and a shadow”); but in later S. on anal. of genuine original g (as in a galað “and a tree”) gw was left unaltered: a gwath “and a shadow” (PE17/41).

Thus this mutation has two affects. First, the h which is the normal medial development of s reappears before vowels: ah annon or a hannon “and a gate”. This is happens in the phrase Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth “The Debate of Finrod and Andreth”, and a similar development is noted for [Noldorin] o “about” in The Etymologies of the 1930s:

OS- “round, about”. N o “about, concerning”, h before vowel as o Hedhil “concerning Elves” (Ety/OS).

The other affect is the voiceless stops become voiceless spirants (p, t, cph, th, ch) and voiced liquids r, l become voiceless rh, lh; this is the normal phonetic effect of a historical s preceding p, t, c, r, l. Though not mentioned by Tolkien, is likely that older initial ch would be preserved rather than becoming h as it does initially, so that initial h would “mutate” to ch.

Summary: I would rate this as a “mostly optional” mutation, in that its effects are minimal and are mentioned only in a single source. I personally would restore the h before vowels, but otherwise ignore any other mutational effects. If you do choose to use this mutation, its effects are:

  • Initial voiceless stops (p, t, c) become voiceless spirants (ph, th, ch).
  • h becomes ch.
  • Voiced liquids l, r become voiceless lh, rh.

This mutation is rather unusual, in that in most cases the result was not the same as the medial developments, but rather the result was the same as the initial development with a prefixed s, such as: sp-, st-, sk- > ph-, th-, ch-; sl-, sr- > rh-, lh-. Compare this with all the other mutations, where the phonetic development was the same as in the interior of words.

Comments

Submitted by Lokyt Thu, 06/18/2020 - 21:12

Some observations:

Prevocalic s·V > h·V (or ·hV) is basically the soft mutation, the medial intervocalic development.
However, the preconsonantal sibilant mutation is the regular initial development (sm-, sn-, sp-, st-, sk-, sr-, sl- > m-, n-, f-,
θ-, x-, r̥-, l̥-), not medial (where -sn-, -sp-, -st-, -sk-, -sr-, -sl- > -nn-, -sp-, -st-, -sk-, -θr-, -θl-[?]). This puts it to a strong contrast with the soft mutation (and maybe other mutations too) and hints at some interesting conclusions:

At some point before the first initial sC- changes (i.e. very early), os C- and as C- were to some extent reanalysed to o sC-, a sC-. On the other hand, os V- and as V- were not.

Tolkien's PE 17/41 note is another exemplification of ʍ- > xw-, to be added to https://eldamo.org/content/words/word-2178021811.html.

• We learn some entirely new rules of initial cluster development: sb-, sd-, sg- > b-, d-, g- and ss- > s-.

Submitted by Paul Strack Sat, 06/20/2020 - 17:21

I added a note to fix the phonetics entry "initial voiceless [j̊] became [x]" at some point.

The other insights are interesting (and I agree with them) but I'm not sure I want to put them in here.

Submitted by Lokyt Thu, 06/25/2020 - 17:31

> The other insights are interesting (and I agree with them) but I'm not sure I want to put them in here.

I don't think either that you should :)

The first point (that the sibilant mutation is mostly the initial development) is a feedback to your "typically undergoes sound changes similar to its historical medial development" in the general article on consonant mutations. The fact that the sibilant mutation is the untypical case should IMHO be mentioned there.

And the first and third bullet point are new phonological development rules, so they should IMHO be introduced as such.

Submitted by Paul Strack Sat, 06/27/2020 - 16:30

I added the following comment:

This mutation is rather unusual, in that in most cases the result was not the same as the medial developments, but rather the result was the same as the initial development with a prefixed s, such as: sp-, st-, sk- > ph-, th-, ch-; sl-, sr- > rh-, lh-. Compare this with all the other mutations, where the phonetic development was the same as in the interior of words.

Submitted by Lokyt Sun, 07/05/2020 - 12:15

Just stumbled across it: nos(s) + Feanor, Finrod were in EtyAC/NO first written as nos Chweanor and nos Chwinrod (before getting changed to Nos Feanor and Finrod).
Isn't this an attempt (wrongly placed and therefore removed) at sibilant mutation?

Submitted by Paul Strack Sun, 07/05/2020 - 16:08

In reply to by Lokyt

It's possible, but by no means certain. It could just be ordinary soft mutation, as happened in appositional genitives in Noldorin, for example: (hypothetical) N. Nos Gelebrimbor.

The problem with mutations producing ch is that they tell you almost nothing about the kind of mutation that is happening, since h > ch in pretty much every kind of mutation.

Submitted by Paul Strack Sun, 07/05/2020 - 20:28

In reply to by Lokyt

I don't think that's what's going on here. We know that initial chw- would become f- in Noldorin, and I think Tolkien (briefly) considered having a soft mutation of fchw by false analogy with forms that had chw- > f-. See footnote #5 PE19/18, where the (deleted) soft mutation of f was indeed chw.