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Chapter 6: Segmental change: an outline of some of the most common

phonological processes
6.1. Sounds in connected speech. Coarticulation
6.2. Feature Changes. Assimilation. Different types of assimilation
6.3. Voicing and devoicing
6.4. Nasalization
6.5. Palatalization
6.6. Lenitions and fortitions
6.7. Delitions and insertions
6.8. Metathesis

6.7. Delitions and insertions

Phonological changes can have drastic results in certain environments leading to

the complete dropping of a sound in a given context. This process is called deletion or
elision. It may affect vowels and then we talk about vowel elision or it may have
consonants as target and then we obviously deal with consonant elision. It may be an
optional process if the speaker drops the sound only for articulating the phonetic
sequence more easily, or it can be obligatory, if triggered by the phonotactics of the
respective language (see below the chapter on syllable). The latter case can be noticed in
loan words which are adapted to the requirements of the language they are borrowed into
or, diachronically, when the phonotactic constraints of a certain language change in time.
Elision can be formally represented thus:
X → r / A – B

where ø represents the fact that the sound is lost.

Here are a few concrete examples:

vowel elision: /junvcswtw/ → /junwvcstw/ /pclws/ → /plws/

Lat. “tabula” → O.F. “table”→ Eng. /tewbl/
consonant elision: /pcυstmcn/ → /pcυsmcn/
O.E. cniht [kniçt] → knight [nawt]
Notice that the conservative spelling of English still represents sounds that have
no longer been pronounced for centuries. The first example for each case illustrates
optional, contextual elision, while the diachronic ones are, of course obligatory.

The opposite of deletion or elision is insertion or epenthesis. Again, depending

on the kind of sound that is inserted we can have consonant or vowel insertion. This is a
process that also takes place because in a certain context a phonetic sequence is either
difficult to pronounce or violates the phonotactic rules of the language and then a vowel
is introduced to break up the unacceptable consonant clusters while a glide or a
consonant can be inserted to separate sequences of vowels that would be difficult to
pronounce in succession with a hiatus.

Here is the general formalized representation of an

epenthetic process:

q → X / A —B
A. Vowel insertion:
We will remember that vowel insertion is very common in English in
morphological processes when the past tense ed morpheme is added to a base ending in
either t or d or the plural morpheme s is added to a base ending in a sibilant.
vowel insertion: [tFks] + [z] → [tFksz] → [tFksιz]
pluralization vowel epenthesis
[kclaιd] + [d] → [kclaιdd ] → [kclaιdιd]
[rent] + [d ] → [rentd ] → [rentιd]
past tense formation vowel epenthesis
vowel insertion: Tbilissi → /tcbwlwsw/
Gdansk → /gcdansk/

Other languages illustrate the same process. For instance, because the sequence
/sp/ is not accepted in syllable initial position is Spanish, an epenthetic /e/ is inserted
before it: escudo, esperanza, España, estar, Esteban.

B. Consonant insertion:
A common example in English is the form an adopted by the indefinite article in
front of words beginning with a vowel: an act, an octopus etc. Notice that in front of
glides no epenthetic consonant is introduced: a year [c jc], a wife [c wawf]. However, if
the word begins with a mute h, then the consonant is inserted: an hour, an honourable
man, an heir. The Greek prefix a, “not”, “without”, displays the same behaviour; atrophy,
aboulia, amorphous, apathy, aphasia, but anarchy, analgesic, anharmonic, anhydrous,
The latter are all cases of diachronic, obligatory insertion. Contextually, in certain
accents of English, the rhotic r is optionally inserted to break up a hiatus. This is called
an “intrusive r”.
I saw it [ aw s]:r wt]; the flaw is too serious [fl]:r wztu:swcrwcs].
When it is followed by a vowel, the syllable-final rhotic, which is normally
dropped in non-rhotic accents, is commonly “resuscitated”. This r is called “linking” r
(see, also, the description of the rhotics above, in Chapter 3):
The car is mine [ka:r ızmaın]. Your answer [j]:r a:nsc]