August 26, 2019

From Glide to Fricative

Updated:: with more audio samples besides YouTube.

Glides, or semivowels, are made by having the tongue almost come in contact with part of the mouth. For example, when you make the sound in "you" [ju], the tongue moves near the front of your mouth but it doesn't touch it. It almost sounds like a very fast 'ee' [i]! The same thing happens in "woo" [wu], where your lips almost form an 'oo' [u] but don't touch.

But what if you overshot your estimate, and then your lips touched, or your tongue touched the roof of your mouth? Then the air passing through would be disturbed, and the sound would become a fricative. If a sound that is normally a glide becomes a fricative, that's called fortition, because the sound is getting stronger. (Fortition also applies to other sound changes.)

Here are the examples that inspired this post. First, fortition of [w] into something almost like [v].

“vwhoa, let me show you how a country boy treats a lady, vwhoa, go ahead kick 'em off...” - "If the boot fits," Granger Smith

You can clearly hear some buzzing as he says the 'w' in "whoa", and that buzzing is a telltale sign of frication. No buzzing means no frication.

Now let's look at [j] becoming something like [z]. This one is a bit more subtle, but you can also hear some buzzing on the "you" that normally isn't there. I had to listen to this one multiple times to make sure that this wasn't some kind of editing error, but it doesn't sound like this was cut from a longer line.

"“zyou’ve got everything you need,” One Direction

How common is fortition from glide to fricative? It's been known to happen across languages, but how often does it happen in English? Frankly, I've no idea how common it is. I don't even know how common it is in song. From this very limited sample, it doesn't seem region specific - Granger Smith is from Texas and Liam is from Wolverhampton in England. Both probably 'overshot' while singing and ended up with a little extra buzzing. Since it's not super noticeable, I bet you most people won't even think of it as a speech error.

Have you encountered examples of glides becoming fricatives? What about across languages? Do you notice this happening in speech as well? Sound off in the comments!

3 comments:

  1. At 2:04 you can see that Granger Smith has a noticeable overbite. He probably has trouble articulating [w].

    The other video is "not available" without any further explanation. :-(

    Wolvhamperton

    Wolverhampton. :-)

    Have you encountered examples of glides becoming fricatives? What about across languages?

    As you mention, that's very common – almost every [v] in Europe comes from an earlier [w], and the voiced palatal fricative [ʝ], as found in Spanish, is often thought to be the first step of further fortition towards affricates like [dʑ] (as... also found in Spanish, though not as widespread).

    Many reported occurrences of [v] in Europe are actually the labiodental approximant [ʋ], though. My grandmother uses it in her (and my) native German, which is of a southern kind that lacks voiced fricatives altogether.

    I don't use [ʋ]. But I can't hear or feel any buzzing in my /v/ either. The trick is that I articulate a fricative, but the air comes out through the nose: [ṽ]. I'm pretty sure the same happens to my /j/, and I definitely extend this to /z/ and /ð/ in French and English most of the time, to the point that my /ð/ can become hard to hear.

    (...I don't think I do this to /ʒ/, which would basically disappear completely that way. At least not as often.)

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    Replies
    1. The other video is "not available" without any further explanation. :-(

      How unfortunate! I'll try to upload a copy separate from YouTube.

      Good catch on Wolverhampton! I totally misremembered the name :)

      That's an interesting point about Indo-European [v] stemming from [w]! I'd often wondered how such a big change (to my ears) could come about without getting commented on, but I bet most people don't even notice Granger's labialized [v].

      Interesting to her about your nasalized fricatives. Do you find them acoustically similar to oral fricatives? I'm trying to replicate it now and I can't quite get it to work. Have you noticed anyone else doing this in any other language? I definitely have strongly affricated voiced fricatives, though they become stops in fast speech.

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    2. Interesting to her about your nasalized fricatives. Do you find them acoustically similar to oral fricatives?

      Oh yes, and to approximants, too; I only figured this out a few years ago myself. When they're short enough, I can't tell the three apart at all – and the nasalized fricatives are generally short; I think they're an attempt to simulate the sound of approximants by different means, i.e. without opening your mouth as far.

      (Southern German is spoken without jaw movements.)

      Have you noticed anyone else doing this in any other language?

      No, but it may well exist – it's not very audible.

      I definitely have strongly affricated voiced fricatives, though they become stops in fast speech.

      ...As in da gubbamint?

      If so, I'm having a lightbulb moment about the "shift of the mediae" associated with the High German Consonant Shift: [β ɣ] ( > [v ɣ] in southern Dutch, [v g~j~0] in English...) became voiceless lenis plosives [b̥ g̊] across the board in all environments, so that "grave" is spelled crap in this 7th-century Lombardic law code.

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