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Hi, Michael,

Dissimilation is a well-known phenomenon in linguistics, usually used to refer to a 'historical process' in some language, but sometimes encountered as an apparent living rule in a language. I have seen the term used fairly often in discussions of Semitic languages, and historical grammars of many languages refer to the concept. The assumed motivation for the process is usually taken to be the perceived difficulty of repeating the same articulatory gesture in close proximity to itself, an idea which appeals to some linguists more than to others. Also, the particular gesture or place of articulation can affect the plausibility of the process. The date you cite (middle of the 19th century) is more than recent enough for the author to have been (in principle) exposed to discussions of dissimilation, especially in Indo-European studies. In the latter part of that century, if memory serves, de Saussure used some such effects in Indo-European reconstructions to argue for a possible relationship between Indo-European and Semitic languages. (I'm not sure if the phenomenon was actually called dissimilation very early on, but it was surely known.)