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When Was Dissimilation First Documented?

asked 2015-03-19 12:57:49 -0500

anonymous user


Kind Linguists.

I am tickled pink to have found your WEB page this morning. I have searched your Q&A archives, and I don't think my question was asked before. My apologies if I missed it.

I frame the question: I am an amateur at this, but my love for this science is unbounded. There are certain phenomena in the history of the Hebrew Language, which seem best explained by the phenomena of Dissimilation. These are conclusions published by several noted scholars in the field. No problem. But then there are explanations offered by alternate Hebraicists, who make no mention of Dissimilation. Perhaps they didn't know about this concept, given the older date-stamp on their writings.

If Dissimilation was unknown or undefined at a certain point in time in the past, maybe we can expect older references to be silent on the matter.

Might any of you know when Dissimilation was first proposed, discovered or explained.

I'll be more specific. The reference I question, which makes no mention of Dissimilation, was published in 1848. Was dissimilation widely understood then?

Humbly and gratefully submitted,

Michael A. Banak

(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)

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answered 2015-03-21 19:42:00 -0500

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.)


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answered 2015-04-13 15:07:32 -0500

Webster's gives "ca. 1874" as first occurrence of the word dissimilation, and 1841 for dissimilate (but I don't know if the latter was used in the linguistic sense). For French, the Petit Robert gives: end of XIXth century. Dissimilation in today's sense is linked to the notion of sound law (a given dissimilation is either a sound law or an exception to sound laws), and the notion of sound laws is born around 1875.

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Asked: 2015-03-19 12:57:49 -0500

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Last updated: Apr 13 '15