Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
or by the actual transfer of foreign sounds into the speech of bilingual individualshave gradually been incorporated into the phonetic drift of a language. So long as its main phonetic concern is the preservation of its sound patterning, not of its sounds as such, there is really no reason why a language may not unconsciously assimilate foreign sounds that have succeeded in working their way into its gamut of individual variations, provided always that these new variations (or reinforced old variations) are in the direction of the native drift.
A simple illustration will throw light on this conception. Let us suppose that two neighboring and unrelated languages, A and B, each possess voiceless l-sounds (compare Welsh ll). We surmise that this is not an accident. Perhaps comparative study reveals the fact that in language A the voiceless l-sounds correspond to a sibilant series in other related languages, that an old alternation s: sh has been shifted to the new alternation l (voiceless): s.8 Does it follow that the voiceless l of language B has had the same history? Not in the least. Perhaps B has a strong tendency toward audible breath release at the end of a word, so that the final l, like a final vowel, was originally followed by a marked aspiration. Individuals perhaps tended to anticipate a little the voiceless release and to unvoice the latter part of the final l-sound (very much as the l of English words like felt tends to be partly voiceless in anticipation of the voicelessness of the t). Yet this final l with its latent tendency to unvoicing might never have actually developed into a fully voiceless l had not the presence of voiceless l-sounds in A acted as an unconscious
Note 8. This can actually be demonstrated for one of the Athabaskan dialects of the Yukon. [back]