Language contact as an inhibitor of sound change

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In the past 150 years, the Fort Good Hope variety of Dene (also called Slavey), an Athabaskan language of northern Canada&#8217;s Mackenzie River valley, has undergone several phonological shifts. I focus on the change of nasals to <i>r</i>. Not all nasals shift in the appropriate environment. At first, this failure to shift appears attributable to functional factors like frequency and uniformity of exponence. Another factor plays a major role: contact with a related language where the <i>n</i>&#8217;s that shift to <i>r</i> in Fort Good Hope are distinct from those that do not. Historical records indicate contact occurred around the time of the shift. Both grammatical and social factors play an important role in blocking certain <i>n</i>&#8217;s from shifting to<i> r</i>. Keywords: Dene; phonological shift; phonology; historical linguistics


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