Friday, July 25, 2008

Why a "thick"-l symbol?

Proto-Norse had for sure two allophone l sounds, a "back" l (IPA [ɫ]) and a "front" l (IPA [l]) and a "back" l (IPA [ɫ]). The back l was a short consonant (i.e., l) and the front l was long (i.e., ll) in Proto-Norse. The cluster ld was pronounced [ld] with a front l, though.

In Modern Jamtlandic the back l has turned into a retroflex flap [ɽ], let's call it a "thick" l, except in the beginning of words and after front vowels where it has become [l], let's call this a "thin" l. (There are a couple of further rules of exception; see §38 in this document.) The front l has stayed the same.

The question is now, is there any use for a special symbol denoting the thick l? The thin and the thick l's are clearly not allophones anymore in Jamtlandic, and there are no 100% waterproof rules to tell whether an l is thin or thick. A bisyllabic Old Norse word -ila would have a thin l in Modern Jamtlandic due to the front vowel i, and a bisyllabic ON word -ala would have a thick l due to the fact that a act as a back vowel. Due to vowel levelling, the words would only be separated by the quality of the l. This suggests that the thick l needs its own symbol.

What symbols should we use? Preferably a diacritic of l. Polish ł seems to be the given canditate. In Modern Polish it denotes [w], but in older Polish (and still in archaic dialects) it was pronounced [ɫ], i.e., the Old Norse pronounciation of what has become a thick l in Modern Jamtlandic.

     To conclude, the thick l in Jamtlandic is written ł.

Needless to say, in situations where one has assimilation of thick l with another consonant giving a retroflex consonant, one still writes out
ł rather than using r. Hence, we write e.g. gułd [gɞɖː] neut. 'yellow', not something like "gårdd" (see §38 in this document again).


Haukur said...

An interesting choice. Funnily enough I've been using ł for the 15th century Icelandic rímur cycle I'm working on. By that time the old distinction between 'lð' and 'ld' had moved to the l. This difference is represented in the manuscripts with 'ld' and 'lld' but using a double l is not very suitable for an etymological spelling - we're using double consonants to indicate something else. Typically both clusters are spelled the same in normalized editions but I don't feel that's the right thing to do.

JP said...

Sorry for the late answer to your comment, but here it is.

I am pretty sure that and ld in (Early?) Old Norse had a "thick" and a "thin" l, respectively. In the first case one a has a sandhi joined , while in the second case the ld is primordial. I definitely think normalized Old Norse, from a phonetical point of view, could benefit from a modified orthography than what is used today.