Research Leave Scheme: Laryngeal realism in Germanic Historical Phonology

Project Details


This study shows how best we can understand (i) specific sets of data from the history of Germanic languages and (ii) the general types of changes that they represent (commonly encountered and typically described as cases of ‘lenition’).

Layman's description

The sounds used to pronounce languages are frequently subject to change over time - for example, the English words 'foot' and 'five' once started with a 'p', which has since changed into an 'f'. This project aims to understand the types of change that are possible in languages, focusing on a particular set of changes which are often called 'lenition'.

Key findings

(i) changes of the 'lenition' type are more complex than had previously typically been understood because neither the history of the concept nor possible interactions with laryngeal specifications had been fully considered; (ii) the concept of 'lenition' emerged gradually over a period of over 50 years, having first been proposed in 1898 by Thurneysen to account for certain types of changes in Celtic, and only fully developed to refer to a broader set of possible changes by Martinet in the 1950s; (iii) the types of laryngeal specifications that a language has determines the types of lenition that it can undergo
Effective start/end date10/01/0631/03/07


  • AHRC: £14,013.00


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