Consonant Shift

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Consonant Shift


a historical change in the articulation of a group of consonants having the same mode of articulation. In a consonant shift, the oppositions that existed previously in the phonological system between the consonants of the various groups are preserved, but the features that distinguish one group from another change. Cyclical consonant shift is a parallel change in the articulation of several groups.

The term “consonant shift” is often used in comparative-historical linguistics to refer solely to the development of Indo-European consonantism in the Germanic languagues. This consonant shift was discovered by R. Rask and fully established by J. Grimm. Table 1 shows the changes in the system of initial stops of the Nostratic protolanguage in Indo-European; it also

Table 1. Consonant shift in the Germanic languages
Nostratic .....ptkbdg
Indo-European ...ptkbdgbhdhgh
Proto-Germanic ..fθxptkβδγ
Old High German .fdhpfzkbtg

shows subsequent changes that occurred in Proto-Germanic after the first consonant shift described by Grimm’s law and in Old High German after the second consonant shift.

Consonant shift has also been observed in a number of Chinese dialects and in the Chad languages (the Angas-Sura group). Consonant shift can be explained by articulatory phonetics and is often connected with the influence of a substratum language.


Martinet A. Printsip ekonomii v foneticheskikh izmeneniiakh. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from French.)
Illich-Svitych, V. M. “Sootvetstviia smychnykh v nostraticheskikh iazykakh.” In Etimologiia: 1966. Moscow, 1968.
Fourquet, J. Les Mutations consonantiques du germanique. Paris, 1948.