From Academic Kids

Palatalization means pronouncing a sound nearer to the hard palate, making it more like a palatal consonant; this is towards the front of the mouth for a velar or uvular consonant, but towards the back of the mouth for a front (for example alveolar) consonant. Palatalization is typically effected by bringing the tip of the tongue near the palatal ridge, and raising the middle part of the tongue towards the palatal vault. It tends to occur in the vicinity of front vowels or palatal approximants.

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, palatalized consonants are denoted with a small superscript j, for example .

Palatalization can be the result of:

  • A synchronic phonological process, by which some phonemes are realized as palatalized sounds in certain contexts (for example before front vowels), and non-palatalized elsewhere. This process does not produce two phonemes, but only allophonic variation that might even go unnoticed to the speakers.
  • A synchronic grammatical process, where palatalization as a form of consonant alternation serves a grammatical purpose (for example, palatalizing the first consonant of a verb root might signal the past tense). This type of palatalization is also phonemic (it is recognized by the speakers as a contrasting feature).
  • A diachronic phonemic split, that is, a historical change by which a phoneme becomes two different phonemes over time through palatalization and produces lexical splits (pairs of words in which the speakers recognize two different sounds).

Palatalization has played a major role in the history of the Uralic, Romance, Slavic, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Indic languages, among many others throughout the world. In Japanese, for example, allophonic palatalization affected the alveolar stops /t/ and /d/ turning them into alveolo-palatal affricates before /i/ (Japanese has only recently regained phonetical [ti] and [di] through borrowed words, and thus palatalization has become lexical).

Palatalization is common in many languages. Some English examples are:

  • The t of question and nature are pronounced as ch, or the d of soldier and procedure sound like j. As these examples suggest, in English orthography, palatalization is often indicated by a following i or u. An example from casual speech can be found when what are you up to comes out like whacha up to.
  • The historical change in pronunciation of the initial sound in Caesar from the /k/ sound in Classical Latin to the familiar /s/ sound in English and some other languages, through several intermediate steps (palatalized /k/ becomes an affricate, and then loses the plosive component). This change occurred universally in Latin after front vowels such as e or i.

See also


Bynon, Theodora. Historical Linguistics. Cambridge University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-521-21582-X (hardback) or ISBN 0-521-291188-7 (paperback).de:Palatalisierung fr:Palatalisation ko:구개음화 ja:口蓋化 zh:顎音化


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