ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

South Asia “East of the 84th Meridian”: Voiced aspiration and language contact


Hock Hans Henrich - University of Illinois, Linguistics, Urbana, IL, United States


19 – Beyond “linguistic areas” – Recent advances in the study of language contact in South Asia


 Neukom (1991, Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 22 (2): 121-147) claims that in terms of phonology (retroflexion, fricative distinctions, voiced aspiration, etc.), South Asia “East of the 84th Meridian” is a transition zone between South and Southeast Asia.

I show that the evidence of voiced aspiration (VA) argues for a subarea, between 84ºE and 90Eº. In this area, Indo-Aryan (IA) and neighboring Tibeto-Burman (TB) languages have both VA stops (VAS) and VA sonorants (VAR); languages to the east and west only have VAS or no VA at all. In both IA and TB, VAR is innovated, and VAS of TB is innovated too. A change of voiceless sonorant to VAR is attested in some TB languages east of 90ºE, is a natural process (Maddieson 1991, Berkeley Linguistics Society Proceedings, Session on African Language Structures), and could thus have developed indigenously in TB languages between 84ºE and 90Eº. Conversely, VAS is inherited in IA and not in TB. These facts might suggest mutual convergence (VAS: IA>TB, VAR: TB>IA). However, VAR in TB implies the existence of VAS, a fact that raises questions about such an account.

While there is, thus, likely evidence for contact, the direction of influence is difficult to establish. Moreover, the area between 84ºE and 90ºE, with both VA stops and VA sonorants, differs from immediate neighbors east and west, which lack VAR. As regards this feature, then, the area is unique, and not a transition zone between South and Southeast Asia.