|Sound change and alternation|
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Consonant gradation is a type of consonant mutation, in which consonants alternate between various "grades". It is found in some Uralic languages such as Finnish, Estonian, Northern Sámi, and the Samoyed language Nganasan. In addition, the term has been used for an unrelated alternation pattern reconstructed for Proto-Germanic, the parent language of the Germanic languages. Of the Finnic languages, Votic is known for its extensive set of gradation patterns. Consonant gradation in some of these languages is not (or is no longer) purely phonological, although this may be surmised for various reconstructions of Proto-Finnic. In archiphonemic terms, the mutation is a type of lenition in which there are quantitative (e.g. /kː/ vs. /k/) as well as qualitative (e.g. /k/ vs. /v/) alternations.
What types of consonants and consonant clusters may undergo gradation vary from language to language; for example, Northern Sámi has three different grades (as well as having three quantities of consonant length), and also allows for quantitative gradation of its sonorants /l m n r/. Most Finnic languages, however, have two grades and only allow stops to undergo gradation. Languages may also have other constraints for loanwords; for example, loan words and some personal names in Finnish may have quantitative gradation, but not qualitative, thus auto does not become *audon '(the) car's', but remains auton.
 Finno-Samic languages
Consonant gradation in the Finno-Samic languages was originally triggered in two contexts:
- When the consonant appeared at the beginning of a non-initial closed syllable
- When the consonant appeared at the beginning of a non-initial secondarily stressed syllable
The first type is known as radical gradation or syllabic gradation. A syllable was closed if it ended in a consonant, which in particular always occurred with a word-final consonant, but also if vowels were separated by two or more consonants (including geminates).
The second type is known as suffixal gradation or rhythmic gradation. Stress originally fell on odd-numbered syllables, with the 1st syllable primarily stressed and the 3rd, 5th… syllables secondarily stressed.
The effect of gradation was a lenition of the consonant at the beginning of the syllable. Lenition caused geminate (long) stops to shorten, and it caused already-short voiceless obstruents to become voiced if they were not preceded by another obstruent:
- *pp [pː] → *p̆p [pˑ]
- *tt [tː] → *t̆t [tˑ]
- *kk [kː] → *k̆k [kˑ]
- *p → *b
- *t → *d
- *k → *g
The weakened grades of geminate consonants still counted as geminates for the purposes of syllabification. That is, a syllable ending with a geminate in the weak grade was still considered closed. One such example of these is the Finnish derivational suffix -ton/tön '-less'. When applied to the word tapa 'custom, practice', one would expect *tapaton when in fact it is tavaton. Historically this suffix was *-ttojn, with a long -tt-. When gradation was introduced, this was not immediately fully shortened, but remained for a period an intermediate quantity, *-t̆t-. This mid-length consonant was still able to trigger gradation of the root, and when they were changed to be realized as a short the effects on gradation remained, thus: *tapattoin → *tabat̆toin → tavaton. This change is also the cause for the present surface forms of the Finnish passive.
 Finnic languages
In Finnic, the voiced stops *b *d *g generally became fricatives *β *ð *ɣ unless they were preceded by a nasal. These soon underwent further changes, and have been lost from almost all Finnic varieties (instances of /ð/ still linger in the Kven language and the traditional dialect of Rauma).
Rhythmic gradation (but not syllabic gradation) expanded to include a pattern *s → *h, presumed to reflect a former pattern *s → *z. Several roots also developed from bisyllabic to monosyllabic (e.g. *päŋi → *pää "head"), and rhythmic gradation was adjusted accordingly (partitive: *pää-tä, not **pää-ðä).
The inventory of possible geminate consonants expanded considerably, and the geminate affricate *cc [tsː] was subjected to gradation.
Veps and Livonian have largely leveled the original gradation system and reflect both weak and strong grades of single stops as /b d g/; this may be an archaism or a substitution of voiced stops for fricatives due to foreign influence (Russian for Veps, Latvian for Livonian). Both grades of geminate stops are also reflected as /p t k/ (except for northernmost Veps dialects).
Generally speaking, the nominative of the noun, and the first infinitive of verbs are most often in the "strong" grade. On the other hand, there are a few classes of nouns and verbs in which these "dictionary forms" of the words exhibit a weak grade. The process is grammatical, and it always works such that the "stem" of the word is the strong form. This sometimes creates difficulties in identifying the root (if the word is derived), because often seemingly basic words turn out to be derived, applying gradation in the process. For example, hake "wood chippings" gradates to hakkee-, not to *hae-, because it is already a gradated form (former *hak̆keh), derived from hakkaa- < "hack" (whose infinitive is the weak grade haka|ta). However, hake|a "to get, to search" does gradate to hae-, as hake- is the original form.
|pp → p||kauppa ~ kaupan||p → *b → v; chroneme||kalpa ~ kalvan|
|kk → k||tikka ~ tikan||k → *g → k, j, v, Ø; chroneme)||ikä ~ iän|
|tt → t||matto ~ maton||t → *d (d*, chroneme)||mato ~ madon|
The realization of *d varies from dialect to dialect, some dialects deleting it, or some representing it as [r], [l], [ð], [h] or [j], or a combination of these. In eastern dialects, for instance, it is possible to find *d surfacing as either [h], [j] based on phonetic environment.
Since the phonetic environment controls the realization, the number of actual patterns is large. Assimilation produces a geminate, e.g. lampi 'pond' → lammen 'pond-Gen' (*lamben). Without the historical perspective mentioned above, this phoneme is analyzed as a chroneme, a consonant exhibited as a lengthening of the previous consonant.
In terms of the standard language, K is the phoneme with the most possible changes. It can disappear as in jalka 'foot' → jalan 'foot-Gen', or:
Changes for t include t : d (tietää : tiedän), rt : rr (kertoa : kerron), lt : ll (pelto : pellon), and nt ~ nn (antaa ~ annan). The last three forms are due to assimilation, rather than the consonant gradation itself. Changes for p include p : v (tapa : tavan) and mp : mm (lampi : lammen), where the latter is again caused by assimilation and not by consonant gradation itself.
Due to the agglutinative nature of Finnic languages, and thus the application of a number of derivational suffixes, there are various grade alternations that occur in suffixes, not just word roots. An intensitive/causatival verbal suffix -tta/ttä- undergoes gradation to -ta/tä- when various derivational or inflectional suffixes are added to it, however when affixed to a word it also causes gradation in the inflectional stem. Thus, pitää 'to hold, keep' becomes pidättää 'to restrain, prevent, arrest'. When the word's syllable structure changes due to inflection for person and tense however, the grade of the previous stem does not change, as weakened geminates also trigger the weak grade on a preceding syllable: pidättää vs. pidätän 'I restrain'.
 Historical sound changes affecting realization of weak grades
- The weak grades *p̆p, *t̆t, *k̆k of geminates coincided with plain *p, *t, *k.
- The weak grades *mb, *nd, *ŋg of nasal+stop clusters were assimilated to geminate nasals /mm/, /nn, /ŋŋ/ (ng).
- The weak grades *lð, *rð of liquid+t clusters were similarly assimilated to geminate liquids /ll/, /rr/.
- *β merged with *ʋ (v). This may have been lost later. For example, the 3rd person singular suffix *-pi is represented by a chroneme, i.e. a lengthening of the preceding vowel; e.g. *tule-βi "s/he comes" → Old Finnish tuleu → Modern Finnish tulee.
- Between two unstressed short vowels (i.e. in the weak grade of suffixal gradation), *ð and *h were lost (but not after a diphthong, cf. illative plurals in -oihin, verbs in -oida); these may be preserved in a variety of dialects.
- After a stressed vowel, *ð remained up until the dissolution of the Finnish dialects. It was lost entirely in Eastern Finnish, while Western Finnish dialects have varying reflexes: /ɾ/ or /r/ in Ostrobothnian dialects, /l/ in Tavastian dialects, /ð/ in archaic Southwestern dialects. As the area of /ð/ shrunk thruout the 17th—19th centuries, standard Finnish /d/ developed as a spelling pronunciation of orthographical d, modeled after other languages such as Swedish, German and Russian.
- *ɣ was generally lost, but it may have become /j/ (between a liquid and /e/, as in kylki, järki above) or /ʋ/ (between two close labial vowels, as in puku above).
- The geminate affricate *cc ~ *c̆c (found in e.g. *meccä "forest") was fronted to a dental fricative *θθ : *θ. This sound has been lost in most dialects. Widely in Eastern dialects, both grades became /ht/, leading to loss of gradation. Standard Finnish was left with an unalternating /ts/ (metsä ~ metsän), a spelling pronunciation similar to the case of /d/. Other patterns found include unalternating /tt/; alternating /tt/ ~ /t/ (coinciding with original *tt); alternating /ht/ ~ /h/ (in Eastern dialects, coinciding with original *ht); alternating /ht/ ~ /t/; and alternating /ss/ ~ /s/.
 Historical sound changes affecting conditions of gradation
Some of the problems with viewing consonant gradation in Finnish as purely an issue of syllable structure is that the language has undergone various phonetic changes affecting the syllable structure. Thus, not all weak grades occur in closed syllables, nor do all strong grades occur in open syllables.
One important change was the loss of word-final *-k and *-h early on in the history of Finnish. This resulted in many open syllables with weak grades. In particular, the majority of nouns ending in -e are affected by this, with a weak grade in the nominative form. The imperative form of verbs also ended in a now-lost -k. For examples, side "bandage", from *siðe, earlier *siðek (cf. sitoa "to bind"); hakea "to get" → hae! "get! (imp.)" from *haɣe, earlier *haɣek. Traces of the original syllable closure can be seen in sandhi effects: these classes of words can still be analyzed to contain the assimilative word-final 'consonant' ˣ, realized as lengthening of the next word's initial consonant. Therefore, hae side varastosta "get a bandage from storage!" is pronounced [hɑe‿sːide‿ʋːɑrɑstostɑ], where the weak grades indeed occur in closed syllables.
The loss of -k combined with loss of d were responsible for the modern Finnish infinitive ending, which was historically *-tak/täk. The final *-k triggered gradation, so that the ending normally became *-dak/däk. In turn, following the loss of d between unstressed vowels, and the loss of final *-k only *-aˣ/äˣ remained. Thus, hakea (originally *hakedak) has only -a as the d was lost. But juo-da "to drink" kept its d because of the stressed syllable preceding it. In the case of tulla "to come", the earlier form was *tul-ðak, but the *ð was assimilated to the l according to the rules above. The original strong grade was preserved in hais-ta "to stink" because of the preceding obstruent s which prevented gradation.
The situation appears differently in the many verbs ending in -ata/ätä. These verbs seem to have preserved the strong grade in the infinitive ending, going counter to the rules of gradation. However, historically it is in fact a weak grade: the stem of the verb itself ended in *-at/ät-, and this is still visible in the imperative ending -atkoon/ätköön. Thus, when combined with the infinitive ending, the verb ended in *-attak/ättäk (similar to the origin of the -ton/tön suffix described above). The -k then weakened the consonant from a geminate *-tt- to a single *-t-, and later loss of -k resulted in the final form -ata/ätä. However, even though this is now a single consonant, it was originally a geminate and therefore triggers the weak grade on the syllable before it. So whereas the infinitive may be for example hypätä "to jump", its original stem was *hyppät-, as can be seen in the first-person singular form hyppään "I jump", from earlier *hyppäðen with loss of *-ð-.
An opposite effect was caused by the loss of *h and *ð between unstressed vowels. Loss of h affected nouns and adjectives ending in *-s or *-h, such as kuningas "king". In the nominative, this -s appeared as usual, and as the preceding syllable was closed, the weak grade ng appeared. But when a case ending such as the genitive -(e)n was added, the result was originally *kuninkasen, which was then weakened to *kuninkahen, and the loss of -h- then resulted in the modern form *kuninkaan. The intermediate steps are seen in mies "man", but the -h- was not lost, so that its genitive is miehen.
Similar changes affected the illative ending, which was -hVn where V was the same as the vowel preceding the ending. The h is preserved after stressed syllables, as in maahan "into the land" (from maa), but lost otherwise as in kotiin "into the home" (from earlier *kotihin, from koti). This explains why kotiin retains a strong grade even though a closed syllable follows it. The Pohjanmaa dialect of Finnish retains the -h-, however.
Words that now end in -e are in fact very similar to those ending in -s. These originally ended with -k or -h so that the nominative ended in a consonant just as kuningas and therefore the preceding syllable was in the weak grade. But after an ending was added, the weak grade g appeared, which eventually disappeared just as h did.
 Analogical extension of gradation
The consonant clusters /ht/ and /hk/ were, comprising two obstruents, not originally subject to gradation (as is still the case for similar clusters such as /sp/, /st/, /tk/). However, gradation pairs ht : *hð and hk : *hɣ were at one point introduced. The first of these patterns remains productive in modern Finnish, e.g. vahti : vahdit "guard(s)". The second is only found in a limited number of words, e.g. pohje : pohkeet "thigh(s)", but rahka : rahkat "quark(s)". Usage varies for some words with /hk/, e.g. for the plural of nahka "leather, hide", both nahat and nahkat are acceptable.
Quantitative consonant gradation has expanded to include in addition to the pairs kk : k, pp : p, tt : t, also gg : g and bb : b (but not dd : d) in a number of recent loanwords, such as blogata : bloggaan "to blog"; lobata : lobbaan "to lobby".
 Analogical limitation of gradation
|This section requires expansion. (February 2012)|
While syllabic gradation remains generally productive, the distortions of its original phonetic conditions have left it essentially a morphologically conditioned process. This is particularly visible in forms that display a strong grade where a weak would be historically expected, or vice versa. Possessive suffixes, in particular, are always preceded by the strong grade, even if the suffix may cause the syllable to be closed. For example, "our bed" is sänkymme, not ˣsängymme.
Strong grades may also be found in closed syllables in contractions such as jotta en → jotten.
Several recent loans and coinages with simple /p, t, k/ are also left entirely outside of gradation, e.g. auto (: auton) "car", eka (: ekan) "first", muki (: mukin) "mug", peti (: petin ) "bed", söpö (: söpön) "cute". A number of proper names such as Alepa, Arto, Malta, Marko belong in this class as well.
Suffixal gradation has been largely lost, usually in favor of the weak grade. While the partitive plurals of kana "hen" and lakana "bedsheet" still show distinct treatment of the original *-ta (kanoja, lakanoita), the partitive singulars in modern Finnish both have the weak grade (kanaa, lakanaa), although originally a form such as *lakanata must have occurred for the latter. Similarly the participle ending *-pa is now uniformly -va, even after stressed syllables; e.g. syö-vä "eating", voi-va "being able". (The original forms may remain in diverged sense or fossilized derivatives: syöpä "cancer", kaikki-voipa "almighty".)
Karelian consonant gradation is quite similar to Finnish: *β *ð *ɣ have been lost in a fashion essentially identical to Eastern Finnish (and may have occurred in the common ancestor of the two), with the exception that assimilation rather than loss has occurred also for *lɣ and *rɣ. E.g. the plural of jalka "foot" is jallat, contrasting with jalat in Finnish and Estonian.
Karelian still includes some gradation pairs which Finnish does not. The consonants /t k/ undergo consonant gradation when following a coronal obstruent /s š t/: muistua 'to remember' → muissan 'I remember', matka → matan 'trip' (nom. → gen.). This development may be by analogy of the corresponding liquid clusters. On the other hand, some Karelian dialects (such as Livvi or Olonets) do not allow for gradation in clusters beginning on nasals. Thus, the Olonets Karelian equivalent of Finnish vanhemmat (cf. vanhempi 'older') is vahnembat.
The Karelian phoneme inventory also includes the affricate /tʃ/ (represented in the orthography as č, which may be found geminated and is such subject to quantitative gradation: meččä 'forest' → mečäššä 'in (the) forest'.
Votic has two quantities for consonants and vowels, which basically match up with the Finnish counterparts. The Votic phoneme inventory includes a set of fully voiced stops, which Paul Ariste (A Grammar of the Votic Language) describes as being the same as in Russian. Thus, in addition to quantitative alternations between /p: t: k:/ and /p t k/, Votic also has a system of qualitative alternations in which the distinguishing feature is voicing and so the voiceless stops /p t k/ are known to alternate with /b d g/.
As in Estonian, Karelian, and Eastern dialects of Finnish, the weak grade *ð of /t/ has been lost of assimilated to adjacent sounds in Votic; the weak grade *β of /p/ has similarly become /v/, or assimilated to /m/ in the cluster /mm/. However, the weak grade /k/ survives, as /g/ before a back vowel or /j ~ dʲ/ before a front vowel.
A noticeable feature of Votic is that gradation has been extended to several consonant clusters that were not originally affected. As in Finnish, this includes the clusters /ht/ and /hk/ with a voicing-neutral first member, but also further clusters, even several ones introduced only in Russian loans.
|k → g||luku → lugud
'number' → 'numbers'
|s → z||isä → izässä
'father' → 'from (the) father'
|hk → hg||tuhka → tuhgassa
'ash' → 'from (the) ash'
|ŋk → ŋg||aŋko → aŋgō
'pitchfork' → 'pitchfork (gen.)'
|pk → bg||šapka → šabgā
'hat' → 'hat' (gen.)
|sk → zg||pǟsko → pǟzgō
'swallow' → 'swallow (gen.)'
|šk /ʃk/ → žg /ʒɡ/||šiška → šižgā
'rag' → 'rag (gen.)'
|tšk /tʃk/ → džg /dʒɡ/||botška → bodžgad
'barrel' → 'barrels'
Votic also has a number of alternations between continuants which are short in the 'weak' grade, and geminates in the 'strong' grade (kassā 'to sprinkle/water' vs. kasan 'I sprinkle/water'), as well as more voicing alternations between palatalized stops, and the alternations between nasal+consonant~nasal+chroneme found in Finnish. Votic also includes alternations in which the 'strong' grade is represented by a short consonant, while the 'weak' grade is represented by a geminate: rite̮le̮n vs. riďďe̮lla. For comparison, the Finnish equivalents of these is riitelen 'I quarrel' vs. riidellä 'to quarrel'.
|This section requires expansion. (February 2012)|
Though otherwise closely related to Votic, consonant gradation in Estonian is quite different from the other Finnic languages. The principal difference is the existence of three grades of consonants, going along with the existence of three degrees of consonant length.
Greater loss of word-final segments (both consonants and vowels) has also left the Estonian gradation an almost entirely opaque process
The system of gradation has also expanded to include gradation of all consonant clusters (generally quantitative), and vowel gradation between long and overlong vowels.
 Samic languages
|This section requires expansion. (February 2012)|
Gradation in the Samic languages has developed to a direction similar to Estonian: applying to all consonants, with generally three grades found instead of two, and the original conditions of syllable closure almost entirely obscured. A common feature across Samic is the fortition (usually realized as lengthening) of all consonants in the strong grade. In the languages in closest contact to Finnic (Northern, Inari and Skolt), a number of developments towards the situation in Finnish and Karelian have occurred, such as the representation of the weak grade of *t as /ð/.
Similar to the cases of Veps and Livonian within Finnic, the marginal language South Sami has lost gradation and has /b d g/ for *p *t *k of either grade.
 Northern Sámi
Northern Sámi has a system of three phonological lengths for consonants, and thus has extensive sets of alternations. Not just stops and affricates are subject to gradation, but in addition sonorants and fricatives. Sonorants and fricatives are only subject to quantitative gradation, but stops and affricates are subject to both quantitative and qualitative changes. Some words alternate between three grades, though not all words do. Note that the following apostrophe marking the over-long grade is not used in the official orthography, although it is generally found in dictionaries.
Some gradation triads include the following:
namma ~ namat
'name' ~ 'names'
viessu ~ viesut
'house' ~ 'houses'
|/p/||hpp /hːp/||hp /hp/||b /b/~/v/|
|b'b /bːp/||pp /pː/|
|/t/||htt /hːt/||ht /ht/||đ /ð/|
|d'd /dːt/||tt /tː/|
|/k/||hkk /hːk/||hk /hk/||g /k/~/∅/|
|g'g /ɡːk/||kk /kː/|
|/tʃ/||hčč /hːtʃ/||hč /htː/||ž /tʃ/|
|ž'ž /dːtʃ/||čč /tʃː/|
|/ts/||hcc /h:ts/||hc /hts/||z /ts/|
|z'z /dːts/||cc /tːs/|
North Sámi also has phonotactic rules which provide for more consonant clusters, which are also subject to alternation. In some dialects the syllable structure is what is alternating, not necessarily consonant length or quality. For example, the word bárdni 'boy' contains a schwa vowel between the r and d, but only in the "strong" form of the word, and is lost when the word alternates: /pærᵊtniː/ ~ /pærtniːʰt/ 'boys'.
Nganasan, alone of the Samoyedic languages (or indeed any Uralic languages east of Finnic), shows systematic qualitative gradation of stops and fricatives. Gradation occurs in intervocalic position as well as in consonant clusters consisisting of a nasal and a stop. Examples of Nganasan consonant gradation can be seen in the following table (the first form given is always the nominative singular, the latter the genitive singular):
|h : b||bahi : babi||'wild reindeer'|
|t : ð||ŋuta : ŋuða||'berry'|
|k : ɡ||məku : məɡu||'back'|
|s : dʲ||basa : badʲa||'iron'|
|ŋh : mb||koŋhu : kombu||'wave'|
|nt : nd||dʲintə : dʲində||'bow'|
|ŋk : ŋɡ||bəŋkə : bəŋɡə||'sod hut'|
|ns : nʲdʲ||bənsə : bənʲdʲə||'all'|
The original conditions of the Nganasan gradation can be shown to be identical to gradation in Finnic and Samic; that is, radical/syllabic gradation according to syllable closure, and suffixal/rhythmic gradation according to a syllable being of odd or even number, with rhythmic gradation particularly well-preserved.
Outside the Uralic family, the term consonant gradation has recently been applied to Proto-Germanic, the parent language of the Germanic languages. Consonant gradation is not directly attested in any of the Germanic dialects, but must nevertheless be reconstructed on the basis of certain dialectal discrepancies in root of the n-stems and the ōn-verbs.
Diachronically, the rise of consonant gradation in Germanic is explained by Kluge's law, by which geminates arose from stops followed by a nasal in a stressed syllable. Since this sound law only operated in part of the paradigms of the n-stems and ōn-verbs, it gave rise to an alternation of geminated and non-geminated consonants.
The reconstruction of grading paradigms in Proto-Germanic explains root alternations such as Old English steorra 'star' < *sterran- vs. Old Frisian stera 'id.' < *steran- and Norwegian (dial.) guva 'to swing' < *gubōn- vs. Middle High German gupfen 'id.' < *guppōn- as generalizations of the original allomorphy. In the cases concerned, this would imply reconstructing an n-stem nom. *sterō, gen. *sterraz < PIE *h2stér-ōn, *h2ster-n-ós and an ōn-verb 3sg. *guppōþi, 3pl. *gubunanþi < *ghubh-néh2-ti, *ghubh-nh2-énti.
- The complete list may be seen here.
- Kimberli Mäkäräinen. "The diabolical k". Finnish Grammar. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Helimski, Eugene. Proto-Uralic gradation: Continuation and traces - In: Congressus Octavus Internationalis Fenno-Ugristarum. Pars I: Orationes plenariae et conspectus quinquennales. Jyväskylä, 1995. 
- Kroonen, Guus. 2011. The Proto-Germanic n-stems : a study in diachronic morphophonology. Amsterdam/New York.
- Helimski, Eugene 1998. Nganasan. In: Daniel Abondolo (ed.), The Uralic Languages, pp. 480–515. London / New York: Routledge.
- Introduction to Finnish - Consonant Gradation
- Finnish Grammar - Consonant Gradation
- Finnish Consonant Gradation