In phonetics, preaspiration is a period of voicelessness or aspiration preceding the closure of a voiceless obstruent, basically equivalent to an [h]-like sound preceding the obstruent. In other words, when an obstruent is preaspirated, the glottis is opened for some time before the obstruent closure. To mark preaspiration using the International Phonetic Alphabet, the diacritic for regular aspiration ([ʰ]) can be placed before the preaspirated consonant. (However, Ladefoged and Maddieson prefer to use a simple cluster notation, e.g. [hk] instead of [ʰk].)
Preaspiration is comparatively uncommon across languages of the world, and is claimed by some to not be phonemically contrastive in any language. Ladefoged and Maddieson note that, at least in the case of Icelandic, preaspirated stops have a longer duration of aspiration than normally aspirated (post-aspirated) stops, comparable to clusters of [h]+consonant in languages with such clusters. As a result, they view preaspiration as purely a distributional feature, indistinguishable phonetically and phonologically from clusters with [h], and prefer to notate preaspirated stops as clusters, e.g. Icelandic kappi [ˈkʰahpi] "hero" in place of [ˈkʰaʰpi].
A distinction is often made between so-called normative and non-normative preaspiration: in a language with normative preaspiration of certain voiceless obstruents, the preaspiration is obligatory even though it is not a distinctive feature; in a language with non-normative preaspiration, the preaspiration can be phonetically structured for those who use it, but it is non-obligatory, and may not appear with all speakers. Preaspirated consonants are typically in free variation with spirant-stop clusters, though they may also have a relationship (synchronically and diachronically) with long vowels or [s]-stop clusters.
Preaspiration can take a number of different forms; while the most usual is glottal friction (an [h]-like sound), the precise phonetic quality can be affected by the obstruent or the preceding vowel, becoming for example [ç] after close vowels; other potential realizations include [x] and even [f].
Preaspiration is very unstable both synchronically and diachronically and is often replaced by a fricative or by a lengthening of the preceding vowel.
Preaspiration is perhaps best known from North Germanic languages, most prominently in Icelandic and Faroese. It is also a prominent feature of Scottish Gaelic. The presence of preaspiration in Gaelic has been attributed to Scandinavian influence.
It occurs in some dialects of Norwegian and Swedish as well as, Halh Mongolian, all Sami languages (except Inari), and in several American Indian languages, including dialects of Cree, Ojibwe, Fox, Hopi and Purepecha.
- klappa [ˈkʰlaʰpːa], 'clap'
- hattur [ˈhaʰtːʊɹ], 'hat'
- takka [ˈtʰaʰkːa], 'thank'
- søkkja [ˈsœʰt͡ʃːa], 'sink' (transitive)
- apa [ˈɛaːʰpa], 'ape', but: vípa [ˈvʊiːpa], 'Northern Lapwing'
- eta [ˈeːʰta], 'eat', but: hiti [ˈhiːtɪ], 'heat'
- vøka [ˈvøːʰka], 'wake', but: húka [ˈhʉuːka], to 'squat'
- høkja [ˈhøːʰt͡ʃa], 'crutch', but: vitja [viːt͡ʃa], to 'visit'
- kappi [ˈkʰaʰpi], 'hero'
- hattur [ˈhaʰtʏr], 'hat'
- þakka [ˈθaʰka] ( ), 'thank'
- [ʰti] - 'fish'
- [ʰtse] - 'a sore'
- [ʰtʃi] - 'small'
- [ʰka] - 'stubble'
In Scottish Gaelic, however, due to the historical loss of voiced stops preaspiration is phonemic in medial and final positions after stressed vowels.
Its strength varies from area to area can manifest itself ([ʰ] or [h]) or in areas with strong preaspiration as [ç] or [x]. The occurrence of preaspiration follows a hierarchy of c > t > p; i.e. if a dialect has preaspiration with /pʰ/, it will also have it in the other places of articulation. Preaspiration manifests itself as follows:
- Area 1 as [xk xt xp] and [çkʲ çtʲ çp]
- Area 2 as [xk xt hp] and [çkʲ çtʲ hp]
- Area 3 as [xk ht hp] and [çkʲ htʲ hp]
- Area 4 as [ʰk ʰt ʰp]
- Area 5 as [xk] and [çkʲ] (no preaspiration of t and p)
- Area 6 no preaspiration
There are numerous minimal pairs:
- glag [klˠ̪ak] "clock" vs glac [klˠ̪axk] "grab" (v.)
- ad [at̪] "hat" vs at [aht̪] "boil" (n.)
- leag [ʎɛk] "throw down" vs leac [ʎɛxk] "flagstone"
- aba [apə] "abbot" vs apa [ahpə] "ape" (n.)
- Silverman (2003:575)
- Stevens & Hajek (2004:334)
- Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996)
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