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Open Access Some Problems on the Emergence of Dentilabialization

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Some Problems on the Emergence of Dentilabialization

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image of Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics

The dentilabialization of bilabial initial consonants in Middle Chinese is one of the important phonemic changes in the Tang Period. The condition for this change was that the word must have (1) a semivowel medial /i/ and (2) a main back vowel. The phonetic effect of (2) is that, as Chao (1940) has pointed out, a retracted position of the jaw would bring about the dentilabial contact, and the effect of (1) is that the palatalization of the consonant would enlarge the width of the contact. The fact that nasal /m/ in the rimes Dong III (東三) and You (尤) exceptionally did not receive dentilabialization could be explained by assuming a phonetic weakening of /i/ under the assimilation of rounded endings /wŋ/ and /u/. In the Wu and the Yue dialects /m/ generally was not dentilabialized. This may be related with the fact that these southern dialects have never experienced denazalization of nasal initials as in the Mandarin dialects. The dentilabialization in the phonemic sense should be regarded as a result of the merging of main vowels occurred in the middle of the Tang period.


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