Conlang/Intermediate/History/Common sound changes

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Common sound changes

Grammar changes

General Sound Changes[edit]


Assimilation is the alteration of a sound to become more similar to the surrounding sounds. A consonant may change to match the place or type of articulation of an adjoining consonant.

  • In English, /n/ often becomes [F] (labiodental) before /f/, like in <infant>.


Lenition is the "weakening" of sounds. Stops become fricatives; unvoiced consonants become voiced; stops erode into [?], or [h], or disappear. The intervocalic position is especially prone to change.

  • In some varieties of English, /t/ and /d/ can become [4].


Palatalization is the shifting of a consonant towards the palate. This is a common type of assimilation. Consonants can palatalize before or after a front vowel ([i], [e]) or a palatal consonant ([j]), perhaps ending up as an affricate or fricative.

/tj/ » [tS]
/dj/ » [dZ]
/sj/ » [S]
/zj/ » [Z]
/hj/ » [C]
  • In English, pronunciation of the -tion suffix as /S@n/ is the result of palatalization of a former /si@n/.
  • In Japanese, the pronunciation of <si> as /s\i/, <ti> as /t's\i/, <di> as /dZi/, and <hi> as /Ci/ is the result of palatalization.


Velarization is a secondary articulation of a consonant where the back of the tongue is raised towards the velum. In some languages, such as Russian and Irish, velarized consonants often contrast with palatalized consonants.

  • In some varieties of English, when /l/ is found in the syllable coda position, it is velarized (e.g. <wall> as /wO:l_G/). When /l/ is found in the syllable onset position it is non-velaried (e.g. <lawn> as /lO:n/).


Monophthongization is the simplification of a diphthong (or triphthong) down to a single vowel. This feature was very common in Old French and Ancient Greek, leading some the diphthongs of these languages to be monophthongized. For instance, the French <ai> and <eau> are now pronounced [E] and [o]; in Modern Greek, the combinations <ει> and <οι> are pronounced [i].

Some more examples:
  • In Australian English, the diphthong /e@/ (as in <air>) is often pronounced [e:].
  • In some American English dialects, the diphthong /aI/ (as in <eye>) is pronounced [a:].


Vowels next to nasal consonants very often become nasal themselves. This is a type of assimilation. If a nasal consonant disappears, the mark it left on the vowel may remain, causing nasal vowels to become phonemic. Again, this is a feature very common in the French language. Consider the word <maison>, house pronounced [mE"zO_~]. The <o> was nasalised because a nasal sound (namely /n/) was following.

Individual Sound Changes[edit]


This is the change from /z/ to a trilled /r/, which has occurred in various European languages. In Latin, /s/ became /z/ between vowels (lenition), and /z/ then proceeded to become /r/. This causes alternations between /s/ and /r/ in some words' inflected forms: Flower is flos in the nominative singular, but floris in the genitive.

You can regularise these sounds over time. Latin did this, so that original flos and honos became flor and honor, to match their genitives floris and honoris.

How to use this in your Conlang[edit]

The first thing you might want to do is find out what sort of sound changes are actually likely to happen. One of the best ways of doing that is to look at actual recorded sound changes in natural languages. You can find a great list of many of these changes at the Knee Quickie.

 Next: Grammar changes