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Sound change and alternation

Sandhi (Sanskrit: संधिः sandhí [1] "joining") is a cover term for a wide variety of phonological processes that occur at morpheme or word boundaries (thus belonging to what is called morphophonology). Examples include the fusion of sound across word boundaries, as its name implies, and the alteration of sounds due to neighboring sound or due to the grammatical function of adjacent words.

Sandhi occurs particularly prominently in the phonology of Indian languages (especially Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali and Sanskrit, which is the origin of the term), but it is present in many languages.


Sandhi can be either internal, within words at morpheme boundaries, as in sympathy (syn- + pathy); or external, at word boundaries, such as in the pronunciation tem books for ten books in some dialects of English. The linking R of some dialects of English is a kind of external sandhi, as is the process called liaison in the French language and raddoppiamento fonosintattico in Italian (a process known in English as syntactic gemination).

While it may be extremely common in speech, sandhi (especially external) is typically ignored in spelling, as is the case in English, with the exception of the distinction between "a" and "an". Sandhi is, however, reflected in the orthography of Sanskrit and many other Indian languages, as well as in Italian in the case of compound words with lexicalized syntactic gemination.

In Japanese phonology, sandhi is primarily exhibited in rendaku (consonant mutation from unvoiced to voiced when not word-initial, in some contexts) and conversion of つ or く (tsu, ku) to a geminate consonant (orthographically, the sokuon っ), both of which are reflected in spelling – indeed, っ symbol for gemination is morphosyntactically derived from つ, and voicing is indicated by adding two dots as in か/が ka, ga, making the relation clear. It also occurs much less often in renjō (連声?), where, most commonly, a terminal /n/ on one morpheme results in an /n/ (or /m/) being added to the start of the next morpheme, as in 天皇: てん + おう → てんのう (ten + ō = tennō); this is also shown in the spelling (as done here – the kanji do not change, but the kana, which specify pronunciation, do change). See 連声 for further examples.

External sandhi effects can sometimes become morphologized, i.e., applied only in certain morphological and syntactic environments (e.g., Tamil[2][3]) and, over time, turn into consonant mutations.

Most tonal languages have tone sandhi, in which the tones of words alter according to pre-determined rules. An example is the behavior of tone 3 in Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin has four tones, and in isolation tone 3 is often pronounced as a falling-rising tone. When a tone 3 occurs before another tone 3, however, it changes into tone 2 (a rising tone), and when occurring before any of the other tones, it is pronounced as a low falling tone, with no rise at the end. A simple example of this occurs in the common greeting 你好 nǐ hǎo (with two words containing underlying tone 3), which is normally pronounced as if written ní hǎo.

See also


  1. The pronunciation of the word "sandhi" is rather diverse among English speakers. In Sanskrit it is pronounced [sən̪d̪ʱi]. English pronunciations include /ˈsʌndi/ (identical with "Sunday" for some speakers), /ˈsændi/ (like the first name "Sandy"), and /ˈsɑːndi/.
  2. Harold F. Schiffman, A Reference Grammar of Spoken Tamil, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 20.
  3. Hemalatha Nagarajan. "Gemination of stops in Tamil: implications for the phonology-syntax interface" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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