Compensatory lengthening in phonology and historical linguistics is the lengthening of a vowel sound that happens upon the loss of a following consonant, usually in the syllable coda, or of a vowel in an adjacent syllable. Lengthening triggered by consonant loss may be considered an extreme form of fusion (Crowley 1997:46). Both types may arise from speakers' attempts to preserve a word's moraic count.
An example from the history of English is the lengthening of vowels that happened when the voiceless velar fricative /x/ and its palatal allophone [ç] were lost from the language. For example, in the Middle English of Chaucer's time the word night was phonemically /nixt/; later the /x/ was lost, but the /i/ was lengthened to /i:/ to compensate, causing the word to be pronounced /ni:t/. (Later the /i:/ became /a?/ by the Great Vowel Shift.)
Non-rhotic forms of English have a lengthened vowel before a historical post-vocalic */r/: in Scottish English, girl has a short /?/ followed by a light alveolar /r/, as presumably it did in Middle English; in Southern British English, the */r/ has dropped out of the spoken form and the vowel has become a "long schwa" [?:].
Compensatory lengthening in Classical Hebrew and Aramaic is dependent on the class of consonant which follows the prefix (definite article in Hebrew and prefix waw-hahipukh in both languages).
E.g. (using the Hebrew definite article [hey with pata? plus dagesh in following consonant]):
Compensatory lengthening is very common in Ancient Greek. It is particularly notable in forms where n or nt comes together with s, y (= ), or i. The development of nt + y was perhaps thus:
Forms with this type of compensatory lengthening include the nominative singular and dative plural of many participles, adjectives, and nouns, the 3rd person plural ending for present and future active of all verbs, and the 3rd person singular present of athematic verbs:
In the evolution of modern Indo-Aryan language there is a first stage in which consonant clusters with dissimilar consonants preceded by a short vowel undergo assimilation resulting in consonant clusters with similar consonants. In the second stage there is loss of the first consonant along with lengthening of the vowel, sometimes with nasalization. In Punjabi, only the first stage occurred while most of the other modern Indo-Aryan languages underwent the second stage too.
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