The Tutuba language, spoken in the Republic of Vanuatu, has speech sounds known as apicolabials, a sound-type found in very few languages worldwide. It is thought that the apicolabials found in various languages of Vanuatu shifted as follows: 1. from labials in the protolanguage (*labials) > apicolabials, and 2. *labials > apicolabials > dentals/alveolars. However, the shift 3. *labials > apicolabials > labials has also been hypothesized. A phonetic change from apicolabials to labials, equivalent to 3., is currently taking place in the Tutuba language. It is thought that the main factor behind this change is the influence of other languages, including Bislama, the lingua franca of the area. A geographical analysis of available information shows that while the languages in which phonetic change 1. occurred are spoken on isolated islands and on the coasts of islands, the majority of the languages that have undergone phonetic changes 2. and 3. are spoken inland. This suggests the possibility that hypothesized phonetic change 3., from apicolabials to labials, occurs spontaneously as the result of external factors—the exposure to other languages.


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