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  • Phonological Variation and Sound Change in Atayal1
  • Der-Hwa V. Rau

Three phonological variables in Atayal, (p), (m), and (l), have been identified by Li (1982) as evidencing sound change in progress. Older people tend to retain word-final [-p], [-m], and [-l], while younger people are replacing them with word-final [-k], [-ŋ], and [-n], respectively. In a recent study of Atayalic dialects, Rau (in press) discovered that new variants that do not seem to be determined by the age factor are present in the patterning. The current study explores how age, gender, social class, and social network are related to the use of these three variables in the Mstbon community. The directionality and implicational patterning of the sound change are also explored. The results indicate that the phonological variation in (m) and (l) is correlated with age, but that word-final [-p] has almost completed its change to [-k] in the community. In fact, a new variant [-t] is emerging, led by the highest social class. The direction of sound change for (p) and (m) shifts towards simplification, while the new variant for (l) arises possibly due to language contact. Furthermore, lexical diffusion plays a role in the change. Some lexical items have completed the change to new forms while others contain residues.

1. Introduction

This study investigates how social factors are related to phonological variation and sound change in progress in the Squliq variety of Atayal spoken in the Mstbon community.2 Located in Faxiang village, Ren'ai township, Nantou county, where the Atayalic dialects are most diversified (Li 1993), this community is reputed to be the original home of the Atayal. The population of Faxiang village was 935 in 1996, according to the survey conducted by the Office of Family Registrar. More than one-third of these people are in the Ruiyan community (~350), and the male/female ratio is estimated to be 1.5:1.

Li (1982) compared phonological data from 14 Atayalic dialects, not including the Mstbon dialect, and proposed the following four types of linguistic variation for different age groups: [End Page 144]

  1. 1. p ~ -k, -m ~ ŋ

  2. 2. -g ~ -w or -g ~ -y

  3. 3. -l ~ -n

  4. 4. -t ~ -c

Older speakers retained the forms on the left of the alternation sign( "~"), while younger speakers used the forms on the right. Those in between showed gradual changes and used "free variants." He also observed that gender determined variation in some cases. Males were in the lead in the Skikun dialect whereas females were in the lead in the Inago dialect. Furthermore, the lexical application of a sound change was found to be gradual in the case of Skikun and Inago, where the lexical diffusion was manifested in the speech of different age groups (i.e., "successive generations"), rather than in the speech of the same adult speaker as the speaker gets older. Although Li's methodology is based on historical linguistics and traditional dialectology, he has certainly made several important observations and hypotheses on sound change that await further quantitative analyses based on a methodology of sociolinguistic variation.

Among the phonological variation identified by Li (1982), three phonological variables stand out because they have either been cited as a well-known case of sound change in Atayal or observed in studies of other Atayalic dialects. For example, (p) and (m) were cited as an example of sound change determined by age in a basic linguistics text (Ho 1993:110-111) and (l) was observed to vary between different age groups in Pyasan dialect (Papa 1995:6) and Mabalay dialect (Lambert 1999:5). The three variables were identified as undergoing sound change in progress; older people tend to retain word final [-p], [-m], and [-l], while younger ones are replacing them with word final [-k], [-ŋ], and [-n], respectively. The overall direction of sound change in the Atayalic group was found to move towards simplification or "unmarkedness" (Li 1982).

Nevertheless, in a recent study of Atayalic dialects, Rau (in press) discovered that new variants that do not seem to be determined by the age factor are present in the patterning. In fact, the change from labials to velars is not completed in Mstbon, contrary to what...


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