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Betacism: Wikis


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In historical linguistics, betacism is a sound change in which [b] (the voiced bilabial plosive, like in bane) shifts to [v] (the voiced labiodental plosive, like in English vane). Betacism is a fairly common phenomenon; it has taken place in Greek, Hebrew, and Spanish, among others.

In Classical Greek, the letter beta <β> denoted [b]. As a result of betacism, it has come to denote [v] in Modern Greek. (Modern Greek uses the digraph <μπ> to represent [b].) Indeed, this is the origin of the word betacism.

Perhaps the best known example of betacism is in the Romance languages. The first traces of betacism in Latin can be found in the third century C.E. The results of the shift are most widespread in the Italo-Western languages, especially in Spanish, where the letters <b> and <v> have come to be pronounced [β] (the voiced bilabial fricative, which is similar to [v]) except phrase-initially and after [m]; the two sounds are now allophones. A similar phenomenon takes place in Persian in casual speech. Another example is in Neapolitan, which uses <v> to denote betacism-produced [v], such that Italian bocca corresponds to Neapolitan vocca, Italian albero to arvero, and barba to varva.

Betacism occurred in Ancient Hebrew; the sound [b] (denoted <ב>) changed to [β] and eventually to [v] except when geminated or when following a consonant or pause. As a result, the two sounds became allophones; but, due to later sound changes, including the loss of gemination, the distinction become phonemic in Modern Hebrew.


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