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Sound change and alternation
Fortition (strengthening)

In phonology, epenthesis (/əˈpɛnθəsɪs/, Ancient Greek ἐπένθεσις - epenthesis, from epi "on" + en "in" + thesis "putting") is the addition of one or more sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word. Epenthesis may be divided into two types: excrescence (if the sound added is a consonant) and anaptyxis (if the sound added is a vowel).


Epenthesis of a consonant, or excrescence


As a historical sound change

  • Latin tremulare > French trembler ("to tremble")
  • Old English thunor > English thunder
  • (Reconstructed) Proto-Greek *amrotos > Ancient Greek ambrotos ("immortal")
  • Latin homine(m) > homne > homre > Spanish hombre ("man")

As a synchronic rule

In French, /t/ is inserted in inverted interrogative phrases between a verb ending in a vowel and a pronoun beginning with a vowel, such as il a ('he has') > a-t-il ('has he?'). Here there is no epenthesis from a historical perspective, since the a-t is derived from Latin habet (he has), and the t is therefore the original third person verb inflection. However it is correct to call this epenthesis when viewed synchronically, since the modern basic form of the verb is a, and the psycholinguistic process is therefore the addition of t to the base form.

A similar example is the English indefinite article a, which becomes an before a vowel. In Old English, this was ane in all positions, so a diachronic analysis would see the original n disappearing except where a following vowel required its retention: an > a. However a synchronic analysis, in keeping with the perception of most native speakers, would (equally correctly) see it as epenthesis: a > an.

As a poetic device

  • Latin reliquias > poetic relliquias

The three short syllables in reliquias will not fit into dactylic hexameter because of the dactyl's limit of two short syllables, so the first syllable is lengthened by adding another l. However, this pronunciation was often not written with double ll, and may have been the normal way of pronouncing a word starting in rel- rather than a poetic modification.

In informal speech

In English, a stop consonant is often added as a transitional sound between the parts of a nasal + fricative sequence:

  • English "hamster" often pronounced with an added "p" sound, [ˈhæmpstər]
  • English "warmth" often pronounced with an added "p" sound, [ˈwɔrmpθ]
  • English "fence" often pronounced [ˈfɛnts]

In Japanese

A limited number of words in Japanese use epenthetic consonants to separate vowels, example of this is the word harusame (春雨, spring rain) which is a compound of haru and ame in which an /s/ is added to separate the final /u/ of haru and the initial /a/ of ame. Since epenthetic consonants are not used regularly in modern Japanese, it is possible that this epenthetic /s/ is a hold over from Old Japanese. It is also possible that OJ /ame2/ was once pronounced */same2/, and the /s/ is not epenthetic but simply retained archaic pronunciation. Another example is kosame (小雨, light rain).

Certain word compounds show an epenthetic /w/. One example is the word baai (場合, situation), which is a combination of ba (場, place) and ai (合い, meet): in some dialects it is pronounced bawai.

One hypothesis argues that Japanese /r/ developed "as a default, epenthetic consonant in the intervocalic position".[1]

Epenthesis of a vowel, or anaptyxis

Epenthesis of a vowel, or anaptyxis (ἀνάπτυξις, "growth" in Greek), is also known by the Sanskrit term svarabhakti. Some accounts distinguish between "intrusive vowels", vowel-like releases of consonants as phonetic detail, and true epenthetic vowels, which are required by the phonotactics of the language and acoustically identical with phonemic vowels.

As a historical sound change

In the middle of a word

  • braːdar > Persian baraːdar "brother"


  • Latin stupidus > Spanish estúpido

As a poetic device

An example in an English song is "The Umbrella Man", where the meter requires "umbrella" to be pronounced with four syllables, um-buh-rel-la, so that "any umbrellas" has the meter ány úmberéllas. The same thing occurs in the song Umbrella.

As a grammatical rule

Epenthesis often breaks up a consonant cluster or vowel sequence that is not permitted by the phonotactics of a language. Sporadic cases can be less obviously motivated, however, such as warsh 'wash' with an extra r in some varieties of American English or Hamtramck being pronounced 'Hamtramick' as if there were an extra i.

Regular or semiregular epenthesis commonly occurs in languages which use affixes. For example, a reduced vowel /ɨ/ is inserted before the English plural suffix -/z/ and the past tense suffix -/d/ when the root ends in a similar consonant: glassglasses /ˈɡlæsɨz/ or /ˈɡlɑːsɨz/; batbatted /ˈbætɨd/.

Vocalic epenthesis typically occurs when words are borrowed from a language that has consonant clusters or syllable codas that are not permitted in the borrowing language, though this is not always the cause.

Languages use various vowels for this purpose, though schwa is quite common when it is available. For example,

  • Hebrew uses a single vowel, the schwa (though pronounced /ɛ/ in Israeli Hebrew).
  • Japanese generally uses [ɯ] except following /t/ and /d/, when it uses [o], and after /h/, when it uses an echo vowel. For example, the English word street becomes ストリート /sɯtoɾiːto/ in Japanese; the Dutch name Gogh becomes ゴッホ /ɡohho/, and the German name Bach, バッハ /bahha/.
  • Korean uses [ɯ], except when borrowing [ʃ], which takes a following [i] if the consonant is at the end of the word, or /ju/ otherwise.

In informal speech

Epenthesis most often occurs within unfamiliar or complex consonant clusters. For example, the name Dwight is commonly pronounced with an epenthetic schwa between the /d/ and the /w/, and many speakers insert schwa between the /l/ and /t/ of realtor. Epenthesis is sometimes used for humorous or childlike effect. For example, the cartoon character Yogi Bear says "pic-a-nic basket" for "picnic basket." Another example is to be found in the chants of England football fans in which England is usually rendered as [ˈɪŋɡələnd], or the pronunciation of "athlete" as "ath-e-lete". Some apparent occurrences of epenthesis, however, have a separate cause: the pronunciation of nuclear as nucular arises out of analogy with other -cular words (binocular, particular, etc.), rather than epenthesis.

  • Certain registers of colloquial Brazilian Portuguese sometimes have [i] between consonant clusters, except those formed with /l/ (atleta) or /r/ (prato) or final /s/ (/ʃ/ in carioca dialect) (pasta), so that words like psicologia and advogado are pronounced /pisikoloʒiɐ/ and /adivoɡadu/. Some regional dialects also use [e] for voiced consonant clusters.
  • In Spanish it is usual to find epenthetic or svarabhakti vowels in the groups of plosive + flap + vowel or labiodental fricative + flap + vowel, normally in non-emphatic pronunciation: For instance in pronouncing vinagre instead of the usual [biˈnaɣɾe] we find [biˈnaɣ(ə)ɾe].

In Finnish

In Finnish, there are two epenthetic vowels and two nativization vowels. One epenthetic vowel is the preceding vowel, found in the illative case ending -(h)*n, e.g. maahan, taloon. (There is no schwa in Finnish; the term "schwa" is often confused with the epenthetic vowel.) The second one is [e], connecting stems that have historically been consonant stems to their case endings, e.g. nim+nnimen.

In standard Finnish, consonant clusters may not be broken by epenthetic vowels; foreign words undergo consonant deletion rather than addition of vowels. However, modern loans may not end in consonants. Even if the word, such as a personal name, is not loaned, a paragogic vowel is needed to connect a consonantal case ending to the word. The vowel is /i/, e.g. (Inter)netnetti, or in the case of personal name, Bush + -staBushista "about Bush".

Finnish has moraic consonants, of which L, H and N are of interest in this case. In standard Finnish, these are slightly intensified when preceding a consonant in a medial cluster, e.g. -hj-. Some dialects, like Savo and Ostrobothnian, employ epenthesis instead, using the preceding vowel in clusters of type -lC- and -hC-, and in Savo, -nh-. For example, Pohjanmaa "Ostrobothnia" → Pohojammaa, ryhmäryhymä, and Savo vanhavanaha. Ambiguities may result: salmi "strait" vs. salami. (An exception is that in Pohjanmaa, -lj- and -rj- become -li- and -ri-, respectively, e.g. kirjakiria. Also, in a small region in Savo, the vowel /e/ is used in the same role.)

Related phenomena

  • Prothesis: the addition of a sound to the start of a word.
  • Paragoge: the addition of a sound to the end of a word.
  • Infixation: the insertion of a morpheme within a word.
  • Tmesis: the inclusion of a whole word within another one.
  • Metathesis: the reordering of sounds within a word.

See also


  1. ^ Labrune: 1


External links

Redirecting to Epenthesis


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