Assimilation (linguistics)
Assimilation is a common phonological process by which the sound of the ending of one word blends into the sound of the beginning of the following word. This occurs when the parts of the mouth and vocal cords start to form the beginning sounds of the next word before the last sound has been completed. An example of this would be 'hot potato'. The (t) in 'hot' is dropped as the lips prepare for the (p) sound for 'potato' (Bloomer et, 2005).

Assimilation can be synchronic
Synchronic analysis
In linguistics, a synchronic analysis is one that views linguistic phenomena only at one point in time, usually the present, though a synchronic analysis of a historical language form is also possible. This may be distinguished from diachronics, which regards a phenomenon in terms of developments...

 being an active process in a language at a given point in time or diachronic
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...

 being a historical sound change
Sound change
Sound change includes any processes of language change that affect pronunciation or sound system structures...


A related process is coarticulation
Coarticulation in its general sense refers to a situation in which a conceptually isolated speech sound is influenced by, and becomes more like, a preceding or following speech sound...

 where one segment influences another to produce an allophonic variation, such as vowels acquiring the feature nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

 before nasal consonants when the velum
Soft palate
The soft palate is the soft tissue constituting the back of the roof of the mouth. The soft palate is distinguished from the hard palate at the front of the mouth in that it does not contain bone....

 opens prematurely or /b/ becoming labialised as in "boot". This article will describe both processes under the term, assimilation.


The physiological or psychological mechanisms of coarticulation are unknown, but we often loosely speak of a segment as "triggering" an assimilatory change in another segment. In assimilation, the phonological patterning of the language, discourse styles and accent are some of the factors contributing to changes observed.

There are four configurations found in assimilations: the increase in phonetic similarity may be between adjacent segments, or between segments separated by one or more intervening segments; and the changes may be in reference to a preceding segment, or to a following one. Although all four occur, changes in regard to a following adjacent segment account for virtually all assimilatory changes (and most of the regular ones). Also, assimilations to an adjacent segment are vastly more frequent than assimilations to a non-adjacent one. (These radical asymmetries might contain hints about the mechanisms involved, but they are unobvious.)

If a sound changes with reference to a following segment, it is traditionally called "regressive assimilation"; changes with reference to a preceding segment are traditionally called "progressive". Many find these terms confusing, as they seem to mean the opposite of the intended meaning. Accordingly, a variety of alternative terms have arisen—not all of which avoid the problem of the traditional terms. Regressive assimilation is also known as right-to-left, leading, or anticipatory assimilation. Progressive assimilation is also known as left-to-right or perseveratory or preservative, lagging or lag assimilation. The terms anticipatory and lag will be used here.

Very occasionally two sounds (invariably adjacent) may influence one another in reciprocal assimilation. When such a change results in a single segment with some of the features of both components, it is known as coalescence or fusion.

Some authorities distinguish between partial and complete assimilation; that is, between assimilatory changes in which there remains some phonetic difference between the segments involved, and those in which all differences are obliterated.

Tonal languages may exhibit tone assimilation (tonal umlaut, in effect), while sign languages also exhibit assimilation when the characteristics of neighbouring cheremes may be mixed.

Anticipatory assimilation to a contiguous segment

This is the most common type of assimilation by far, and typically has the character of a conditioned sound change, i.e., it applies to the whole lexicon. For example, in English, the place of articulation for nasal consonants assimilates to that of a following stop consonant
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

 (bank is pronounced [bæŋk], handbag in rapid speech is pronounced [hæmbæɡ]). In Italian, voiceless stops assimilate to a following /t/: Latin okto "eight" > It. otto, Latin lectus "bed" > letto, suptus "under" > sotto.

Anticipatory assimilation at a distance

Rare, and usually merely an accident in the history of a specific word.
Old French cercher "to search" /ser.tʃer/ > Modern Fr. chercher /ʃɛʁ.ʃe/.
However, the diverse and common assimilations known as umlaut
I-mutation is an important type of sound change, more precisely a category of regressive metaphony, in which a back vowel is fronted, and/or a front vowel is raised, if the following syllable contains /i/, /ī/ or /j/ I-mutation (also known as umlaut, front mutation, i-umlaut, i/j-mutation or...

, wherein the phonetics of a vowel are influenced by the phonetics of a vowel in a following syllable, are both commonplace and in the nature of sound laws. Such changes abound in the histories of Germanic Languages
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

, Romanian, Old Irish, and many others.
Examples: in the history of English, a back vowel becomes front if a high front vocoid (*i, ī, y) is in the following syllable:
Proto-Germanic *mūsiz "mice" > Old English mýs /myːs/ > mice; PGmc *batizōn- "better" > OE bettre; PGmc *fōtiwiz "feet" > OE fét > feet.
Contrariwise, Proto-Germanic *i and *u > e, o respectively before *a in the following syllable: PGmc *nistaz > OE nest.
Another example of a regular change is the sibilant assimilation of Sanskrit, wherein if there were two different sibilants as the onset of successive syllables, a plain /s/ was always replaced by the palatal /ɕ/: Proto-Indo-European *smeḱru- "beard" > Skt. śmaśru-; *ḱoso- "gray" > Skt. śaśa- "rabbit"; PIE *sweḱru- "husband's mother' > Skt. śvaśrū-.

Lag assimilation to a contiguous segment

Tolerably common, and often has the nature of a sound law. Proto-Indo-European *-ln- > -ll- in both Germanic and Italic. Thus *ḱļnis "hill" > PreLat. *kolnis > Lat. collis; > PGmc *hulniz, *hulliz > OE hyll /hyl/ > hill. The enclitic form of English is, shedding the vowel, becomes voiceless when adjacent to a word-final voiceless non-sibilant.

Lag assimilation at a distance

Rare, and usually sporadic (except when part of something bigger, as in the Skt. śaśa- example, above): Greek leirion > Lat. līlium "lily".
In vowel harmony
Vowel harmony
Vowel harmony is a type of long-distance assimilatory phonological process involving vowels that occurs in some languages. In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on which vowels may be found near each other....

, a vowel's phonetics is often influenced by that of a preceding vowel. Thus for example most Finnish case markers come in two flavors, with /a/ and /æ/ (written ä) depending on whether the preceding vowel is back or front. However, it's a difficult question to know just where and how in the history of Finnish an actual assimilatory change took place. The distribution of pairs of endings in Finnish is just that, is not in any sense the operation of an assimilatory innovation (though probably the outbirth of such an innovation in the past).

Coalescence (fusion)

Proto-Italic *dw > Latin b, as in *dwis "twice" > Lat. bis. Also, Old Latin duellum > Latin bellum "war".
Proto-Celtic *sw shows up in Old Irish in initial position as s, thus *swesōr "sister" > OIr siur */ʃuɾ/, *spenyo- > *swinea- > *swine "nipple" > sine. But when a vowel preceded, the *sw sequence becomes /f/: má fiur "my sister", bó tri-fne "a cow with three teats". There is also the famous change in P-Celtic of kW -> p. Proto-Celtic also underwent the change gw -> b.

See also

  • Coarticulation
    Coarticulation in its general sense refers to a situation in which a conceptually isolated speech sound is influenced by, and becomes more like, a preceding or following speech sound...

     (Co-articulated consonant
    Co-articulated consonant
    Co-articulated consonants or complex consonants are consonants produced with two simultaneous places of articulation. They may be divided into two classes, doubly articulated consonants with two primary places of articulation of the same manner , and consonants with secondary articulation, that is,...

    , Secondary articulation
    Secondary articulation
    Secondary articulation refers to co-articulated consonants where the two articulations are not of the same manner. The approximant-like secondary articulation is weaker than the primary, and colors it rather than obscuring it...

  • Vowel harmony
    Vowel harmony
    Vowel harmony is a type of long-distance assimilatory phonological process involving vowels that occurs in some languages. In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on which vowels may be found near each other....

  • Consonant harmony
    Consonant harmony
    Consonant harmony is a type of "long-distance" phonological assimilation akin to the similar assimilatory process involving vowels, i.e. vowel harmony.-Examples:...

  • Sandhi
    Sandhi is a cover term for a wide variety of phonological processes that occur at morpheme or word boundaries . Examples include the fusion of sounds across word boundaries and the alteration of sounds due to neighboring sounds or due to the grammatical function of adjacent words...

  • Labialisation
    Labialization is a secondary articulatory feature of sounds in some languages. Labialized sounds involve the lips while the remainder of the oral cavity produces another sound. The term is normally restricted to consonants. When vowels involve the lips, they are called rounded.The most common...

  • Palatalization
    In linguistics, palatalization , also palatization, may refer to two different processes by which a sound, usually a consonant, comes to be produced with the tongue in a position in the mouth near the palate....

  • Velarization
    Velarization is a secondary articulation of consonants by which the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum during the articulation of the consonant.In the International Phonetic Alphabet, velarization is transcribed by one of three diacritics:...

  • Pharyngealisation
    -Further reading:*Ian Maddieson, -See also:*Velarization*Creaky voice *Pharyngeal consonant*Epiglottal consonant*Pharynx...

  • Assibilation
    In linguistics, assibilation is the term for a sound change resulting in a sibilant consonant. It is commonly the final phase of palatalization.-Romance languages:...

  • Dissimilation
    In phonology, particularly within historical linguistics, dissimilation is a phenomenon whereby similar consonant or vowel sounds in a word become less similar...

  • Crasis
    Crasis is a type of contraction in which two vowels or diphthongs merge into one new vowel or diphthong — making one word out of two. Crasis occurs in Portuguese and Arabic as well as in Ancient Greek, where it was first described.-French:...

  • Lenition
    In linguistics, lenition is a kind of sound change that alters consonants, making them "weaker" in some way. The word lenition itself means "softening" or "weakening" . Lenition can happen both synchronically and diachronically...

  • Epenthesis
    In phonology, epenthesis 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, for the addition of a consonant, and anaptyxis for the addition of a vowel....

  • Deletion
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