LPD Welsh items "sd" involves fortis and lenis paired in a syllable onset. Is this feasible and if so what other language does it?I replied, equally gnomically,
Welsh [sd] is by analogy with [sb] and [sg] reflected in the spelling. The plosive is unaspirated in this environment.So what’s this about?
In LPD I give the Welsh-language pronunciation of Aberystwyth as a ber ˈə sduɨθ. In English, on the other hand, it is ˌæb ə ˈrɪst wɪθ. Jack wants to know why I transcribe the last syllable in the Welsh form with sd rather than st.
Behind this decision there is a chain of reasoning.
In Welsh spelling the sequences sb and sg are often encountered: for example, cosb ‘punishment’, hysbysiad ‘announcement’, sbwriel ‘rubbish’; rhwysg ‘pomp’, dysgu ‘teach, learn’, sgwd ‘cataract’. English spell ‘period of time’ is Welsh sbel; English score is Welsh sgôr. As far as I can recall there are no words in Welsh spelt with sp or sc. (There is inconsistency in Anglo-Welsh placenames: Skewen appears also as Scuan, Sgiwen etc; Welsh Ynysgynwraidd gives English Skenfrith.)
It is a commonplace to point out that in English (and various other languages) the opposition between the voiceless/fortis series p t k and the voiced/lenis series b d g is neutralized after s. The putative p in English spin is typically unaspirated — like b but unlike most other cases of p. Every now and again someone has the idea of arguing that this word should correctly be transcribed as sbɪn rather than spɪn. The same applies with the initial clusters in stop (sdɒp?) and skip (sɡɪp?).
If someone wants to transcribe English this way, I find it difficult to argue forcefully against the idea. And even when the s and the plosive are putatively in different syllables there may be something very close to a neutralization: think about discussed and disgust.
A fortiori, in languages such as Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, or Icelandic, where the main distinguishing feature between the two plosive series appears to be aspiration rather than voicing, the analysis as sb sd sg seems justified.
Inconsistently, though, at the alveolar place Welsh spelling has st rather than the sd you might expect. We have tyst ‘witness’, llestri ‘dishes’, straeon ‘stories’, while English strike is Welsh streic. But phonetically these clusters correspond exactly to those with the bilabial and velar plosives, so it is only logical to analyse them the same way.
Ball and Williams, in their Welsh Phonetics (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 2001), p. 99, found a VOT of 12ms for /sb/, 20ms for /sd/, and 29ms for /sg/. For comparison, /b/ has 15ms but /p/ has 62ms, /d/ 33ms, /t/ 82ms, /g/ 32ms, /k/ 97ms. They conclude
These results show clearly that in terms of the aspiration feature, the feature that carries the main acoustic cues for the distinguishing of the fortis stops from the lenis, these stops in /s/-clusters should be classified as lenes, as shown in the recommended transcription […] /sb, sd, sg/.
Jack also asks “what other language does it?”. Here’s a scan from a book on Icelandic phonetics (Árni Böðvarsson, Hljóðfræði, Reykjavík 1979). I assume that fráblásturslaus means ‘unaspirated’.
Before someone points it out, I immediately concede that for consistency in LPD I ought to have transcribed the Welsh pronunciation of Llanrwst as ɬanˈruːsd rather than what I actually put, ɬanˈruːst. Ach-y-fi!