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In phonology, epenthesis (//; Ancient Greek: ἐπένθεσις) means the addition of one or more sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word. The word epenthesis comes from epi (on) + en (in) + thesis (putting). Epenthesis may be divided into two types: excrescence, for the addition of a consonant, and anaptyxis (//, also svarabhakti) for the addition of a vowel.
Epenthesis arises for a variety of reasons. The phonotactics of a given language may discourage vowels in hiatus or consonant clusters, and a consonant or vowel may be added to make pronunciation easier.
Epenthesis may be represented in writing, or may only be a feature of the spoken language.
A consonant may be added to separate vowels in hiatus. This is the case with linking and intrusive R.
A consonant may be placed between consonants in a consonant cluster where the place of articulation is different (e.g., where one consonant is labial and the other is alveolar). Regular examples in English are -i-, used in forming Latinate words such as equidistant, and -o-, used in forming words on Greek roots or general compounds, as in speedometer.
A vowel may be placed between consonants to separate them.
While epenthesis most often occurs intervocalically or interconsonantally, it can also occur between a vowel and a consonant, or at the ends of words. For example, the Japanese prefix ma- (真〜（ま〜）, pure …, complete …) transforms regularly to ma'- (真っ〜（まっ〜）, (gemination of following consonant)) when followed by a consonant, as in masshiro (真っ白（まっしろ）, pure white). The English suffix -t, often found in the form -st, as in amongst (from among + -st), is an example of terminal excrescence.
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.
In Dutch, whenever the suffix -er (which has several meanings) is attached to a word already ending in -r, an additional -d- is inserted in between. For example, while the comparative form of the adjective zoet ("sweet") is zoeter, the comparative of zuur ("sour") is zuurder and not *zurer as would be expected. Similarly, the agent noun of verkopen ("to sell") is verkoper ("salesperson"), but the agent noun of uitvoeren ("to perform") is uitvoerder ("performer").
The three short syllables in reliquias do 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 English, a stop consonant is often added as a transitional sound between the parts of a nasal + fricative sequence:
A limited number of words in Japanese use epenthetic consonants to separate vowels. An example of this is the word harusame (春雨（はるさめ）, 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; note that this is a synchronic analysis (using current forms to analyze an irregularity). As for a diachronic (historical) analysis, since epenthetic consonants are not used regularly in modern Japanese, it is possible that this epenthetic /s/ is a holdover 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（こさめ）, "light rain").
A complex example of epenthesis is massao (真っ青（まっさお）, deep blue, ghastly pale), from ma- (真〜（ま〜）, pure, complete) + ao (青（あお）, blue). This exhibits epenthesis on both morphemes: ma- (真〜（ま〜）) → ma'- (真っ〜（まっ〜）, (gemination of following consonant)) is common (occurring before a consonant), while ao (青（あお）) → sao (青（さお）) occurs only in this example; it can be analyzed as maao → masao (intervocalic) → massao.
The transform /a/ → /wa/ (an epenthetic /w/) occurs in two contexts. In standard Japanese, this occurs regularly in the stem of verbs ending in -u (〜う), which in the negative form transform to -wa (〜わ), rather than the regular -a (〜あ) of other verbs. In some dialects, there are occasional other examples, the most significant of which is baai (場合（ばあい）, "situation") (ba (場（ば）, "place") + ai (合い（あい）, "meet")); in some dialects it is pronounced bawai (ばわい). The spelling of kawaii (可愛い（かわいい）, "cute") as 可愛い suggests ka + ai + i with epenthesis, but this is simply ateji spelling: the current form is from older kawayui (かわゆい), and does not decompose into simpler morphemes; likewise for the related term kawaisō (可哀相（かわいそう）).
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.
Many languages insert a so-called prop vowel at the end of a word to avoid the loss of a non-permitted cluster. This cluster can come about due to a change in the phonotactics of the language so that final clusters are no longer permitted. Something of this sort happened in Sanskrit, with the result that a new vowel -i or -a was added to many words.
Another possibility is when a sound change deletes vowels at the end of a word, a very common sound change. This may well produce impermissible final clusters. In some cases, the problem was resolved by allowing a resonant to become syllabic or inserting a vowel in the middle of a cluster; e.g. Proto-Germanic akraz "field, acre" > Gothic akrs (syllabic /r/), but Old English æcer (insertion of vowel). In the Gallo-Romance languages, however, a prop vowel was added, e.g. MONSTRU > /monstr/ > /monstrə/ (French montre "watch" (clock)).
Examples of this kind are common in many Slavic languages, which showed a preference for open (vowel-final) syllables in earlier times. An example of this kind is the Proto-Slavic form *gordŭ ("town"), in which the East Slavic languages inserted an epenthetic vowel to break the cluster -rd-, resulting in *gorodŭ, which became город (gorod) in modern Russian and Ukrainian. The other Slavic languages instead metathesised the vowel and the consonant, creating *grodŭ (Polish gród, Czech hrad, Serbo-Croatian grad).
Other examples exist in Modern Persian, where former word-initial consonant clusters (which were still extant in Middle Persian) are regularly broken up: Middle Persian brādar > Modern Persian barādar "brother" (a is pronounced [æ]), Middle Persian stūn > Early New Persian sutūn > Modern Persian (Iran) sotūn "column"; modern borrowings are also affected.
In the Western Romance languages, a prothetic vowel was inserted at the beginning of any word that began with /s/ and another consonant: Latin spatha "sword" > Spanish/Portuguese espada, Catalan espasa, Old French espede > modern épée.
An example in an English song is "The Umbrella Man", where the meter requires that "umbrella" 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.
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. The Dutch city of Delft is pronounced /DEL-lift/ by its inhabitants. Georgian often breaks up its consonant clusters with schwas.
Regular or semiregular epenthesis commonly occurs in languages that 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: glass → glasses /ˈɡlæsɨz/ or /ˈɡlɑːsɨz/; bat → batted /ˈbætɨd/. This is again a synchronic analysis, as the form with the vowel is the original form and the vowel was later lost in many, but not all cases.
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,
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 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.
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. maa → maahan, talo → taloon. The second one is [e], connecting stems that have historically been consonant stems to their case endings, e.g. nim+n → nimen.
In standard Finnish, consonant clusters may not be broken by epenthetic vowels; foreign words undergo consonant deletion rather than addition of vowels (e.g. ranta ("shore") from Germanic strand). 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)net → netti, or in the case of personal name, Bush + -sta → Bushista "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-. (In Finnish linguistics this phenomenon is often referred to as švaa; the same word can also mean schwa, but it is not a phoneme in Finnish, so usually there is no danger of confusion.) For example, Pohjanmaa "Ostrobothnia" → Pohojammaa, ryhmä → ryhymä, and Savo vanha → vanaha. Ambiguities may result: salmi "strait" vs. salami. (An exception is that in Pohjanmaa, -lj- and -rj- become -li- and -ri-, respectively, e.g. kirja → kiria. Also, in a small region in Savo, the vowel /e/ is used in the same role.)
A type of epenthesis occurring in sign language is known as "movement epenthesis," and occurs most commonly during the boundary between signs as the hands move from the posture required by the first sign to the posture required by the next.
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