Morphophonological Lenition in Old Irish


Krzysztof Jaskuła (Catholic University of Lublin)


As a result of consonant mutations occurring in Old Irish, different variants of lexical items surfaced, depending on the grammatical context. The most conspicuous mutation was lenition, which affected a greater number of segments than the other process called nasalization. A close inspection of lenition indicates that its nature was not solely phonological since the contexts triggering consonant alternations had disappeared long before the time when Old Irish was spoken. Thus, in this phonological system lenition had only grammatical functions to perform and its original causes were obscured by morphophonological processes taking place between the time of phonological lenition and the period of Old Irish. The purely phonological aspect of lenition can be detected only after studying prehistoric sound changes and morphological developments which led to the creation of the system of Old Irish.


An analysis of ancient data reveals that the distinction into leniting and leniting contexts in Old Irish is purely formal and functional. This claim can be supported by the fact that when lenition was phonological, there was no possibility of weakening a segment without a phonological context. Similarly, every consonant was affected by this mutation if the trigger was present. This was no longer the case in Old Irish. Moreover, both these environments could ultimately produce identical results, depending on subsequent morphophonological developments.


The paper also addresses the question of how much phonology remained in the Old Irish system given the lexicalization of mutations on the one hand and the relatively stable shape of both unlenited and lenited versions of consonants on the other.