The unstable nasal in the Manchurian linguistic area

Ekaterina Gruzdeva and Juha Janhunen

The unstable nasal in the Manchurian linguistic area

(64th Meeting Budapest, 2022)

It is well known that the Mongolic languages have a morphophonological feature termed the “unstable” or “fleeting” nasal, by which is meant the final nasal of certain nominal stems which is variously present or absent depending on lexical, morphological, syntactic, and dialectal factors, as in Common Mongolic mori/n ‘horse’: morin- ~ mori(-). Although this feature has been extensively discussed in many descriptions of the various Mongolic languages, its exact role in the lexical and morphological system remains unclarified.

A very similar “unstable” nasal is also present in two adjacent language families of Manchuria: Tungusic and Amuric. In both language families this nasal is attested in Mongolic loanwords, as in Tungusic murin ‘horse’: murin- ~ muri-, Amuric (Ghilyak or Nivkh) murŋ ‘horse’: mur ~ murN-, but it is also present in a large number of native words, as in Tungusic oron ‘reindeer’: oron- ~ oro-, Amuric qanŋ ‘dog’: qan- ~ qanN-. The diachrony of the “unstable” nasal in both Tungusic and Amuric can best be approached with the method of internal reconstruction.

In our presentation we shall discuss a number of synchronic and diachronic issues connected with the “unstable” nasal in all the three mentioned language families. Some of the observed similarities may be explained by areal interference in the Manchurian sphere, while others are connected with universal tendencies of lexical structure and phonetic development.