Whorf's law  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Whorf's law is a sound law in Uto-Aztecan linguistics proposed by the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf. It explains the origin in the Nahuan languages of the phoneme Template:IPA which is not found in any of the other languages of the Uto-Aztecan family. The existence of Template:IPA in Nahuatl had puzzled previous linguists and caused Edward Sapir to reconstruct a Template:IPA phoneme for Proto-Uto-Aztecan based only on evidence from Aztecan. In a 1937 paper published in the journal American Anthropologist, Whorf argued that phoneme was a result of some of the Nahuan or Aztecan languages having undergone a sound change changing the original */t/ to Template:IPA in the position before */a/. The sound law has come to be known as "Whorf's law" and is still considered valid, although a more detailed understanding of the precise conditions under which it took place has been developed.

The situation had been obscured by the fact that often the */a/ had then subsequently been lost or changed to another vowel, making it difficult to realize what had conditioned the change. Because some Nahuan languages have /t/ and others have Template:IPA, Whorf thought that the law had been limited to certain dialects and that the dialects that had /t/ were more conservative. In 1978, Lyle Campbell and Ronald Langacker showed that in fact, Whorf's law had affected all of the Nahuan languages and that some dialects had subsequently changed Template:IPA to /l/ or back to /t/, but it remains evident that the language went through a /tɬ/ stage.

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