In this proposal, the “strong” vowels are /i/, /ɛ/, /ɑ/, /u/, /o/, and /ɔ/—the vowels of Sajem Sülem. The “lax” vowels are /e/, /æ/, /y/, /ø/, /œ/—the vowels that arose in Sajem Tan due to the process of fronting—, /ʌ/, and /ʊ/—two other vowels, called here “unfronted lax vowels” that arose in Sajem Tan through an unknown process. A possible process for their origin in Sajem Sülem will be proposed here. The term “relaxing” in this paper will refer to the processes whereby the “lax” vowels arose (fronting and the process outlined here). This theory also makes use of the idea that at some point in the history of Sajem Tan/Sajem Sülem, there were “grammarians”—authoritative voices on the proper pronunciation and usage of the language.
Now, my current belief concerning the origin of the vowels /e/, /æ/, /y/, /ø/, and /œ/ is that they arose through fronting of /ɛ/, /ɑ/, /u/, /o/, and /ɔ/, respectively. What about /ʌ/ and /ʊ/? I propose that, in Sajem Sülem, consonants could be labialized. For example, /kʷ/. (Alternatively, there was a phoneme /w/.) When /u/, /o/, and /ɔ/ occurred after a labialized consonant, the fronting process was prevented, and the vowels relaxed not to /y/, /ø/, and /œ/, but rather to /ʊ/ (< /u/) and /ʌ/ (< /o/ and /ɔ/). For example, */dʷot/ > ST /dʌt/ “big”; */nʷun/ > ST /nʊn/ “friend”.
The problem with this is that the sounds [m] and [mʷ] are not very distinct, and perhaps we can expect that the labial quality of [m] was enough to prevent fronting. However, fronting does sometimes occur after /m/. There are a few solutions to this. Perhaps there was no /mʷ/, and sometimes fronting did happen after /m/ and sometimes it did not happen. Perhaps there was a distinction, and fronting happened as normal after /m/ but not after /mʷ/. There’s a similar consideration with /f/ and /v/, which are labiodental.
Another problem is this: why are none of the other vowels affected by labialization? I don’t know. Maybe, by the time of relaxing, it had disappeared before all vowels except /u/, /o/, and /ɔ/.
As for the reason there is a fronted descendent of both /o/ and /ɔ/ while only /ʌ/ corresponds to them both as far as these “unfronted lax vowels” are concerned, maybe /ʷo/ and /ʷɔ/ merged because of the labialization.
(This labialization could provide tribemembers with a means to derive /p/ and /b/ from /kʷ/ and /gʷ/, like Irish did.)
I also want to propose that the reason vowels did not apparently relax at all in particles, and the origin of the self-segregating morphology itself, is this: Originally, the particles were pronounced more lightly and therefore their vowels were relaxed. Not only that, but, in particles, /i/ and /ɛ/ merged (at something closer to /ɛ/ than /i/, let us call it /e/), and so did /o/ and /ɔ/ (at a vowel we will call /o/). Grammarians took notice of this, and enforced the stronger pronunciations in particles; however, these two mergers had taken place already, so all /e/ were suggested to be replaced with /ɛ/, even when they had come from /i/, and all /o/ were suggested to be replaced with /o/, even when they had come from /ɔ/.
However, as this was happening, the process of relaxing was also beginning in roots; however, it was too subtle for grammarians to take much notice of it, and so it progressed without the censure of the grammarians. This is why Sajem Tan has self-segregating morphology. Some dialects have no relaxing at all (such as Tözen Tan).
Chronology of sound changes
- loss of /ʷ/ before all vowels except /u/, /o/, and /ɔ/
- relaxing in particles; merger of /i/ with /ɛ/ and of /o/ with /ɔ/ in particles
- merger of /ʷo/ with /ʷɔ/ in roots
- relaxing in roots begins, but is only slight
- grammarians enforce strong pronunciations in particles, not noticing the roots or mergers
- relaxing in roots complete
- loss of /ʷ/ everywhere? or it was already absorbed by the remaining back vowels during the root relaxing period
In the past, I proposed that /ʊ/ and /ʌ/ came from /upʰ/ and /opʰ/, respectively. We also used to work from a paradigm of vowel mutation, and these two vowels came from a-mutation of /u/ and /o/. Another idea I had was that they both came from Sajem Sülem /ə/, and that, in some dialects, this phoneme became /u/ and in others it became /o/. In Sajem Tan, some words were taken in with /u/ and some with /o/, and these were treated like /ʊ/ and /ʌ/ respectively.