Chapter 124: Labiodental fricatives

Feature information for this chapter can be found in feature 124.

The labiodental fricatives [f] and [v] have a more limited distribution in the world’s languages than the labial plosives [p] and [b], so we expect to find some interesting variation in their occurrence across APiCS. Here we consider both [f] and [v] and ask to what extent they occur in our languages.

Both [f] and [v] exist as major allophones45
[f] and [v] exist in a limited way12
Only [f] exists12
Only [v] exists3
Neither [f] nor [v] exists4

31 languages do not have both [f] and [v] as major allophones, and as in the pair [ʃ/ʒ] (Chapter 125), it is the voiceless fricative ([f]) that has the wider distribution, lacking only in seven languages, while [v] is absent from 16 languages.

[f] is lacking (value 4-5) in some Southeast Asian and Pacific languages with Austronesian and Papuan substrates, as well as in Eskimo Pidgin and Chinese Pidgin Russian. Lexifier words with [f] are normally replaced by [p], e.g. Ternate Chabacano plor ‘flower’ (Spanish flor), pamilia ‘family’; Tok Pisin lip ‘leaf’, pret ‘afraid’.

[v] is lacking (value 3 and 5) in a number of Atlantic creoles (Berbice Dutch, Palenquero, Sranan), though not in the French-based creoles. In other Atlantic creoles it occurs in a limited way, e.g. Casamancese Creole, Pichi, Gullah, Nengee. In the Spanish-based creoles, the absence or restricted occurrence of [v] is not surprising, because Spanish has no contrast between [v] and [b]. But in the Dutch-, English-, and Portuguese-based languages it is less expected, and Parkvall 2000: 47-50) discusses possible West African substrate influences leading to the common replacement of [v] by [b].

Quite a few Atlantic creoles have remnant forms from earlier stages where replacement of [v] by [b] was more common, e.g. older African American English nebber ‘never’, or Cape Verdean Creole bo ‘you’ (from Portuguese vós). Saramaccan has [v] in words of Portuguese origin such as véntu ‘wind’, but words of English origin regularly have [b], e.g. libi ‘live’ Holm 1988: 137). See also Chapter 110.

In non-Atlantic languages, [v] is sometimes replaced by [w], e.g. in Norf’k (wekels ‘victuals’) and in Chinuk Wawa. And a few languages (especially in South Asia) have the labio-dental approximant [ʋ] instead (Korlai, Diu Indo-Portuguese, Sri Lanka Portuguese).