Some years back while reading a now forgotten book on historical linguistics from some part of the world or other, I came across a citation to the following article as an example of just how radical regular sound changes can be: Ives Goddard, “An outline of the historical phonology of Arapaho and Atsina”, International Journal of American Linguistics 40 (1976), pp. 102–116. I noted this on my list of articles to look up and photocopy one day, and only now have I managed to finally read the paper.
In Goddard’s reconstruction of Arapaho and Atsina out of Proto-Algonquian through Proto-Arapaho-Atsina, some of the shifts are readily understandable for someone working in the Indo-European–Uralic–Altaic field, though one might compare them to the more freakish cases like Armenian or Samoyedic. Other changes, however, are puzzling, like these two cases of nasalization:
- PA *s becomes *n initially: PA *sipiwi or sipowi ‘river’ > A-A *niki- > Ar nííčíí, nííčíe, Ats nííčééh, PA *sakimewa ‘mosquito’ > A-A *noimen ‘fly’ > Ar nóúbee, Ats nóúbee.
- Non-post-consonantal *y becomes *n: PA *ayapewa ‘male of large ungulates’ > A-A *eneken ‘buffalo bull’ > Ar enééčee, Ats enééčee (there is a vowel harmony process active as well).
Incidentally, there is a tendency in the sciences for people to assume that all major progress is recent, and that earlier scholarship was very primitive. I seem to suffer from that myself, as while reading this paper I was continually struck by how Goddard’s terminology and sociolinguistic outlook is remarkably fresh for something published in 1976. Where can a cutoff point between old and contemporary be reasonably set?