Minority, non-European languages — such as indigenous American ones — are critically underrepresented in the literature on historical phonology and sound change. Even where they are available, historical sources for such languages tend to be under-explored and a true philological tradition is lacking. In this talk, I will suggest that corpus methods emerge as ideal means for systematically compiling and exploring the available phonological data for such minority languages, focusing in particular on the missionary materials available in the Americas.
Using the newly-developed Corpus of Historical Mapudungun (CHM), I will explore the available evidence for the historical roots of this language’s remarkable range of fricative place articulations, including labio-dental [f], interdental [θ], alveolar [s], alveolo-palatal [∫], retroflex [ʂ] and velar [ɣ]. An analysis of spellings and grammarian’s comments over the past 400 years will be called upon to establish the contrastive status of the different segments. Particular focus is given to the nativisation of Spanish and Quechua loans which led to the borrowing of /s/, and to the various processes of ‘affective’ alternation between [θ], [s], [∫] and [ʂ] and their phonemic status throughout the historical record for Mapudungun.