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A general term in phonetics for the process by which two neighboring sounds become less alike. Contrast with assimilation.

According to Patrick Bye, the term dissimilation "entered the field [of phonology] in the 19th century from rhetoric, where it had been in use to describe the variation in style required for good public speaking" (The Blackwell Companion to Phonology, 2011).

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "[An] example of dissimilation is the substandard pronunciation of chimney as chimley, with the second of two nasals changed to an [l]. The ultimate dissimilation is the complete loss of one sound because of its proximity to another similar sound. A frequent example in present-day standard English is the omission of one of two [r] sounds from words like cate(r)pillar, Cante(r)bury, rese(r)voir, terrest(r)ial, southe(r)ner, barbitu(r)ate, gove(r)nor, and su(r)prised."
    (John Algeo and Thomas Pyles, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 5th ed. Thomson, 2005)

  • Dissimilation of Liquid Consonants
    "Consider [an] example of dissimilation of liquid consonants that took place when the suffix -al attached to some Latin nouns to make adjectives. The regular suffixation process gives us pairs like the following: orbit/orbital, person/personal, culture/cultural, electric/electrical. However, when an /l/ precedes the ending anywhere in the root, the ending is changed from -al to -ar as a result of dissimilation: single/singular, module/modular, luna/lunar."
    (Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Linguistics for Everyone. Wadsworth, 2010)

  • Assimilation v. Dissimilation
    "Assimilation is far more common than dissimilation; assimilation is usually regular, general throughout the language, though sometimes it can be sporadic. Dissimilation is much rarer and is usually not regular (is sporadic), though dissimilation can be regular. Dissimilation often happens at a distance (is non-adjacent) . . .."
    (Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. MIT Press, 2004)

  • Causes and Effects?
    "We say that assimilation and dissimilation are changes that result in an increase or decrease, respectively, in the degree of phonetic similarity between two segments. It is tempting to think that such changes in the one segment are somehow caused by the phonetics of the other, and for generations that is actually how the matter has usually been presented. . . . But this is a confusion of cause and effect. It is true that the effect of the change is a net increase/decrease of similarity between two segments, but it is begging the question (to say the least) to assume that the degree of similarity is also somehow the cause of the change. The fact is that very little is known of the actual mechanisms of these changes, commonplace as they are."
    (Andrew L. Sihler, Language History: An Introduction. John Benjamins, 2000)
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