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-al can be added to a word to form a an adjective or a noun. If the adjective-forming suffix is added after a base word that ends in [l] then it can change to an -ar suffix (e.g. polar).

But are there any examples of this, or another sound change, with the noun-forming suffix?

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Hm.. Linguistics! –  Kris May 3 '12 at 17:16
    
Are you suggesting I post this in the linguistics forum - or just mulling over some linguistics? I did consider posting it there, but I thought it might be too localised to English. –  Danger Fourpence May 3 '12 at 17:35
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2 Answers

I think your underlying premise, that -ar is a variant of -al as far as English is concerned, is not completely accurate or how these suffixes are perceived in presentday English.

In previous stages of Romance languages, speakers may have perceived the two as variants of one another, but I'm not sure this is the case today. The suffix -al is used either to form an adjective from a noun or to form a noun from a verb, whereas -ar primarily is an ending on adjectives, without the corresponding noun necessarily existing in the first place.

Interesting cases to consider include "peculiar", "lunar", "nuclear", "vulgar"...

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Lunar is 'pertaining to Luna, the moon goddess', and is used, I always understood, to avoid confusion with moony having a different meaning. Nuclear is 'pertaining to the atomic nucleus'; vulgus meaning the populace at large (as the root of vulgar) is in Chambers, never mind the OED; and peculiar has been a noun as long as it has an adjective. Your argument is an interesting one, but I think you might need better examples. –  TimLymington May 3 '12 at 18:24
    
No. The words "lunar", "peculiar", and "vulgar" were borrowed as adjectives. The pattern N+al doesn't apply here. –  Alex B. May 3 '12 at 20:11
    
These were borrowed as adjectives (sort of, probably). But that's kind of my point: rather than -ar being a productive suffix per se in English, probably most of the adjectives ending in -ar were borrowed from French, or at least created under influence from French. It's hard to be sure, but the motivation for saying that -ar is a variant of -al, at least natively in English, is far from strong. –  Neil Coffey May 3 '12 at 20:41
    
Though I should also say that to a large extent, what matters is how speakers perceive of the form. Do speakers intuitively think of "-ar" as being a variant of "-al" (as they might, for example, think of the plural "-es" ending as being a variant of "-s"). I suspect not. And I suspect that for the vast majority of speakers, "vulgar" is not derived from another word (even though historically that may be how it came to be) but simply now an adjective in its own right. –  Neil Coffey May 3 '12 at 20:55
    
The premise is correct: many -ar adjectives have matching nouns with a root ending in /-l/: 'circle'~'circular', 'triangle'~'triangular', 'pole'~'polar', 'cochlea'~'cochlear', 'curriculum'~'curricular', 'spectacle'~'spectacular', 'module'~'modular', 'muscle'~'muscular', 'testicle'~'testicular', 'title'~'titular', 'globule'~'globular', 'granule'~'granular', 'molecule'~'molecular'. –  nohat May 3 '12 at 22:14
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In its entry for the noun-forming suffix -al, the OED gives no examples nor makes any mention of any sound changes. The only slight variation is in spelling as with battle. The answer, then, would appear to be no.

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