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Subject: small difference between phonemes
Question: I wonder whether any fellow panelist could help me track down an article, 40-odd years old now, which refuted the standard idea that small psychological differences between different phonemes don't exist by showing that two phonemes in the dialect of a village in Essex (England) were only marginally distinct for the speakers. Although the data were from England, the article was by Americans – I thought one might have been Labov, another Uriel Weinreich, and there was a third, but searching on this basis hasn't found me the item. Does anyone out there have a clue what I'm thinking of, please?

Geoff Sampson

Reply: Hi, Geoff,

40 years ago might be a bit early for what I'm thinking of, but
you might be referring to the 'supposed' fusion in the history of
English between 'oy' & 'I' (join/jine) and their later separation
into almost the original situation. (Geoff Nunberg wrote an
article on this, if memory serves, I think a bit more recently.)
I think it was some (Northern Irish?) British linguist who
studied about then some collapsing phenomenon such as you
describe in some British variety, in which he (?they) did
acoustic studies showing (btw, Labov et somebody(s) did the same
type of studies for some American variety with similar results)
that the targets, while quite close in acoustic space, were
consistently maintained separate in the different instantiations
of the two different (vowel) phonemes. As you said, though,
speakers of the variety in question could not (at least not
always) reliably distinguish between the two phonemes, although
acoustic analysis could. This sort of situation, if it happened
as well in the (?Elizabethan) oy/I collapse, with later re-
emergence of 'oy', could, as Nunberg postulated, have provided a
basis for the apparently-phonemically-impossible re-emergence of

Sorry for the paucity of real references, but I haven't got time
to look all this up on Google right now. In a couple of days I
can try to find more info if you're still in the dark.


James L. Fidelholtz
Graduate Program in Language Sciences
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO
Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      click here to access email
Date: 01-Oct-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: small difference between phonemes    Alice Faber     (01-Oct-2013)

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