LINGUIST List 10.1857

Thu Dec 2 1999

Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <lydialinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. benji wald, Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?
  2. Joaquim Brand�ode Carvalho, Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?
  3. Francisco Dubert, Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?
  4. James L. Fidelholtz, Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

Message 1: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 00:53:46 -0500
From: benji wald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

Actually, I've been content to enjoy the exchanges on this topic as an
innocent bystander -- but I thought it might be of wider interest to share
a passage I just happened to come across in a letter called "A Plea for
Speech Nationalisation" sent to the 'Morning Leader' on 16 August 1901 by
George Bernard Shaw (you might call me a slow reader):

...Mr. Archer supposes practical phonetics are impossibly complex and
difficult. That is a novice's notion. The subtle differences [BW: wait
for them below!] of which Mr. Archer is thinking do not trouble experts at
all: there may be six-and-thirty ways of saying 'get' (and 'every single
one of them is right'), just as there may be six-and-thirty ways of saying
'git' (and every single one of them is wrong); but that does not in the
slightest degree complicate the simple process of teaching a child to say
get instead of git....

So the issue is a lot older than some may have supposed. On the other
hand, the problem is a bit more difficult than GBS supposed (though not
necessarily for a phonetician, perhaps more for somebody trying to
understand the reductivism and normalisation processes involved in human
cognition). Of course, GBS is simply picking a number out of nowhere (I
suppose from this Archer guy) in saying "36" ways, instead of an "infinite"
number, but he's still right about it's not hard to teach a child the
difference. It would, however, be harder to teach a child the difference
between 'pin' and 'pen' -- if that child has already acquired the merger.
For those who aren't familiar with nonstandard English, 'git' is a
nonstandard pronunciation of 'get' but is strictly a lexical idiosyncrasy,
quite independent of any merger of /i/ and /e/ as phonemes (while merger of
'pin' and 'pen' is indicative of merger of the "same" two phonemes before
nasals, a recurrent event in the history of English and its ancestors). In
any case, GBS, and perhaps some later discussants, are misleading, at least
when it comes to vowels, in supposing that the distinction between 'git'
and 'get' is *always* clear. That depends on an unoccupied area of vowel
space in between them in any actual sound system (which distinguishes two
phonemes comparable to English /i/ and /e/). Phoneticians have long been
aware that vowels are perceived "continuously", not discretely, even though
phonemes are supposed to "always" be discrete (i.e., the phonemes of which
phoneticians study the allophones). That means that if there is no gap
between the spaces of the /i/ and /e/ phonemes, then there will indeed be
an in-between area which speakers will inconsistently identify with either
/i/ or /e/.

In fairness to GBS, I must acknowledge that he was not concerned with such
problems (and his admiration for phoneticians knew no bounds, as his play
"Pygmalion" indicates). He wrote the above cited passage in the context of
his favorite practical concern, orthographic reform. Basically, he was
arguing that a "phonetic" spelling was necessary for various reasons, not
least of all to give "cockney" speakers access to the prestige variety of
English (by the notion that if people wrote and learned to read
phonetically they would have access to each other's pronunciations).
Whether this is a sound (get it?) notion or not is quite interesting, but
belongs to another ungoing discussion, the one labelled "Written Creole".
- Benji
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Message 2: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 10:35:26 +0100
From: Joaquim Brand�ode Carvalho <jbrandaoext.jussieu.fr>
Subject: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

Richard D. Janda [LINGUIST List: Vol-10-1785. Tue Nov 23 1999] writes:

>As for the issue of coarticulation vs. complementary distribution, the add-
>ed notion of physiological inevitability strikes me as a red herring, if not a
>red blue-whale. There are plenty of traditional allophones (allophones as
>traditionally analyzed) which are in complementary distribution but do not re-
>sult from coarticulation: e.g., the aspirated realization of English /p/
>which occurs initially in stressed syllables, as opposed to the unreleased
>word-final variant which tends to close, say, _yep_ and _nope_.

This is not true. If aspiration (as well as voice) is to be defined in
terms of voice onset time within the C/V transition, it does result from
(CV-)coarticulation: C-voicelessness continues after the vowel release; the
final plosive is not aspirated because there is no vowel at its right, and
therefore no possibility of coarticulation.

>Thus, without arguing
>>that this is an ironclad characterization, I would suggest that complementary
>>distribution, assimilation, & coarticulation are a set of increasingly
>>specific terms which seem to involve proper inclusion, although they may 
>>turn out not to be quite so neatly related.

I don't mean that all cases of complementary distribution imply
coarticulation, though I'd like to suppose it. But, honestly, I confess I
can't find a really good example of context-sensitive allophonic alternance
that could be described without reference to some sort of assimilation.

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
1, rue Henri Poincare
75020 Paris
France
Tel./fax : 01 43 64 34 18
(If calling from outside France,
please replace the prefix '01' with '331'.)

Departement de linguistique
Faculte des Sciences Humaines et Sociales - Sorbonne
Universite Rene Descartes - Paris V

CNRS : ESA 7018, GDR 1954

jbrandaoidf.ext.jussieu.fr
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Message 3: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Thu, 02 Dec 1999 12:12:17 +0100
From: Francisco Dubert <fgdubertusc.es>
Subject: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?


>OR MAYBE the graduate
>students of the last 20-30 years have not been required, in the full-blown
>Chomskyan era which disparages all foundational structuralist work done
>before, to read the books and articles which shaped linguistics.
>Call me retro, but I refuse to see a relation as a thing like phones and
>phonemes. 

I come from an european structural tradition (Coseriu, Martinet,
Trubetzkoy). I have read generative linguistic only when I finished my
course, and for me, an allophone is a thing, an abstract thing.

Francisco Dubert Garc�a
Departamento de Filolox�a Galega
Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela
Espa�a
e-mail: fgdubertusc.es
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Message 4: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 14:38:18 -0600 (CST)
From: James L. Fidelholtz <jfidelsiu.buap.mx>
Subject: Re: 10.1846, What Exactly Are Allophones?

On Wed, 1 Dec 1999, Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu>
wrote:
<<... OR MAYBE the graduate students of the last 20-30 years have not
been required, in the full-blown Chomskyan era which disparages all
foundational structuralist work done before, to read the books and
articles which shaped linguistics. ...>>

Talk about thinginess! As a linguist trained in the only
partially-blown Chomskyan era, let me defend our training, which, while
certainly disparaging much structuralist work, did so on the basis of a
very thorough and minute reading of a whole lot of it.
	Jim

James L. Fidelholtz			e-mail: jfidelsiu.buap.mx
Maestr�a en Ciencias del Lenguaje
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benem�rita Universidad Aut�noma de Puebla, M�XICO

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