LINGUIST List 10.1866

Sat Dec 4 1999

Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Jorge Guitart, Re: 10.1855, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?
  2. James L. Fidelholtz, Re: 10.1863, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?
  3. Travis Bradley, Re: 10.1863, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?
  4. Joaquim Brand�ode Carvalho, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Message 1: Re: 10.1855, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 18:23:58 -0500 (EST)
From: Jorge Guitart <>
Subject: Re: 10.1855, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

> Against my better judgement, I feel I need to respond to the following
> replies to my posting.
> As an overall point, however, I'd like to take a moment to marvel at the
> amazing strength of hold over our minds that "thinginess" has on us
> because of the cultural pattern that flows through English -- especially
> compared to the distrust of nouns I find in Native America (where my
> Algonquian-languages-speaking friends say they can talk all day long
> without uttering a single noun).


I find also a distrust of nouns in non-Native America. 

- --
> > Saying that an allophone is a relation is negated by saying that X is an
> > allophone of Y in language Z, since X is ***something****.

> You've totally misunderstood me. I specifically put brackets around the
> [X], which you've abandoned; too bad, since the brackets say, universally
> to linguists, that the [X] is a PHONE. Perhaps I should have written it
> out more clearly: The phone [X] is an allophone OF the phoneme /Y/. I was
> trying to say that "allophone" by itself is misleading, assisting us to
> imagine that it is a thing, whereas "allophone of" points more directly to
> its use as a relation between two things, phone and phoneme. "Allophonic"
> would be even more preferable for seeing its relationship role.


Or better still, "allophonizes" The phone [X] allophonizes the phoneme
/Y/. Does that approximate in any way what your Algonquian friends would

Forget about the term ' allophone' for the moment. I think it is accurate
to say that in communication every phone is a manifestation of some
phoneme. Let's call a given phone X and let's call Y the specific phoneme
that X is a manifestation of. In short, X is a manifestation of Y.

Would you say that a manifestation is a relation? If you say that it is,
then we don't have the same meaning for the word 'relation' and it is
useless to keep on arguing when we don't share the same vocabulary.

best regards

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Message 2: Re: 10.1863, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 13:02:21 -0600 (CST)
From: James L. Fidelholtz <>
Subject: Re: 10.1863, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

OK, I can't resist one parting shot at (partially) defining what
allophones are:
	Two sounds may be considered allophones of a particular phoneme
ONLY IF they are independent phonemes in some language.

	This would account for why NO ONE (to my knowledge) has ever
mentioned the 'allophone' n(superscript)l of the nasal which occurs
in English before /l/ (eg, in 'enlighten'), which is a sort of
'lateralized n', since this is the only environment in which it could
ever occur (says me).

James L. Fidelholtz			e-mail:
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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Message 3: Re: 10.1863, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 14:55:01 -0500
From: Travis Bradley <>
Subject: Re: 10.1863, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Marc Picard wrote:

> ... And while
> you're at it, please tell me what kind of assimilation is responsible for
> flaps.

Banner Inouye (1995) proposes to account for tapping of English /t,d/ as the
spreading of aperture from the surrounding segmental environment. Assuming
the following aperture scale,

0 - stop
1 - trill
2 - fricative
3 - approximant

she represents the tap derived from /t,d/ as a tripartite contour segment
essentially consisting of an approach branch of [3] or greater, a closure
period of [0], and a release branch of [3] or greater. The association of
all three branches under one timing slot captures the fact that the tap
involves a ballistic tongue tip gesture which yields extra-short closure in
comparison to the long durations of [d] and [t].

An examination of the left-hand environments shows how the stricture of
adjacent segments is crucial in conditioning tapping (see Banner Inouye

(1) Basic tapping environment: intervocalic before unstressed vowel
 a. `batting (tapping applies)
 b. ba`ton (tapping does not apply)

(2) Additional left-hand environments for tapping:
 loiter, louder (approximants)
 barter (retroflex /r/)
 balder (velarized lateral lacking alveolar contact)
 banter (nasalized vowel, nasal lacking alveolar contact)

(3) Left-hand environments in which tapping is blocked:
 bastard (fricative)
 velociraptor (fully articulated stop)
 banter (fully articulated nasal)
 balder (fully articulated lateral)

Generalization regarding left-hand environment:
Tapping of alveolar stops is blocked if the left-hand environment contains a
segment with aperture less than approximant (i.e., [<3]).

In (1a) and (2), tapping applies because the aperture values from the
adjacent segments encroach upon the closure duration of /t,d/ via spreading,
thereby yielding the derived contour representation for tap. However,
tapping fails to apply in (3) because there is no aperture value of [3] or
greater to spread from the left-hand environment.

There are similar but slightly distinct conditions on tapping with respect
to the right-hand environment. Of course, prosody plays a role as well, as
seen in (1a) versus (1b). But the basic point here is that tapping of /t,d/
can be analyzed in terms of assimilation/spreading of aperture values from
the surrounding environment.

Banner Inouye, Susan. 1995. Trills, taps, and stops in contrast and
variation. PhD dissertation, UCLA.

Best Regards,
Travis Bradley

Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese
The Pennsylvania State University

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Message 4: Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 21:54:45 +0100
From: Joaquim Brand�ode Carvalho <>
Subject: Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

>Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho wrote:
>> 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.

[Response from Marc Picard:]

>OK, here's a candidate. In Canadian French, the short high vowels [i y u]
>are in
>complementary distribution with their semi-high counterparts [I Y U], with the
>later occurring in final -- and, coincidentally, stressed -- closed
>syllables, e.g.,
>v[i]llage - v[I]ll(e), l[y]tter - l[Y]tt(e), b[u]lette - b[U]l(e). And while
>you're at it, please tell me what kind of assimilation is responsible for

Of course, the claim that any allophonic alternance implies coarticulation
involves, just like any 'strong' assumption, lots of problems. My guess is
that most of them (if not all) actually are artefacts caused by current
theories of phonological primes. That is why +/-aspiration may have been
viewed as totally independent of assimilation : simply because
CV-coarticulation was not taken into account.

Thus, concerning English flaps, just tell me : why are flaps always
impossible in 'strong position' (i.e. initially and after closed
syllables), whereas plosives would occur between vowels? Flaps must then be
seen as the result from "some sort of assimilation": what about 'sonority'
in Jespersen's sense?

As to the Canadian French vowels, it is well-known that what you call
"semi-high" vowels, i.e. laxness or [-ATR]-ness, are frequently associated
with syllable quantity or weight, light syllables often involving short
and/or lax vowels. I don't have a clear solution to the problem, but I
suspect that VC-coarticulation is involved here, and that we still lack the
significant concepts (features). In any case once again, why do we never
have the opposite situation : [I Y U] in open syllables and [i y u] in
closed syllables?

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
1, rue Henri Poincare
75020 Paris
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
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