LINGUIST List 10.1920

Sun Dec 12 1999

Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

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  1. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 10.1914, Disc: What Exactly Are "Allophones OF"?

Message 1: Re: 10.1914, Disc: What Exactly Are "Allophones OF"?

Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1999 12:29:22 -0800 (PST)
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.1914, Disc: What Exactly Are "Allophones OF"?


Celso wrote on Friday:

[Celso Alvarez Caccamo <lxalvarzudc.es>]

I, from my profound ignorance, agree with most of Jorge Guitart's recent
message about the psychological thingness of phonemes, but perhaps not
with everything -- particularly with his use of "representation" vs.
"realization".

Just some thoughts. The notion "allophone" is inherently relational, yes,
but so is "phoneme" -- what is not relational in linguistics?

[moonhawk]

This quaint usage of "allophone" rather than the fuller term "allophone
OF" is at the root of our disagreement here, and undoubtedly what drives
its notion of thinginess for you. Despite the fact that I agree with you
both on the abstract thinginess of phonemes and that everything is
relational in linguistics, I believe that we, or some of us, can be more
precise than that totalizing generality. If you will just try on the
phrase "allophone of" for a while, you could have an epiphany.

[caccamo]

But a thing that relates to another thing is still a thing. 


[moonhawk]

"a thing" = thing1, say a phone. "Another one" = thing2, the phoneme,
abstract now rather than (our impression of the) physical. Thing1 relates
to thing2; the allophonic relationship = the "relates to" -- dynamic, not
static.

[caccamo]

Strictly speaking, any phoneme is an allo-phoneme -- no language exists
with just one phoneme. However, would anyone suggest to do away with
"phoneme" and to talk only about the relational process of "phoneming"?
;-).

[moonhawk]

This puzzles me since none of the founders proffered the term
"allophoneme," that I know of, even though they too knew that the only
meaning of a phoneme is its points in patterns with other phonemes. 

It also puzzles me in its assumption that someone was wanting to do away
with the term "allophone," so why not "phoneme" too. I don't remember
anyone suggesting any such thing. Does taking away the thinginess of
allophones equate to doing away with them? My, the hold of thinginess is
strong! Like taking away toys! Isn't it possible to hold a truly dynamic,
relational term in our professional worldview?

[caccamo]

So, the point about allophones is not their relational dimension, but what
exactly they relate to, and how.

[moonhawk]

You've done it again -- there is no "they"! "Allophone of" is already the
relating you mean. Phones and phonemes relate in an allophonic
relationship. Aspirated-p, for instance, is a phone when describing it
phonetically for any language, with no recourse to the phonemic level.
Aspirated-p is also an allophone of /p/ in English (but not, say, Spanish
or Cheyenne) in certain contexts WHEN that same fact of phonetic
manifestation, aspirated-p, is looked at from a phonemic perspective --
but it's the same physical fact/impression, PHONE, either way. There is
no *allophone separate from the phone in question. "Allophone of" is
merely a term of perspective -- phonemic rather than phonetic level.

[caccamo]

And, in this sense, to me the meaning of "allo" is sufficiently
transparent -- it simply means "other, different".

[moonhawk]

yet not quite as different as you would make it out to be. It's a variant
OF something, and related in that way.

[caccamo]

Allophones relate to phonemes as representations, yes. But a
representation of an abstract object is not a relationship of difference,
as Jorge Guitart points out. The relationship of difference is the one
established with other phones: an allophone is "another" phone, and, thus,
just as phonemes establish among themselves relations of "otherness" 
(Jakobson dixit), so allophones establish relations of "otherness" with
other (allo)phones.

[moonhawk]

I don't know what "otherness" between phonemes is called; I've never
needed that in my work. I've tried my best to make sense of the above, to
no avail. I don't think it's possible without seeing "an allophone" as a
thing, which I can't do. Maybe we are creating mutually unintelligible
dialects of linguistics after all.

[caccamo]

Now, the second problem may rest on the level of abstraction assigned to
allophones, that is, can any phone count as an allophone? Since variation
in speech is infinite, if the answer is yes then one of the notions is
redundant.

[moonhawk]

I would nominate the "thing notion of allophones" for the redundancy award
for redundancy. ;-)

To your question I answer "Mu", meaning the question is invalid. That's
looking "upward" from the physical phones to the phonemes; "allophone of"
looks "downward" from phoneme to phone. Can any phone count as an
allophone of some phoneme? Undoubtedly, when asked in a more complete
way, which assumes a phonetic system of speech sounds, not just any sounds
like clearings of throats, and a phonemic system of mental distinctions.
"Allo-" always looks "downward" from phonemes to related phones, or from
morphemes to related morphs -- that is, from more abstract to less
abstract.

[caccamo]

I believe that in the speaker's mind not any one phone counts as "another"
phone.

[moonhawk]

who said it did?! "Allo-" only works *between* levels.

[caccamo]

Infinite variants in sound are, well, sounds. But only a few of these
variants seem to enter the speaker's competence as recognizable,
contrastable, distinct units. Just run this home-made test with someone
(US pronunciation assumed):

- snip--

Is there such a thing as an "allophone" of [S]?).

[moonhawk]

Of course not. "Allo-" was not meant to work on one level only. There
could be many allophones of /S/, however, that were phonetically
conditioned.

[caccamo]

However, this "sameness" of sound in the speaker's mind is not "the same"
in acoustic phonetics. Spectrograms would surely show that the [S] in
SHeet and Sure are evidently different. Therefore, since all "same" phones
are acoustically different from each other, if one extends the criterion
of difference to acoustic properties, two different tokens of, say, a
released, aspirated [t] would be allophonic to each other, which is weird,
to say the least.

[moonhawk]

Of course it is. Items on the same level aren't "allophonic to each
other," no matter how many times you repeat it -- they are both allophones
OF the same phoneme. You keep forgetting the "of," and then chasing your
tail in circles.

[caccamo]

So, the (allo-) difference is mental, not physical. Phones are
recognizable mental units that correspond to representations of sets of
physical facts; allophones are recognizable variants of phones -- in
langue, not in speech.

[moonhawk]

But where did anyone ever say, or even imply, that "allo-" was physical?!
I can buy your argument that "Phones are recognizable mental units that
correspond to representations of sets of physical facts" -- I can see some
use for considering phones as only corresponding to physical facts, as an
impression of. But that in no way leads to the next statement, "allophones
are recognizable variants of phones -- in langue, not in speech," since
allophones have always been taught to be recognizable variant phonetic
manifestations of *phonemes*, not phones.

Perhaps you can mount a campaign to get all linguists to accept that -- or
perhaps the revolution has already begun since I was last a student, and
I'm now in early stages of old-fogyness! ;-)

___________________________

Also on Friday, Francisco wrote,

[Francisco Dubert <fgdubertusc.es>]

To Dan Moonhawk Alford:

In Galician, the lexeme HOXE (adverb) *TODAY* has only /oSe/ as his
exponent (where /S/ is a voiceless postalveolar fricative),

[moonhawk]

probably conditioned by the backness of /o/

[francisco]

but the lexeme FACER (verb) *DO* has, in the indicative present tense the
following forms:

- snip--

So, the lexeme FACER (verb) has three roots: /fag/, /faT/, /fa/ and /fiS/,
the P2 sing exponent is /s/ in the present forms and /tSes/ in the past
forms, etc.

I would like to know if in your opinion "allomorphs" are relations too.
Are /fag/, /faT/, /fa/ and /fiS/ relations to FACER?

[moonhawk]

Of course. /fag/, /faT/, /fa/ and /fiS/ are allomorphs of (or in
allomorphic relationship to) the morpheme {facer}. At least that's how *I*
was taught.

Maybe we'll all just continue this battle on a new level -- I can just see
the "Disc: What exacty are allomorphs (of)" as a subject title forming
now! ;-) But I hope the moderators include the "(of)" next time -- or
without the parentheses, even better!

warm regards, moonhawk

Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu>
CSU Hayward, CIIS, JFKU

Visit Moonhawk's webpage at 
<http://www.sunflower.com/~dewatson/alford.htm>;
for recent presentations and hard-to-find classic articles.
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