LINGUIST List 11.181

Fri Jan 28 2000

Disc: Phonemic Analysis

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Jorge Guitart, Re: 11.155, Disc: Phonemic Analysis
  2. Richard D. Janda, 11.156., Disc: Phonemic Analysis
  3. Geoffrey S. Nathan, Phonemic analysis

Message 1: Re: 11.155, Disc: Phonemic Analysis

Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2000 09:35:13 -0500 (EST)
From: Jorge Guitart <>
Subject: Re: 11.155, Disc: Phonemic Analysis

Have I been dreaming all this time and the year is 1943 or 44? No, it
can't be, because generative phonology was mentioned, and that was
invented in the 60s. 

I never thought I would see anybody advocating autonomous phonemics in the
year 2000.

To me the best foundation for the best discovery procedure possible in
phonology, given the state of our knowledge about cognition, computation,
and yes,phonetics, is for someone to learn the language well and then become a
theoretical phonologist interested, not in grouping sounds into classes
(by pretending to start from the sounds while knowing all the time that
the sounds are parts of meaningful units called morphemes and words) but
in proposing models that attempt to answer, among others, the question of
how we recognize physically different sequences of sounds ***as the same
word***, even though the identity of the sounds has been distorted to the
point of not being pronounced at all (deletion) or pronounced with
gestures that make them identical to sounds with which they contrast
distinctively under non-distortive conditions (assimilation). 

We should not try to find out what the phonemes of the language are
starting from the sounds: biuniqueness is not an inviolate constraint of
any known human language and using minimal pairs is cheating because you
are assuming that sounds are part of words but you said you were starting
from the sounds. Rather, we should find out what phonemes are starting
from the lexical units, then see what happens to them under conditions
of distortions, and then propose a theory of what mediates between lexical
units and their physical realizations.

The theory certainly should not be classical generative phonology, but
that is a straw man that no serious phonologist I know, or know of, is
trying to prop up. 

Jorge Guitart
State University of New York at Buffalo
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Message 2: 11.156., Disc: Phonemic Analysis

Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2000 14:00:45 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard D. Janda <>
Subject: 11.156., Disc: Phonemic Analysis

 My message of January 3, posted this morning (Jan. 25), was unfor- 
tunately corrupted in transmission. (I sent myself a trial version and 
checked it, but the submitted version somehow got frostbite, I guess.) 
Here are the missing portions, with minimal context before and after. 

[Garbled or omitted from near beginning of message:] 
>From a recent children'9s book on dinosaurs: "_Allosaurus_ 
 comes from the Greek words allo- 'leaping' and saur- 'liz- 
 ard', so _allosaurus_ means 'leaping lizard'!". [Close, 
 but no cigar: the author here must have looked in a dic- 
 tionary of Ancient Greek but missed the rough breathing of 
 _ha'llomai_ 'I leap' (inf. _hale'sthai_), although smooth 
 breathings (with no initial aspirate) are found for this 
 verb in Epic (e.g., Homeric) Greek. Unfortunately, allo- 
 phones can't be 'leaping sounds' unless metathesis is in- 
 Hugh Buckingham (Linguist List Vol-10-1876) encouraged teachers to 
"tell the students to look up... allo- in the dictionary...[, w]here it says 
'closely related...[, in] a group whose members together constitute a 
structural unit...['; o]nly then, are the students ready to get it...[:] al- 
lo- has no special use for things like -phones..., but... for grouping 
within [all] categories, and the categories can be many...[;] you can find 
many more allo-s in classificatory science". 
 Unfortunately, looking in "the" dictionary leads, in the case of the 
widely used _Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary_ (10th ed.), to the 
finding that a meaning something like 'involving members of a group 
which together constitute a structural unit (especially of language)' is 
given third. The very first meaning given is a rather non-allophone-like 
sense that is approximately as follows: all(o)- 'other, different, atypi- 
cal' (still, the next sense is more allophone-like: 'isomeric in form 
[for a specified chemical compound]'). After all, Greek allo- is cognate 
with Latin alien-us, and you can hardly make something sound more 
'exclusionarily different' to students' ears than the latter term does. And 
the examples that follow again include some exclusionary-sound scien- 
tific terms (rather than collusionary, as our allophones are).... 

[Garbled or omitted from near end of message:] 
And, to take off from Picard's query about English flapping, which 
provoked at least one strong response arguing that this process is assim- 
ilatory: does the same answer hold for British (and American -- e.g., 
New York City) dialects that glottalize where (other) American English 
tends to flap? (E.g., in Joseph Greenberg's iconic pronunciation of the 
word _glottalization_.) Admittedly, a glottal stop is perhaps not the ulti- 
mate obstruent, but is it really more assimilated than a [t]? 
 Then there are varieties of English which preglottalize in a word like 
_back_ (so that some such speakers even show glottal intrusion when 
speaking French, as in a word like _avec_) -- again, is this assimilatory? 
 In short, does the commitment to assimilation (as a putative character- 
istic of all [non-elsewhere?] co-allophones) that seems to be so strong 
among recent respondents represent a hypothesis that has been rigor- 
ously tested through an active search for potential counterexamples, or 
is it more a matter of fervent belief, of concern for innocent language-ac- 
quiring children who might otherwise have to learn something whose 
degree of naturalness is neutral, rather than unmarked? 
 Finally, according to Joaquim Branda~o de Carvalho [Linguist List 
In English, assimilation is involved in both (1) initial aspiration of stops 
 (since stop voicelessness extends into a vowel, via a VOT lag) and 
 (2) the final unrelease of stops that arises when a "final plosive is not 
 aspirated because there is no vowel at its right, and therefore no pos- 
 sibility of coarticulation". Now, the aspiration in question tends to 
 be concentrated in stressed syllables, and not just word-initial ones, 
 so it occurs in, e.g., _apophony_, _atrocity_, and _acropolis_. If 
 there is something assimilatory and natural about aspiration's (VOT 
 lag's) spreading into a following vowel, wouldn't we also expect to 
 find medial consonant-lengthening, even to the point of gemination, 
 into a following vowel, since this would, by parity of reasoning, al- 
 so be assimilatory? (It could occur before diphthongs or long vow- 
 els, for example, so that a decent syllable nucleus would still be left.) 
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Message 3: Phonemic analysis

Date: 26 Jan 2000 16:03:03 -0000
From: Geoffrey S. Nathan <>
Subject: Phonemic analysis

	At the risk of dragging this discussion on far beyond everyone's patience 
	I'd like to respond to a few of Rich Janda's recent points. Specifically, 
	I'd disagree with any view that suggests that all allophones are 
	assimilatory. If we assume (as Stampe did within Natural Phonology and as 
	I and others have done within some recent Cognitive Grammar (1) models) 
	that phonemes are idealized targets (an idea that stems originally from 
	Baudouin de Courtenay), then allophones are deviations from those targets 
	that may occur either for assimilatory or for dissimilatory, specifically 
	augmentative, purposes. Work by Ken de Jong has shown that extra careful, 
	emphatic pronunciations constitute deviations toward more extreme 
	positions, while casual pronunciations, as is well known, represent 
	movements towards more central ones. Thus allophonic changes may be 
	assimilatory (such as the labiodentalization of /p/ found in 'cupful', as 
	discussed in the new Roca and Johnson text), dissimilatory (aspiration 
	spreads voicelessness onto a neighboring voiced vowel), augmentative 
	(making /l/ syllabic, as in 'Puh-lease!') or reductive (as in English 
	flapping). Sounds can be foregrounded or backgrounded (to use Dressler's 
	terminology) either with respect to their surroundings or absolutely. The 
	conflict between these four competing forces is perfectly captured with the 
	OT view of the world, incidentally, especially if we add the additional 
	countervailing force to maintain the idealized target as is (Faithfulness).
	(1) References on my views of Cognitive Phonology available on request.
	Geoffrey S. Nathan
	Department of Linguistics
	Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
	Carbondale, IL, 62901-4517
	Phone: (618) 453-3421 (Office) / FAX (618) 453-6527
	 (618) 549-0106 (Home)
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