LINGUIST List 3.428

Fri 22 May 1992

Disc: Tone and SPE

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  1. Dan Everett, Some recent phonological history
  2. Dan Everett, `Exotic'

Message 1: Some recent phonological history

Date: Wed, 20 May 92 11:29:40 -0Some recent phonological history
From: Dan Everett <>
Subject: Some recent phonological history

In referring to their analysis of `pitch'/tone, Chomsky & Halle note
on page 300 of SPE that their `prosodic features' have `little
theoretical basis at present'. This is unproblematic. After all, one
cannot reasonably expect a single work, even one so detailed and
ambitious as SPE, to address every issue. It is completely reasonable
to leave such things for future work by oneself or one's students.
Later work did emerge on this important issue, the two most
influential (arguably) initial works being Leben and Goldsmith
(although Woo's was certainly a very important work, leading to

Should early autosegmental studies have been responsible for noticing
that an SPE feature-based analysis of tone could not possibly handle
the facts Pike analysed in various indigenous languages of Mexico and
elsewhere? It is true that C&H do not cite Pike at all in SPE.
Perhaps it is unfair then to expect their subsequent students to have
made much of an effort to incorporate work like his into their
theories of tone or to have been aware of its fuller theoretical
implications. But I do not think it is unreasonable; in fact I think
it is very puzzling that this work was not noticed at first. No American
linguist's work on tone was as detailed or influential (outside of
generative circles) as Pike's.

(Pike presented his work on tone for the first time to a small meeting,
one of the earlier LSA meetings. There were only about a dozen people
in the audience, including Hockett, Bloomfield, Sapir, and Fries.
Bloomfield, Fries, and Sapir all tried to get Pike to study with them
(at the time he developed much of his tone analysis, he wanted to
enroll at in a PhD program and had had little formal graduate
training) at their respective institutions. While Pike was more
inclined to work with Sapir, and in fact maintained an active
correspondence with him for several years, he in the end opted for
Fries and Michigan. But Pike's work on tone influenced all at that
original audience significantly.)

Now, as Vicki Fromkin notes, one can never expect that students know
the entire history of the discipline. This may in fact have a negative
impact on students: in other countries, where history of a discipline
is arguably given more prominence in graduate training than it is
here, students tend to dwell more on epistemology and less on actual
research, something I take to be an unfortunate side effect (I refer
to my years teaching in Latin America). However, once an earlier study
is rediscovered, then acknowledgment should be made. Chomsky's example
is instructive: his initial work on universal grammar echoed work by
17th century French philosophers, although he was not aware of that
at first. However, when he discovered that these ideas preceded his
own by three centuries, he dedicated an entire book to making this
earlier work well-known and acknowledging his intellectual debt.
Exemplary behavior.

I take it that the relevance of Pike's work to tone studies has been
subsequently recognized and I certainly did not intend to take so much
time here on it, not do I mean to suggest that he was deliberately
ignored. I have no money riding on this, so it ain't that big a deal
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Message 2: `Exotic'

Date: Wed, 20 May 92 11:21:11 -0`Exotic'
From: Dan Everett <>
Subject: `Exotic'

In an earlier posting, I said that in SPE tone-languages were
referred to as `exotic'.

However, as I reread the relevant sections of Chomsky & Halle (1968),
I cannot find any reference to tone languages as `exotic', so I
apologize for misstating this.

-- Dan Everett
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