LINGUIST List 3.820

Sat 24 Oct 1992

Disc: Phonetician (report on the references)

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Message 1: Phoneticians

Date: Tue, 20 Oct 92 23:21:24 EDPhoneticians
From: <>
Subject: Phoneticians

The debate about neutralization has just taken a new turn.
I have called for the people who accuse me of being
cloth-eared, ignorant of phonetics, etc., to cite specific references.
And now JL1VAXA.YORK.AC.UK writes:

> 1. The following ear phoneticians have all described differences
> between the so-called 'neutralised' word-final 'voiced' and
> 'voiceless' portions in languages such as German: Ellis, 1876,
> Pronunciation for Singers (and in Ealy English Pronunciation);
> Sweet, 1877, A Handbook of Phonetics; Vietor,1884, German
> Pronunciation; Jesperson, 1933, Lehrbuch der Phonetik; Heffer,
> 1950, General Phonetics (American one this!!).

I have yet to get a hold of Ellis or Heffner, but I can
report the following:

Sweet (p. 76) does discuss "half-voiced obstruents" in
intervocalic position in Danish and without specifying the position
in Southern German (although we know from other places that in
S. German this occurs in all positions and in place of both the
voiced and the voiceless stops of Standard German (which is, as
everyone knows I think, a curious conglomerate of basically Northern
pronunciation and Southern (almost) everything else).

Thus, this is a
case of what I mentioned in my last posting: the "half-voiced"
sounds do, of course, occur (except we would probably call them
voiceless lax), but NOT in the languages/dialects at issue in this
whole discussion. Indeed, on p. 134, Sweet describes the
speech of a Hanover speaker in which "Final stops are always
voiceless". Also, Sweet describes the medial consonant of 'bigger'
in English as a short stop (shorter than in 'big').

Jespersen (p. 107) also mentions that the "voiceless mediae" (as he
calls the "half-voiced" sounds) occur in Danish and in Southern
German, and clearly states that (and he is right) in Southern
German these occur in place of both the voiced and the voiceless
sounds of Standard German. Interestingly, he adds that THESE are
the sounds he has "heard often enough in American pronunciation ...
in place of intervocalic [p t k]", e.g., in words like 'baker'.
Further, he says very clearly (p. 111-112) that those German
speakers who have the voiced/voiceless contrast (as noted, many
Southerners do not), have final devoicing and cites numerous
examples, including the one which us cloth-eared phonologists
always use, namely, 'Rat' and 'Rad', which he describes as

Vietor (p. 366 of the 7th edition) says that in Standard German "In
final position, aside from the liquids ..., only the voiceless
[sounds] are allowed", and cites 'Land' as being pronounced with a
final [t].

It is, of course, true that a different scholar, Theodor Siebs,
Deutsche Bu"hnenaussprache Hochsprache (I will cite from the 15th
ed., 1930) says something different. He claims that there is a
difference (having to do with the transition from the preceding
vowel) between the way that orthographic p and b, t and d, and k
and g ARE TO BE pronounced (pp. 72-82). However,

(a) He does not make a parallel distinction in the case of /s/ and
/z/, where there is not to be any contrast (p. 66), where, of
course, there is no consistent orthographic distinction. This to
my mind indicates that the whole thing is probably invented.

(b) He only says that this is the way these things "ARE TO BE
pronounced". Indeed, he refers (pp. 7-10) to the way in which a
small group of scholars tried in the late 19th century to CREATE
the standard pronunciation. He never says that anyone actually has
been heard to speak this way. (This kind of thing was not
uncommon: Y. R. Chao and others tried to create a standard
pronunciation for Chinese, based on Beijing speech, but with
several contrasts added in, and failed no less than Siebs in the
case of German).

(c) Vietor (op. cit., p. 366) specifically says that these
distinctions are totally artificial (by the way, Vietor was one of
the experts Siebs refers to earlier).

>From (b) and (c), I infer that we should no more take Siebs as
DESCRIBING the pronunciation of any actual speaker than we would
(HOPEFULLY) take any other prescriptive statement, AIN'T THAT

(d) Finally, this contrast is claimed only if the preceding vowel
is long or if the preceding segment is a sonorant, but it is
specified that there is no contrast after a short vowel. This
distinction in terms of environment bears no relationship to the
claims of the recent Incomplete Neutralization literature I have
been referring to.

 Thus, I stand by my statement that there is no evidence that
anybody has ever heard such contrasts in German.

 As for the other languages at issue, Polish, Russian, and
Catalan, no one has yet purported to have a reference
claiming absence of final neutralization of voice in the non-
instrumental literature. (It is interesting that none of my
opponents in this discussion seem to be aware of the work
on Polish, for example, of such outstanding phoneticians as Tytus
Benni or Wiktor Jassem).

There also exists a very important work on Russian
pronunciation coauthored by Daniel Jones (who seems
to be one of the people who are not supposed to have been cloth-
eared), dating to the early '20's. This book, as far as I can
remember (I have not seen it for a long time), agrees with
everybody else that there is complete final devoicing in Russian.

 Perhaps, since I went to the trouble of checking Sweet,
Vietor, Jespersen (and even Siebs), somebody on the other side
would read Daniel Jones before continuing this discussion.
(It might also be nice if someone would try to
see if Jones anywhere in his prolific corpus gives us any examples
of German or Polish or Catalan that would be relevant.
Unfortunately, all I have at hand is Jones's stuff on the German
diminutive '-chen' and related matters.)

 Of course, as also noted, the continuant pronunciations of
intervocalic velars in English were also missed by at least some of
these great phoneticians. But, in this case, I must say that I do
not know the literature very well, so perhaps SOMEONE has
identified these sounds without the help of instruments. I am
still waiting for a specific reference, though.

 (In this connection, I would also like to say that
the people who have reported such sounds as far as I know DO note that
they are unlike the velar fricatives we normally transcribe with
the symbols [x] and gamma. Whatever the distinction (duration,
amount of friction, whatever), it is perfectly legitimate for me to
suggest that this is precisely why even such non-cloth-eared
phoneticians as Sweet and Jespersen did not hear them.)

 Getting back to the question of neutralization in German,
Polish, Catalan, and Russian, let me also say one more time that
EVEN the instrumental findings that the neutralization is
incomplete have been challenged by perfectly competent phoneticians
such as Fourakis and Jassem. While I myself am beginning to think
that the distinctions may be real (I did not at first), the fact
that even the instrumental findings are in doubt suggests
that anyone who expects to find that these
distinctions have actually been HEARD is very likely to be disappointed.
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