LINGUIST List 6.199

Mon 13 Feb 1995

Disc: IPA

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. David Prager Branner, IPA, Austerlitz
  2. wachal robert s, Re: 6.185 IPA
  3. , The "hacek"
  4. , IPA
  5. aleya ROUCHD, Re: 6.185 IPA

Message 1: IPA, Austerlitz

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 1995 01:36:21 IPA, Austerlitz
From: David Prager Branner <>
Subject: IPA, Austerlitz

 I learned phonetics and phonetic field technique from Robert
Austerlitz (1923-1994). After reading Joseph Stemberger's comments on IPA
and democratizing the process of standarizing phonetic writing (in
Linguist 6.185), I thought about how Austerlitz taught.

 Austerlitz never asked us to memorize IPA or any other system.
Instead, he taught us several different systems of notation all at once.
He expected us to be able to describe sounds by place of articulation,
manner of articulation, and so on. We were expected to +know+ IPA, of
course, and he referred us to several different sources, each of which had
a slightly different version of it. But there were no standard systems in
his classroom. He was a remarkable teacher and made me a fieldworker.
 He used a number of symbols that are rarely seen anywhere else.
One of his favorites was the cardinal vowel "61", by which (if I remember
correctly) he meant the high back unrounded vowel written "turned m" in
IPA. This "61" was merely the letter "uy" from the Cyrillic alphabet.
 In his field-technique classes, we were encouraged to make up new
symbols to describe what we heard. I remember, during a session with a
speaker from Shanqhae, he expressed the greatest pleasure when Joseph
Davis wrote the initial consonant of 'cooked rice' with a digraph made up
of a "v" with a lowercase "f" planted between its arms. This expressed
graphically the unusual Shanqhae sound that Davis had described - it was
clearly a labiodental fricative, but somehow sounded both voiced and
voiceless at the same time. Austerlitz first mentioned that "they" in the
IPA would say that diacritics could be used to express this, then
recounted Chao's claim that many Chinese dialects have initial consonants
that are in-between voiced and voiceless, and went on to discuss ways that
he and others had thought of to write this.
 Actually, though, the use of those IPA voiced/voiceless or breathy
voicing diacritics might not be quite right. The "voiced" initials in
Shanqhae lower register words are neither contrastively voiced nor
contrastively unvoiced; the apparent "breathy semi-voicing" seems
actually to be feature of the +tone+, not the initials. Some speakers
pronounce it with the initial, some before the initial, some afterwards,
some all the way through the syllable, and some not at all. Davis' symbol
was a good idea at the time, though, because it expressed this lack of
contrast vividly.

 I have met quite a number of linguists who have complaints about
IPA or about the variety of systems in use, but these people hardly ever
seem to be fieldworkers. I don't believe I know any two fieldworkers who
use phonetic symbols quite the same way, and most of them don't seem to
care at all. Everyone seems to have different preferences; well, so
what? Some people, for instance, can't abide to write the "h" for
aspiration +above+ the line, and write it seemingly as a full segment.
Others leave the "h" out altogether, saying that (in English, for
instance) it need not be written explicitly. The Chinese tend to write
aspiration with the reversed apostrophe of Greek, probably continuing the
tradition of older systems of romanization.
 The Chinese, in fact, have a whole class of vowels - frictionless
sibilants - that haven't made their way into IPA, as well as a special set
of alveolo-palatal consonants. Are these really necessary? Maybe not,
but the Chinese are not going to give them up; be sure of that.
 For my part, I dislike plain schwa - I prefer to use the four
schwa-area vowels (close-mid and open-mid, rounded and unrounded) that IPA
now recognizes, and even before they became official I was using some of
their current symbols, although I sometimes used special diacritics with
schwa, too. These vowels are important in some of the areas where I work,
in rural Fwujiann. But every Chinese dialectologist I know uses schwa
like mad, and for a number of vowels that I consider quite distinct. We
understand each other, though.

 Fieldworkers are basically explorers. For the most part we do not
go into the field to codify the known, but search for the unknown. We
play with our symbols, try different ways of writing things, develop
habits of transcription that are as distinctive as handwriting and reflect
different ways of interpreting sounds. It is natural in these
circumstances that different standards should take shape. Fieldwork is an
adventure, and transcriptional practice reflects that.

 I can't imagine why anyone thinks we need a single,
"democratically devised" standard. IPA of some sort is good enough for
most people who actually use it, and if someone doesn't like it, he or she
will borrow from some other tradition - American, perhaps - or invent
another. If I want to look at that person's notes, I will just learn the
system - it might take as long as 10 minutes - and that will be that.
Where is the problem? Why should I trade my freedom of transcriptional
expression for a rigid code? Why would that benefit me?

 No, the "chaos of multiple standards" that Stemberger mentions
doesn't bother me at all. There +are+ two things that do bother me,
though. One is the frequent changes in IPA that have been bandied about
recently. When the Kiel version of IPA was first promulgated, I was
aghast at the large number of weird-looking symbols. Then came the
Revision of Kiel, and things were different again. I don't mind
adjustments, as long as they are introduced very gradually. Like the
agreement a couple of years ago that +either+ way of writing "g" was
acceptable - that only took a few decades to get straight. The idea that
lots of changes have to be introduced and introduced right away frightens
me a little. That isn't to say I don't enjoy hearing the different
proposals people advocate, but I will probably still stick to my own
transcriptional habits, even so.
 The other thing that bothers me is the mob of systematizers,
standardizers, formalists, and unificationists who seem to pop up
everywhere in Linguistics like dandelions by the side of the road. To my
mind, formal systematization is the enemy of good fieldwork.

 And if a democratic vote +is+ ever taken on the subject of
phonetic alphabets, I hereby move that it be restricted to people who do a
+minimum of 100 hours of fieldwork or acoustic measurement+ every year for
their own, fresh research. As for the rest of you - you are welcome to
listen, enjoy the show, but please don't try to tell me my business.

David Prager Branner, Yuen Ren Society
Asian L&L, DO-21, University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195 (
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Message 2: Re: 6.185 IPA

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 1995 07:32:43 Re: 6.185 IPA
From: wachal robert s <>
Subject: Re: 6.185 IPA

I agree with Stemberger: it is embarrassing to stand up in front of
an Intro class and tell them that the most objective end of our discipline
lacks a single coding system. And while we're at it, why don't we start
spelling 'fonetics' like it sounds.
Bob Wachal
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Message 3: The "hacek"

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 1995 10:40:07 The "hacek"
From: <>
Subject: The "hacek"

"Hacek" is the diminutive of the Czech word "hak", meaning hook. If I'm not
mistaken, a lot of Czechs attribute the innovation to the religious and
linguistic reformer Jan Hus (1369?-1415). My sources, however, have him
introducing a dot over the letters to indicate palatalization rather than a
hacek. One of my Czech pedagogical grammars claims haceks were appearing in
Czech manuscripts in the late 13th century, while another explains that the
language's diacritical conventions stabilized around the end of the 16th
century, and that publications of the church of the Czech Brethren used
haceks rather than Hus's dots. Any of those who introduced the hacek could,
in my uneducated opinion, have seen haceks in Hebrew manuscripts like those
described in Alice Faber's recent posting, but we don't know that.

By the way, I've recently seen haceks used in phonological renderings of
Swiss German in journals from Berne dating around 1920 ("Beitraege zur
Schweizerdeutschen Grammatik").

Last year I also saw in the Czech press one or two essays by Czech jounalists
stationed overseas who complained about the peculiarity of haceks (e.g.,
they're not found on most international typewriter keyboards) and how it
would make their lives easier if the Czechs would adopt some more "ordinary"
way of rendering the sounds in question. I very much doubt, however, that
their opinion is much shared by their colleagues and compatriots.

James Kirchner
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Message 4: IPA

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 1995 12:16:13 IPA
From: <>
Subject: IPA

I have been enjoying the discussion about how nice it would be to "end
the chaos of multiple standards" and go to a single system recommended
by the LSA -- either IPA or some cooperatively designed one. But I think
it might be impossible to achieve concensus: there is not only the old
"Americanist" vs. IPA debate, but also at least two more -- one is the
issue of whether to break away from or continue to use the systems that
have developed over time and become standard for linguistic work in
particular language families; and the other is the disparity between
linguistic writing and the official or practical writing systems accepted
in language communities -- the latter often being linguistically adequate
and sometimes preferred by linguists so that the speakers can have
better access to the information being recorded and published by the linguist.
I suppose these considerations need not keep us from attempting to come
to a consensus that might encourage introductory texts in linguistics to
use a particular system; but students will still be forced to develop
knowledge of multiple writing systems as soon as they start reading
articles rather than textbooks. As for me, I have come to enjoy the
diversity of writing systems almost as much as I enjoy the diversity
of languages.

Leanne Hinton
Dept. of Linguistics
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720
fax: (510) 643-5688
phone: (510) 643-7621
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Message 5: Re: 6.185 IPA

Date: Sun, 12 Feb 95 09:59:13 ESRe: 6.185 IPA
Subject: Re: 6.185 IPA

I am of the opinion that the ARABIC LINGUISTIC SOCIETY OF AMERICA should also
be part of this discussion( that is, if democracy is to prevail). It is a growi
growing organization with an impressive membership list and publications.
aleya rouchdy
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