LINGUIST List 6.241

Sat 18 Feb 1995

Disc: IPA

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  1. Alexandr Rosen, Re: 6.185 IPA
  2. , IPA vs Americanist Symbols
  3. "", Re: 6.199 IPA

Message 1: Re: 6.185 IPA

Date: Mon, 13 Feb 1995 09:20:34 Re: 6.185 IPA
From: Alexandr Rosen <>
Subject: Re: 6.185 IPA

Re hachek: The introduction of diacritics into Czech has traditionally been
attributed to Jan Hus, the 15th century religious reformer and martyr (died
in 1415). Before Hus, the respective Czech sounds were spelled as digraphs.

Alexandr Rosen, Charles University, Prague
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Message 2: IPA vs Americanist Symbols

Date: Tue, 14 Feb 1995 12:04:04 IPA vs Americanist Symbols
From: <>
Subject: IPA vs Americanist Symbols

I am at last drawn to reply to the debate on IPA versus 'Americanist'
traditions in phonetic transcription. I was, frankly, somewhat surprised
by the tone of the original submission, suggesting that the IPA's refusal
to use hachek/wedge symbols for palatoalveolars was an example of racism
(both anti-Americanism and anti-slavicism, and no doubt anti-
diacriticism). Now we learn that the IPA itself is an anti-democratic
conspiracy , and we need a new campaign led by American organisations
to make phonetic transcription 'safe for democracy, apple pie, and the
American way'!?

A couple of points need to made in this regard, I think. First, it is not true
that the IPA is not used in North America. What we have here is maybe not
Euro-centrism, but phonology/dialectology centrism! Clinical Phoneticians
and Speech Pathologists in North American nearly always use the IPA (yes:
long esses/zees, jods, and the Cardinal Vowel System, and all!) Indeed, some
departments of linguistics/phonetics operate within the IPA tradition (e.g.
University of Victoria BC). On the other hand, virtually all phonologists on
this side of the Atlantic use the so-called Americanist symbols. The divide,
therefore, is not as has been portrayed. If phonologists tend to use one set
 of symbols, and phoneticians another, is that really such a problem, as
often they are concerned with different levels of description anyway?
Even if phoneticians cannot agree, is this also such a problem? Can raising
the fears of racial discrimination and undemocratic conspiracies really
be justified over relatively trivial distinctions in symbols that anyone
trained in the area knows about anyway?

The second point concerns the debate on the symbols themselves. As I have
just noted, the difference between certain symbols is surely not a
fundamentally important one; but I would like to speak in defence of the
IPA non-hachek versions. Leaving aside the fact that these symbols do
have a long history, I (do) feel that a unit symbol is preferably than a
composite one. (Unlike the original posting, it always seemed obvious to me
that the hachek symbols were s/z etc plus a diacritic). Granted that the IPA
is not always consistent on this point, a unitary symbol approach avoids
confusions as to the nature of the s-S distinction. One may have to counter
students' feelings that [S] is really only a type of [s] which is reinforced by
the spelling; it doesn't help if the symbol looks also like a 'sort of s'.

We might also look at the difference with [j] versus [y] for the palatal
approximant. On the surface, this looks fine, as the [y] spelling is familiar
(but surely anglocentric, and not in line with slavic/germanic etc usage?).
However, this choice then leaves us with a problem for a high front
rounded vowel. If we can't use [y] then we must resort to [u"]. The diacritic
["], however, is also commonly used in many traditions to stand for
centralized. This transcription also suggests that [u"] is a variety of [u], and
that [o"] is a variety of [o] etc. The use of independent symbols leaves open
the relationship between lip-rounding and tongue position, which the
'diaresis' versions do not.

However phonetic transcription develops in the future, let's avoid
throwing around accusations at other users or bodies. Utopian schemes of
universal orthodoxy in this area are surely unneccessary if not unsound.
To be realistic, most IPA users (wherever they're based) are unlikely to
surrender over a century's worth of patterns of usage, and non-IPA users
will be equally keen to keep to their symbolizations. Let's learn to live
with this, and spend instead time on refining transcription systems
(e.g. for the transcription of atypical speech found in speech pathology
clinics). Perhaps, vive la difference is the motto to aspire to!

Martin J. Ball
University of Ulster
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Message 3: Re: 6.199 IPA

Date: Fri, 17 Feb 95 14:49 PST
From: "" <>
Subject: Re: 6.199 IPA

It would be nice to have true democracy when trying to reach
agreement on how to use phonetic symbols, as Stemburger has
suggested. Just as war is too important a matter to be left to the
generals, so choosing a standardized set of symbols shouldn't be left to
the phoneticians. The International Phonetic Association has always
recognized this. It is fully conscious of the fact that IPA symbols are
used by a wide variety of people. At the 1989 Kiel Convention, which
was the first major revision for almost 50 years, there was a great deal
of discussion about remembering our 'customers', as one phonetician
put it. And (despite comments to the contrary by participants in this
discussion) the only changes since then have been small changes that
affect comparatively few users of the alphabet, largely because of the
belief that it is important for the alphabet to remain as stable as

If Stemburger would like to organize some kind of referendum, good
luck to him. I note that he suggests the LSA as the appropriate body for
the U.S., although he also mentions ASHLA (American Speech Hearing
and Language Association) as an interested group that has officially
adopted the IPA. Their membership is much larger than the LSA. The
ASA (Acoustical Society of America) is another group that has many
members interested in phonetic symbols.

The1989 IPA Kiel Convention was open to all, and did include
members of all the organizations mentioned by Stemburger, including
LSA, ASHLA, ASA, SIL and others, none of the participants, of
course, speaking officially for any of these organizations. The
convention was also publicized in a paper in Language, the only paper
that Morris Halle and I have ever co-authored. I really do not see how
we can get more international collaboration. Agreeing on symbols is as
difficult as getting everyone to use the same units for measuring
weights and distances.

In response to my previous suggestion that people interested in choices
of phonetic symbols should join the International Phonetic Association,
I have received inquiries as to how to do this. There is a form in the
Journal of the International Phonetic Association (which members
receive - - and your university library +should+ take). But really all
you need to do is to send your name and address, plus a check for $25
or #13 sterling (or request to charge
Access/Mastercharge/Visa/Eurocard) for the annual dues to:
Secretariat, IPA
Linguistics and Phonetics
Univeristy of Leeds
Leeds, LS2 9JT, U.K.

Peter Ladefoged
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