LINGUIST List 7.851

Sun Jun 9 1996

Disc: Phoneme/Syllable inventory size

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <dseelyemunix.emich.edu>


Directory

  1. Lisa Redford, Phoneme/Syllable inventory size and word length
  2. 00hfstahlkebsuvc.bsu.edu, Re: 7.837, Disc: Phoneme inventory size and word length

Message 1: Phoneme/Syllable inventory size and word length

Date: Fri, 07 Jun 1996 10:47:06 CDT
From: Lisa Redford <mredfordutxvms.cc.utexas.edu>
Subject: Phoneme/Syllable inventory size and word length
Chris Golston writes:

"I am amazed to find that anybody is seriously counting SEGMENTS to
determine word length (Nettle 95). Hello?
Surely the big generalization is on word-length in terms of SYLLABLES and
number of distinctive features (or number of phonemes). If a language
allows really complex syllables it doesn't need lots of them per morpheme
(eg, German); if a languages has really beautiful syllables it MUST have a
lot of them per morpheme (Italian). Comparing English strengths and
Hawaiian honolulu 'tourist trap' as two words with eight segments misses
something important."


 If one thinks in terms of simple combinatorics either segments or
syllables should do. The more segments or syllables a language has the
more unique short words it can create. For instance, if a language has
only two phonemes /b/ and /a/, and one syllable type (cv), then each new
word in the language would have to have an additional syllable. If the
language had either more phonemes or more syllables, then there would be a
potentially larger pool of unique short words that the language could chose
from.
 I have done some very preliminary analyses of word length in terms
of syllables for Maori, English, and a computer modeled vocabulary. The
computer modeled vocabulary had the fewest phonemes, but allowed for a
number of different types of syllables, Maori pretty much only allows for
cv syllables and has 9 phonemes (if I remember correctly), English has many
more phonemes (40?) and syllable types. For what it is worth: A random
sample of 300 words from each of these vocabularies demonstrated that
English had the highest percentage of short words (ie, one and two
syllables), followed by the computer model, followed by Maori.
 Words in a vocabulary need to be perceptually distinctive from one
another so that they can adequately serve communicative purposes. From a
production standpoint, short words as well as small inventories of
syllables and segments are to be preferred. But, as the above example
demonstrates, it is not possible to follow all these production preferences
and still maintain a vocabulary of perceptually distinct words. It would
seem, then, that even language vocabularies are subject to the constraints
(perceptual and production) that govern segmental inventories.

Melissa Reford
mredfordutxsvs.cc.utexas.edu
Dept of Psychology, UT Austin
330 Mezes, Austin, TX 78712
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Message 2: Re: 7.837, Disc: Phoneme inventory size and word length

Date: Fri, 07 Jun 1996 08:39:27 CDT
From: 00hfstahlkebsuvc.bsu.edu <00hfstahlkebsuvc.bsu.edu>
Subject: Re: 7.837, Disc: Phoneme inventory size and word length
Chris Golston wrote:
>
>Has anyone tried counting something reasonable (number of syllables or
>feet) and seeing if it correlated with something else?
>

How about the maxim, "Anything in natural language that you can count
doesn't."

Herb Stahlke 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+ Herbert F. W. Stahlke, Ph.D.	 ||	Email: 00HFSTAHLKEBSU.EDU	+
+ Professor of English		 ||		hstahlkebsu.edu	+
+ Ball State University		 ||	Phone: 317-285-3954		+
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