LINGUIST List 10.1920

Sun Dec 12 1999

Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


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  • Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 10.1914, Disc: What Exactly Are "Allophones OF"?

    Message 1: Re: 10.1914, Disc: What Exactly Are "Allophones OF"?

    Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1999 12:29:22 -0800 (PST)
    From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu>
    Subject: Re: 10.1914, Disc: What Exactly Are "Allophones OF"?


    Celso wrote on Friday:

    [Celso Alvarez Caccamo <lxalvarzudc.es>]

    I, from my profound ignorance, agree with most of Jorge Guitart's recent message about the psychological thingness of phonemes, but perhaps not with everything -- particularly with his use of "representation" vs. "realization".

    Just some thoughts. The notion "allophone" is inherently relational, yes, but so is "phoneme" -- what is not relational in linguistics?

    [moonhawk]

    This quaint usage of "allophone" rather than the fuller term "allophone OF" is at the root of our disagreement here, and undoubtedly what drives its notion of thinginess for you. Despite the fact that I agree with you both on the abstract thinginess of phonemes and that everything is relational in linguistics, I believe that we, or some of us, can be more precise than that totalizing generality. If you will just try on the phrase "allophone of" for a while, you could have an epiphany.

    [caccamo]

    But a thing that relates to another thing is still a thing.

    [moonhawk]

    "a thing" = thing1, say a phone. "Another one" = thing2, the phoneme, abstract now rather than (our impression of the) physical. Thing1 relates to thing2; the allophonic relationship = the "relates to" -- dynamic, not static.

    [caccamo]

    Strictly speaking, any phoneme is an allo-phoneme -- no language exists with just one phoneme. However, would anyone suggest to do away with "phoneme" and to talk only about the relational process of "phoneming"? ;-).

    [moonhawk]

    This puzzles me since none of the founders proffered the term "allophoneme," that I know of, even though they too knew that the only meaning of a phoneme is its points in patterns with other phonemes.

    It also puzzles me in its assumption that someone was wanting to do away with the term "allophone," so why not "phoneme" too. I don't remember anyone suggesting any such thing. Does taking away the thinginess of allophones equate to doing away with them? My, the hold of thinginess is strong! Like taking away toys! Isn't it possible to hold a truly dynamic, relational term in our professional worldview?

    [caccamo]

    So, the point about allophones is not their relational dimension, but what exactly they relate to, and how.

    [moonhawk]

    You've done it again -- there is no "they"! "Allophone of" is already the relating you mean. Phones and phonemes relate in an allophonic relationship. Aspirated-p, for instance, is a phone when describing it phonetically for any language, with no recourse to the phonemic level. Aspirated-p is also an allophone of /p/ in English (but not, say, Spanish or Cheyenne) in certain contexts WHEN that same fact of phonetic manifestation, aspirated-p, is looked at from a phonemic perspective -- but it's the same physical fact/impression, PHONE, either way. There is no *allophone separate from the phone in question. "Allophone of" is merely a term of perspective -- phonemic rather than phonetic level.

    [caccamo]

    And, in this sense, to me the meaning of "allo" is sufficiently transparent -- it simply means "other, different".

    [moonhawk]

    yet not quite as different as you would make it out to be. It's a variant OF something, and related in that way.

    [caccamo]

    Allophones relate to phonemes as representations, yes. But a representation of an abstract object is not a relationship of difference, as Jorge Guitart points out. The relationship of difference is the one established with other phones: an allophone is "another" phone, and, thus, just as phonemes establish among themselves relations of "otherness" (Jakobson dixit), so allophones establish relations of "otherness" with other (allo)phones.

    [moonhawk]

    I don't know what "otherness" between phonemes is called; I've never needed that in my work. I've tried my best to make sense of the above, to no avail. I don't think it's possible without seeing "an allophone" as a thing, which I can't do. Maybe we are creating mutually unintelligible dialects of linguistics after all.

    [caccamo]

    Now, the second problem may rest on the level of abstraction assigned to allophones, that is, can any phone count as an allophone? Since variation in speech is infinite, if the answer is yes then one of the notions is redundant.

    [moonhawk]

    I would nominate the "thing notion of allophones" for the redundancy award for redundancy. ;-)

    To your question I answer "Mu", meaning the question is invalid. That's looking "upward" from the physical phones to the phonemes; "allophone of" looks "downward" from phoneme to phone. Can any phone count as an allophone of some phoneme? Undoubtedly, when asked in a more complete way, which assumes a phonetic system of speech sounds, not just any sounds like clearings of throats, and a phonemic system of mental distinctions. "Allo-" always looks "downward" from phonemes to related phones, or from morphemes to related morphs -- that is, from more abstract to less abstract.

    [caccamo]

    I believe that in the speaker's mind not any one phone counts as "another" phone.

    [moonhawk]

    who said it did?! "Allo-" only works *between* levels.

    [caccamo]

    Infinite variants in sound are, well, sounds. But only a few of these variants seem to enter the speaker's competence as recognizable, contrastable, distinct units. Just run this home-made test with someone (US pronunciation assumed):

    - snip--

    Is there such a thing as an "allophone" of [S]?).

    [moonhawk]

    Of course not. "Allo-" was not meant to work on one level only. There could be many allophones of /S/, however, that were phonetically conditioned.

    [caccamo]

    However, this "sameness" of sound in the speaker's mind is not "the same" in acoustic phonetics. Spectrograms would surely show that the [S] in SHeet and Sure are evidently different. Therefore, since all "same" phones are acoustically different from each other, if one extends the criterion of difference to acoustic properties, two different tokens of, say, a released, aspirated [t] would be allophonic to each other, which is weird, to say the least.

    [moonhawk]

    Of course it is. Items on the same level aren't "allophonic to each other," no matter how many times you repeat it -- they are both allophones OF the same phoneme. You keep forgetting the "of," and then chasing your tail in circles.

    [caccamo]

    So, the (allo-) difference is mental, not physical. Phones are recognizable mental units that correspond to representations of sets of physical facts; allophones are recognizable variants of phones -- in langue, not in speech.

    [moonhawk]

    But where did anyone ever say, or even imply, that "allo-" was physical?! I can buy your argument that "Phones are recognizable mental units that correspond to representations of sets of physical facts" -- I can see some use for considering phones as only corresponding to physical facts, as an impression of. But that in no way leads to the next statement, "allophones are recognizable variants of phones -- in langue, not in speech," since allophones have always been taught to be recognizable variant phonetic manifestations of *phonemes*, not phones.

    Perhaps you can mount a campaign to get all linguists to accept that -- or perhaps the revolution has already begun since I was last a student, and I'm now in early stages of old-fogyness! ;-)

    ___________________________

    Also on Friday, Francisco wrote,

    [Francisco Dubert <fgdubertusc.es>]

    To Dan Moonhawk Alford:

    In Galician, the lexeme HOXE (adverb) *TODAY* has only /oSe/ as his exponent (where /S/ is a voiceless postalveolar fricative),

    [moonhawk]

    probably conditioned by the backness of /o/

    [francisco]

    but the lexeme FACER (verb) *DO* has, in the indicative present tense the following forms:

    - snip--

    So, the lexeme FACER (verb) has three roots: /fag/, /faT/, /fa/ and /fiS/, the P2 sing exponent is /s/ in the present forms and /tSes/ in the past forms, etc.

    I would like to know if in your opinion "allomorphs" are relations too. Are /fag/, /faT/, /fa/ and /fiS/ relations to FACER?

    [moonhawk]

    Of course. /fag/, /faT/, /fa/ and /fiS/ are allomorphs of (or in allomorphic relationship to) the morpheme {facer}. At least that's how *I* was taught.

    Maybe we'll all just continue this battle on a new level -- I can just see the "Disc: What exacty are allomorphs (of)" as a subject title forming now! ;-) But I hope the moderators include the "(of)" next time -- or without the parentheses, even better!

    warm regards, moonhawk

    Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu> CSU Hayward, CIIS, JFKU

    Visit Moonhawk's webpage at <http://www.sunflower.com/~dewatson/alford.htm>; for recent presentations and hard-to-find classic articles.