LINGUIST List 17.2161

Thu Jul 27 2006

Disc: Re: 17.2149, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

Editor for this issue: Ann Sawyer <>

Directory         1.    Mike Cahill, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

Message 1: Disc: Phonetics in Grammar
Date: 27-Jul-2006
From: Mike Cahill <>
Subject: Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

A second to Avelino's call for including phonetic data in grammars! There are at least two other reasons for including such.

First, the more outlandish, or more charitably, the more unusual, the claim, the better support is needed for it. Our default assumption is that the researcher knows what he is talking about, but primary phonetic data can be reassuring.

Second, for those scanning the literature in search of cross-linguistic generalizations, phonetic data is simply part of documenting the language. If someone wants to know something as basic as the average pitch difference between high and low tones, or how similar formant frequencies are in three-vowel /i,a,u/ systems, the data is usually not to be found in a "grammar" of a language.

Both of these are increasingly important in these days of documenting endangered languages.

One quibble on the intonation question. I believe the lack of intonation information is not primarily due to "limited access to tools that could adequately capture the phonetic nature of the phenomenon" or "the absence of a descriptive framework", but just that most investigators didn't see it as part of their task (as most don't today). The grammar writeups that were done in past years by SIL fieldworkers in Papua New Guinea, by contrastive example, required descriptions of intonation patterns showing several emotional states in the language under study. Many sketched out pitch patterns to illustrate these, all before instrumentation or such frameworks as ToBI were available. These were nowhere near a complete description of intonation, of course, but did give a start.

Mike Cahill SIL International 7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd. Dallas, TX 75236 USA email: phone: 972-708-7328 fax: 972-708-7380

Linguistic Field(s): Discipline of Linguistics General Linguistics Phonetics