LINGUIST List 17.2184

Fri Jul 28 2006

Disc: Re: 17.2149, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

Editor for this issue: Ann Sawyer <>

Directory         1.    Mark Jones, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

Message 1: Disc: Phonetics in Grammar
Date: 28-Jul-2006
From: Mark Jones <>
Subject: Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

I'd like to add my voice in support of the call for more detailed phonetic data in descriptions of languages (LINGUIST List: 17.2161, 17.2149), but I'd like to suggest that it is needed across the board, even in languages we think we know well. I'd also like to see it extended to descriptions of non-standard varieties of known languages like English, where assumptions about the realisations of sound systems may be numerous and unspoken. 'Sociophonetic' work may not always fill this void, as data may be relatively uncontrolled, and therefore susceptible to numerous (unidentified) segmental and non-segmental influences.

One recent example of this need springs to mind: at the British Association of Academic Phoneticians (BAAP) colloquium at QMUC in Edinburgh in April, Michael Ashby of UCL presented some work he'd carried out with Young Shin Kim, a Korean student, on how the phonologically nasal consonants of Seoul Korean are regularly 'denasalised', i.e. produced as stop-like consonants, even in formal speech for all subjects analysed. This work is ongoing and as yet unpublished, but this is a very interesting and fairly major insight on a language we probably think we know quite well, at least in terms of how phonological contrasts are realised in fairly canonical speech.

Mike Cahill's call for basic acoustic data on vowel systems or tonal realisations is therefore to be welcomed, but these data are relatively simple to collect, and barely scratch the surface.

Of course, the thinking is understandably that the phonetic data should refer primarily to 'citation' forms, and this seems sensible. The task of relating citation form realisations to contextual variation and casual speech is a massive and challenging task in itself. Also, basic descriptions based on non-citation forms may risk incorrectly identifying some casual speech variant, for example, a fricative realisation of a voiceless velar plosive between vowels, as the underlying exponent of a contrastive category. On the other hand, some more than basic data on coarticulation and connected and casual speech processes would be a real addition to our knowledge of phonetic patterns.

My feeling is that even the basic task of accurate phonetic description may be hampered in some respects by descriptions based on the methodology of segmental transcriptions, as much as these are still the mainstay of language description. I think that exposing students and prospective fieldworkers to acoustic analysis not only introduces them to a very useful analytical tool, but it also allows a finer appreciation of the complexity of speech, even if acoustic analysis is used sparingly in the end product. Any description of e.g. a phonological system would probably still come down to a segmental analysis, but the level of detail would be much improved if formant frequencies or voice onset time data were included. Phonetics has moved far beyond transcription as a means of data acquisition, but I wonder how many introductions to the subject in linguistics courses reflect that fact.



Mark J. Jones Department of Linguistics University of Cambridge mjj13>>>at>>>

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