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Simple but Complicated (was: phonology and inventory)

From:Kristian Jensen <kljensen@...>
Date:Wednesday, March 1, 2000, 10:07
dirk elzinga wrote:

>On Mon, 28 Feb 2000, Kristian Jensen wrote:
> >So when Barry expressed his preference for languages with >"simple phonologies" I wasn't sure if he meant languages with a >small inventory of sounds (phonetic or phonemic), or a language >which has a relatively small set of conditions on the system >within which its sounds operate; there's a world of difference >there.
I was assuming that Barry meant a language with a small inventory of sounds. That is, both the phonemic and the phonetic inventories are small so that the phonological system itself has little or no complexity. Barry?
>And what Kristian says is true; some languages with a >small phonemic inventory have a rich and varied phonetic >inventory, and a correspondingly complex phonology. The Numic >languages (Uto-Aztecan) are like this. The language I work on, >Gosiute, has 11 consonants and 6 vowels in its phonemic >inventory, but upwards of 40 consonants and about 17 vowels in >its phonetic inventory (plus an emerging tonal contrast). The >phonology is straightforward, but intricate in its workings (I >got a disseration out of it!).
Wow! 57 sounds from only 17 phonemes. That's impressive.
>> The phoneme inventory in Boreanesian is not particularly big either; >> only 15 phonemic consonantal segments, and 4 phonemic vocalic >> segments. The problem is that, in addition to the fact that there are >> a few segmental sounds that are not readily represented in the latin >> alphabet, there are also phonemically _suprasegmental_ sounds; >> nasalization and phonation. The phonology itself isn't complicated >> either -- its fairly straightforward.
I think Boreanesian can easily match Gosiute. At the segmental level there are about 60 (perhaps more) phonetic sounds from a phonemic inventory of only 19. Hmmm... and I thought Boreanesian phonology wasn't complicated. But I still think its straightforward.Most variants arise from suprasegmental phonemes(?) that spread their own features onto some of the segmental phonemes - nothing complicated in that.
>I really hope that Kristian can overcome his squeamishness about >ASCII representation of Boreanesian and share some of its >phonology with us; it is a remarkable piece of work!
I'll try. Here's something showing how the suprasegmentals affect phonemic segments and increase the segmental inventory at the phonetic level. There are two phonemic suprasegmentals in Boreanesian; [+/-nasal], and [+/-glottal constriction]. Only the following phonemic segments in Boreanesian are involved with suprasegmentals: /b/, /d[/, /d/, /g/, /l/, /j/, /3/, /w/. To make the discussion of their allophony convenient, I will divide these into two groups: syllable-initial, and syllable- final. I will also for convenience ignore rules of involving palatalization and labialization (though these behave a lot like suprasegmentals in Boreanesian). The syllable-inital group consists of all the above-listed segments: /b/, /d[/, /d/, /g/, /l/, /j/, /3/, /w/. The syllable-initial group can only carry the [+/-nasal] suprasegmental. Note that in syllable-initial position, /3/ is [?]. So when [-nasal] is applied, the group maintains most of their phonemic values: [b], [d[], [d], [g], [l], [j], [?], [w]. But when [+nasal] is applied, the group nasalizes to: [m], [n[], [n], [N], [n], [j~], [?~], [w~]. The syllable-final group consists of only: /l/, /j/, /3/, and /w/. They can, however, carry both suprasegmentals giving a rather rich inventory of allophones. The picture for the syllable-final group is further complicated by the fact that [+/-glottal constriction] are realized differently depending on whether the syllable-final group is word-final or word- internal. I.e.; Word-Final [-nasal][-glottal constriction]: [l], [j], [3], [w]. [+nasal][-glottal constriction]: [n], [j~], [3~], [w~]. [-nasal][+glottal constriction]: [l<?>], [j<?>], [3<?>], [w<?>]. [+nasal][+glottal constriction]: [n<?>], [j~<?>], [3~<?>], [w~<?>]. Word-Internal [-nasal][-glottal constriction]: [l<o>], [j<o>], [3<o>], [w<o>]. [+nasal][-glottal constriction]: [n<o>], [j~<o>], [3~<o>], [w~<o>]. [-nasal][+glottal constriction]: [l], [j], [3], [w]. [+nasal][+glottal constriction]: [n], [j~], [3~], [w~]. (where; <?> means creaky voicing, <o> means voiceless) Now that I'm looking at it, I think there's close to a 100 phonetic sounds in Boreanesian when I include palatalized and labialized variants of consonants and the variants of vowels as well. I must say, that's quite impressive from a phonemic inventory of just 19. This surprises me somewhat - I didn't intend this - and I'm a bit concerned about whether its naturalistic. Maybe I just have a much too meticulous perception of sounds. -kristian- 8)