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Re: A discourse on Phonemics (was: Re: E and e (was: A break in the evils of English (or, Sturnan is beautiful))

From:Tristan <zsau@...>
Date:Thursday, May 2, 2002, 9:32
On Thu, 2002-05-02 at 08:30, Roger Mills wrote:
> Tristan wrote: > > > >On Wed, 2002-05-01 at 16:04, Raymond Brown wrote: > > > >[snippage] > > > >> But the phonemic theory (and _theory_ it is) is primarily concerned with > >> contrasts and distribution of sounds. > > And it's well to keep in mind too that phonemes are something of an > abstraction. One could just as well use funny symbols or numbers to > represent them-- say, / 1 / instead of /i/ and /2/ for /I/; then you would > need a list of rules stating how /1/, /2/ are realized in their various > environments. (But all would agree that's unnecessarily abstract, though > you still need the list of rules to describe "/i/" et al.) > > And keep in mind the definition of "phoneme"-- the minimal unit of sound > that distinguishes meaning. So Engl. "beat, bit, bait, bet, bat, boot, boat, > bought, but and (rare) bot(-fly)" are distinguished in meaning only by their > vowel sounds; ergo, those vowels are phonemic. > > But the fact is that English distinguishes two types of vowels at > high/high-ish position (i,I, u,U), and two types at mid position (e,E,-- > though o,O are another matter). As Ray says, phonemics is concerned with > how these contrast and are distributed in the system; and very little > concerned with their actual phonetic values-- that's a matter of production, > and certainly varies individually, and can vary (considerably) regionally. > > Phonemics as developed in the 30s/40s was frankly (arrogantly, > optimistically) based on Standard American and RP speech. (Sorry to say, > American linguists at that time were barely aware of Australian speech, and > the Brits don't seem to have paid it much attention either.) It turned out > that with only minor tinkering with the rules of production, the same system > could describe both varieties-- presence or absence of [r] being one of the > problems-- but SA "beer" [bIr] vs. r-less and RP [bI@] could still be > phonemicized /bir/ (in the iy:i system; /bIr/ in the i/I system), since the > /-r/ comes back in phrasal "beer is.."; similarly with the diphthongs /ay, > aw/, where the /a/ is [a] or [@] depending on dialect-- it's still phonemic > /a/. Generally speaking, the standard phonemic system could even describe > Southern US, though with a lot more tinkering-- and southern speakers tended > not to appreciate this "Yankee" idea. > > Ray: > >> Maybe so. But phonemically /i:/ ~ /I/ surely must suggest two components > >> of contrast: hight of tongue & length, i.e. it implies four phonemes /i/ > ~ > >> /i:/ ~ /I/ ~ /I:/, which is not correct. > Tristan: > >No, it implies that both length and quality are distinguishing factors > >in /i:/ ~ /I/. > Yes, and that's not true. Personally I've always considered the /i:/ vs /i/ > or /I/ system deceptive, for that reason; it simply substitutes the length > mark for the glide; they both meant only that the higher vowel differed from > the lower vowel _in some way_ -- perhaps this is wehre the tense/lax term > came into being. And the vowel of "beat" ?/bi:t/ [bit] is in fact > phonetically shorter than that of "bid" [bI:d].
Not here it isn't. 'Beat' is noticeably longer than 'bit'. As far as I can tell, the only vowels that have lengths altered by voicedness of consonants here are /{/ and /3:/. And even with /{/, I'm not so sure that there isn't a phoneme /{:/: when it's lengthened seems pretty random.
> Ray: > >> While phonetically the difference > >> may be [i:] ~ [I] (tho some English dialects tend to diphthongize the > first > >> as [ij] or [Ij]), phonemically we have, as I see it, to choose between > /ij/ > >> ~ /i/, /i/ ~ /I/ or even, possibly, /i:/ ~ /i/. > Tristan: > >Okay, maybe you have to look at it from my point of view. Which may be > >entirely flawed, but still. [i:] is about as long as the [A:] in > >'heart'. The vowel in 'heart' is distinguished from the vowel in 'hut' > >by one thing: length. > > Not in quality too?? hut [hat] vs. heart [hA:t]?? Just guessing. If so, then > phonemically you are only contrasting [low central] with [low back], with > the length of the latter being predictable (compensatory length due to loss > of the _r_). But if not, if you truly have [hAt] vs. [hA:t], then there has > been a merger, and a real change in your phonemic system.
Nup, not in quality. I think the vowel itself is about three-quarters of the way towards the back (i.e. closer to [A] than [a]). At any rate, it's not the same vowel American's use in either 'hot' or 'hut'.
> Standard US is [hVt] (IPA inverted-v) vs. [hart], maybe [hArt], r-less > [ha:t] or [hA:t]--( frankly I'm vague on the US contrast a:A; I'm not sure I > have it, or hear it well. [hat] or [hAt] for me is "hot"). > > > >(This argument here might bring my entire argument down if I'm wrong. If > >I am, I'll admit it.) Okay, so we've established we want to do /i:/ or > >/ij/ versus blurp. According to your above examples, We must now choose > >/i/. But the first part of the diphthong /I@/, in such words as 'beer', > >has the same quality as that of 'bit' (at least to my ear). There exists > >an allophone of /I@/ in contexts like 'beer is': [I:]. > > Aha-- you've lost /r/ even in "beer is..."??
Err... no, it's still there. It's just a consonant after the length in the vowel. I can't think of a contrast off the top of my head, but there is a contrast between [I:r\] and [Ir\]. However, there is not a contrast between [I:] and [I@]. (It's not exclusive to [r\] after the [I@], it also happens in /I@l/ (from other English /i:l/): 'real' [rI@l], 'really' [r\I:li].) The point of this was not to in any way argue that [I:] was phonemic, just that /I/+length was not the same as /i:/.
> Well, not totally lost-- it's > been replaced with the glide [@] (or length in the case of 'heart'). There > are two problems going on here: First, the neutralization of vowel > contrasts before /r/ in all (?) varieties of Engl.-- in that case the choice > of phonemic symbol is arbitrary, though most would use "phonetic similarity" > as the criterion, and in this case the vowel before /r/ is "closer"to [I] > /I/ or /i/ depending on system than to [i] /iy ~i:/, though phonetically it > seems to be somewhere between [i] and [I]. And second, the subsequent > replacement ("loss") of /r/ with a glide-- from a strictly phonemic POV, > however, there is _still_ something there, whatever it's called.
Sorry, I'm not entirely sure what you mean there.
> (You may recall, a while back we went round and round on the nature of Engl. > vowels before final /N/, where neutralization also occurs. Some opted for > tense /siyN/, others for lax /siN/ 'sing'; some for /hEN/, others /h&N/ > 'hang', etc.-- phonetically these are either "lowered [i]" or "raised [I]" > for ex., though everyone agreed there was no contrast /siyN/ ~/siN/ i.e.2 > words with different meanings.)
Ah, yes. That. Although if it wanted to be, /sijN/ or /si:N/ or whatever could be a word ;)
> So we could say "In Aust. Engl., /r/ is realized as a glide [@] in certain > (specifiable) environments, as vowel length in certain others".
Actually, I think it'd be safer to say that /@/ was realised as [@] in some conditions, and length in others, and that the /r/ came and went as it pleased (because of the [I@]~[I:] before /l/ thing). Unless I'm being confused.
> (IIRC some Southern US dialects replace /r/ with a glottal stop in the > pre-vocalic environment-- [bI:?iz] for 'beer is...'-- a somewhat stigmatized > practice I think.)
I think a South African teacher I had last year did something like that.
> As I said, phonemics proved able to provide a unified explanation of > Standard US and RP speech; it probably would not work for a highly divergent > dialect (Yorkshire perhaps?) where there may have been mergers in the vowel > system (a real change in the phonemic system), or really odd phonetic > realizations of phonemes. It's possible some varieties of Australian are > heading off in that direction, but the fact that other Engl. speakers still > understand most of you suggests you basically retain the same set of > contrasts as the rest of us. Ergo, Australian Engl. can still be described > as _phonemically_ the same as US/RP. Maybe! :-)
Well... exceptions do exist... We pronounce 'wrath' as /rQT/ for whatever random reason. And this description of US/RP English... what does it do with 'class' /clAs/ but 'gas' /g{s/ versus /cl{s/ and /g{s/? Just call it an exception?
> >If I'm wrong, do tell. > You are not wrong. It's just that Australian Engl. is a rather exotic beast > to some of us....and we don't hear a lot of it (save for that strange man > who mauls crocodiles on TV).
And he probably doesn't even speak proper Aussie. ;)
> > > Always tell. I'm never trying to be stubborn, I'm > >trying to help you help me.) > > I hope so. By replying just to certain aspects, it's turned out to be sort > of a hit-and-miss discussion.
Have I missed important things in my replies? Bring them up again if you want.
> Entire books have been written on the > subject.
I'm sure they have. Can you give any titles? They sound interesting ;) Tristan


John Cowan <jcowan@...>A discourse on Phonemics (was: Re: E and e (was: A break