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Re: Phonetic and phonematic

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Tuesday, June 26, 2001, 19:11
At 11:31 am -0400 25/6/01, Roger Mills wrote:
>Christophe Grandsire wrote: >>Well, as for my stupid question: shall we say "phonemic" or "phonematic"? >I've >>always wondered which one was the correct word.> > >US Linguistic usage says "phonemic"; "phonematic" may be a European/Romance? >form, viewing /fonem-/ as if it were a real Greek word in -ma, like "drama, >dramatic" or "problem, problematic".
In fact it _is_ from a real Greek word in -ma, namely: _pho:ne:ma_ (gen. pho:ne:matos) = 'sound uttered'. Of course the word did not have its modern technical meaning in ancient Greek! But the term was adopted deliberately adopted in the anglicised form 'phoneme' (or through the Frenchified form of the Greek 'phonème') by those phonologists who formulated the theory of phonemes.* Those who were conscious of its true Greek origin were likely to use 'phonematic' as the adjective; others, indifferent to its Greek origin, simply used 'phonemic'. I think one the things that led to the latter being favored was the nice contrast: phonemic ~ phonetic. But far more likely, I think, to have led to the (almost) universal use of 'phonemic' is that _phonematic unit_ was coined as one of the two analytic categories in the theory of _Prosodic Phonology_ developed by J.R. Firth (1890-1960) and his followers; the other analytic category is the _prosody_. Basically, phonematic units are the consonant & vowel sounds, occurring in linear sequence, that cannot be handled in terms of prosodies. There are, obviously, resemblances between 'phonemes' and 'phonematic units', but they are conceptually different. In the Firthian scheme there is no attempt to analyze speech into a single pattern of phonological oppositions valid for all places in a structure, as there must be for a phonemic analysis; and some features, e.g. lip-rounding, would not be included in an analysis into phonematic units. Therefore, forget my simplistic answer of yesterday. "Phonematic" is likely to be understood in a Firthian sense, unless qualified. If you mean simply "of or pertaining to a phoneme" then 'phonemic' is the common & unambiguous adjective. Ray. *and hence gave rise to those other -eme words which have no Greek origin. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================