Route: spelling and pronunciation [and IPA vs. Orthographic respellings]

Thomas Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Sun Jun 30 21:12:19 UTC 2002

To answer a couple of questions raised by Mark and Dennis:

Mark: "How is this set of rules, abstracted and *regularized* from
orthography, not also a "key" to be learned?"

Good question. Answer: A literate person is
supposed to have already learned the common English spellings. That's
his key to using an orthographic respelling; no extra learning is
involved. But when you have a key, whether IPA-based or orthographically
based, unnecessary effort is involved. For example, is it any use to lay
down in a key that "ahr" is to be pronounced as in "arm, cart, bar"
(Oxford American)?

The rest of Mark's paragraph below, and Dennis's, in my view, has mainly
scholarly/academic value. In "phonetics" for the masses, we stick to the
essentials. However, speaking from personal experience, IPA practice
(esp. transcription) is also good training in thinking clearly about the
sounds of a language. But you can't deny that it is learning a new
for decoding another language.

Dennis says, "A phonetic representation is by contrast concrete. . . ."
That raises the question of what is concrete and what is
abstract. I think phonetics and individual examples of it are both
abstract rather than concrete. Don't concrete things belong to the real
sensory world, abstractions existing in the mind? The word "route,"
whether we give its pronunciation as (root, long "oo") or in some more
succinct way, as in IPA or as (root) with a diacritic over the "oo,"
both phonemically and phonetically are abstract, one being less
abstract than the other. A spelling-based keyless pronunciation system
is the least abstract of all. The concrete thing is the "route" we take
terra firma. Abstractions start arguments, concrete (not concrete
concrete!) settles them.

TOM PAIKEDAY (pointing to the spelling of his name, the first syllable
of which is not good orthography, but I didn't do it! Anyone who cares
please say PYE- not PAY-).

Mark A Mandel wrote:
> On Sun, 30 Jun 2002, Thomas Paikeday wrote:
>         [...]
> #IPA is abstract, which is as it should be since it is supposed to
> #represent the sounds obtaining in most human languages. Abstract
> #representations call for the use of a key in order to make the
> #transition from real to unreal (or abstract) and vice versa. It serves
> #scholarly purposes all right.
>         [...]
> #On the other hand, the popular "phonetic" transcriptions based on
> #English orthography are "concrete" and represent the real world. They
> #have no need for a key. Having to use a key is like hiring an
> #interpreter who is not really needed. All that is needed is reading
> #knowledge at the elementary (vaguely understood as Grades 6 - 8)
> #level, if we can forget for the moment about illiterate undergrads and
> #such.
>         [...]
> #Re "root" and "rowt" to represent <route>, I see no problem if you
> #consider the realities of the situation, namely, sounds in context.
> #Words like <bellow, blow, flow, hallow, show> normally occur at the end
> #of words.  If the normal pronunciation can be accepted as the regular
> #pattern of English orthography, then <show> and other words become the
> #exception. (Add also words like <acknowledge>) These, in my view, should
> #be dealt with separately and represented as (SHOH),(ak.NOL.ij) etc.
> #which are phonemically quite exact.

How is this set of rules, abstracted and *regularized* from English
orthography, not also a "key" to be learned? This particular paragraph,
for /aU/, is not bad, but what about the ambiguity in the respelling of
the other member of this pair, <oo> = /U/ ~ /u/ before final <t>? Beyond
that, how do you handle dialectal neutralizations, e.g., conveying
/open-o/ to a speaker who neutralizes it with /a/?

-- Mark A. Mandel
   Linguist at Large

                   Re: Route: spelling and pronunciation [and IPA vs.
Orthographic respellings]
                   Sun, 30 Jun 2002 09:23:04 -0400
                   "Dennis R. Preston" <preston at>
                   ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU, t.paikeday at
                   1 , 2
I am amazed at this very basic linguistic confusion.

Spelling (usually phonemic - and even morphophonemic, as SPE taught
us - rather than phonetic) is clearly abstract, if by that we mean
"divorced from the acoustic reality." A phonetic representation is by
contrast concrete (whether it is IPA or the broad phonetic
representation represented by respellings, e.g., "rawt" to indicate
how some folk pronounce "route" - pronounced /route/ by nobody except
those who read English but do not known it, although I had a friend
in grad school who once pronounced "creature" /kreature).

Of course almost all spelling systems have their their roots (sorry!)
in "sound," but they almost certainly have their roots in phonemic
(abstract) representations, not representations which represent
acoustic-articulatory reality, the goal of phonetic representations.

There is indeed a contrast here (and I do not want o suggest that the
mental representations of phonemes are not "concrete" in some CogSci
way), but surely the words abstract and concrete are reversed here so
far as their ordinary meanings are concerned.

dInIs (pointing to the "spelling" of his name)

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