52 phonemes of English?

James A. Landau <JJJRLandau@netscape.com> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Wed Nov 23 21:50:46 UTC 2011

Quick, maybe too quick, responses to Laurence Horn.

About /ing/ and /ink/---Webster's New World does indeed show the pronunciation of "drink" as /dringk/,
but if there is a transition from the voiced /g/ to the unvoiced /k/, I can't hear it

In Russian "tsar" is indeed pronounced /tsar/, but most English-speakers pronunce both spellings "tsar" and "czar" as /zar/ with no leading /t/ and the sound before the "ar" being the voiced /z/.  Both versions of course, along with German "Kaiser" come from Latin "Caesar".  BTW I have a pet theory that in Latin the letter "c" before a front vowel did NOT change from /k/ ("hard c") to /s/ ("soft c") but instead went from /k/ to some other sound which most Romance languages converted to /s/.

> 50. Arguably not a part of English, but still encountered, the initial
/ts/ of "tzadik" (Hebrew, a righteous person) and "tsetse" (African, an
unrighteous insect)

LH: Or "tsar".  Of course this raises the question of one phoneme vs. two,
but I suppose for consistency the same choice should be made here as for
#40.  IPAists would classify both as two sounds phonetically, but that
doesn't answer the phonemic issue.

LH: True for Spain.  Isn't /h/ more likely in Mexico? Well, anyway, I think
"chutzpah", "(big) macher", and "loch" are more likely suspects. And
"Bach". And "Chanukah" for some speakers.  And "Khrushchev".

me: in my limited contacts with New Word native Spanish speakers, I have most often heard "j" (and "g" before "e" or "i") pronounced as /kh/ but a noticeably midler /kh/ than in Hebrew or German.  That's why I like to call it "a half-hearted /kh/".  Any experts on hispanoamerican phonetics out there?

Most native speakers of English refer to Johann Sebastian /bak/. not /bakh/.

    - James A. Landau

> , and for some people English "ugh".

or "yuccch".  I've always read "ugh" as /@g/, but that may be a spelling

>  Note: this phoneme for some people is two or even three separate
sounds:  after a front vowel, German "ich"; after a back vowel, German
"ach"; in Spanish what always sounds to me like a half-hearted version
of the German "ach" sound.
> 52 already, and if I felt like it I could continue, e.g. the way some
English English-speakers prouncoune "very" as /eddy/.

The flap is also in U. S. English, for me in both "ladder" and "latter".
But this is arguable (like the below) not a phoneme, but a conditioned
allophone, or whatever it's called now.  Of course I agree that if we're
counting sounds, not phonemes, these all count, as do the clicks in
"whoa", "giddyup", and "tsk-tsk", corresponding to the retroflex <q>,
lateral <x>, and dental <c> clicks in Xhosa.

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