Fwd from Dan Everett: question about phonemes

Spike Gildea spike at DARKWING.UOREGON.EDU
Thu Apr 3 18:00:46 UTC 2003

>Date: Thu, 3 Apr 2003 15:52:44 +0100
>Subject: Fwd: question about phonemes
>From: Daniel Everett <dan.everett at man.ac.uk>
>Spike could you post this for me? FUNKNET rejected it because of
>something in my email program.
>>I don't recall seeing Spike's comment, though it may just be a
>>function of a quick delete button for letters from news groups. In
>>any case, I do not know where the data for any statement of the
>>form 'most linguists do/do not x' would come from, for any value of
>>'x', would come from/did come from.
>>Have there been any polls on this? I don't think so. So that is
>>probably just an off-the-cuff remark of Spike's. Or am I wrong,
>>It is true that SPE and generative phonology in a sense eliminated
>>the notion 'taxonomic phoneme', which the traditional concept of
>>phoneme was said to be represented by (see also Postal 1968). But
>>Lexical Phonology restored some luster to the concept in the notion
>>of the final output of all lexical rules. Here are some comments
>>from Mohanon (1986)
>>p1: "The principal divergence between the two approaches
>>(traditional phonemes vs. Gen. Phonology, DLE) lay in the answer to
>>the question: what are the levels of representation in phonological
>>theory? The answer that classical phonemic theory yielded was that
>>there are three levels: phonetic, phonemic, and morphophonemic. SPE
>>abandoned the intermediate level..."
>>p6: "Broadly speaking, the classical phonemic level of
>>representation arose out of the speaker's intuitions about what he
>>was saying or hearing, or what was significant in it. This level
>>was meant to capture the speaker's intuitions about which sounds
>>were the same or different... What classical phonemics failed to do
>>was to construct a formal theory of representation: the intuition
>>was right, the theory that followed was inadequate. While
>>abandoning the classical phonemic theory, SPE also abandoned an
>>intuitively appealing level of representation in phonological
>>Mohanon and other LP theorists gave considerable evidence for the
>>linguistic necessity of something like the classical phoneme, as
>>the output of the lexical rule component. Moreover, anyone who has
>>been involved in a literacy project has no doubt come up with their
>>own evidence for native speaker intuitions about phonemes in the
>>classical/LP sense.
>>There is evidence for classical phonemes, in fact, from standard
>>phonological rules. For example, one of the crucial predictions of
>>distinctive feature theory revolves around the concept of natural
>>class. So of the two rules in (1) and (2), (1), the distinctive
>>feature approach, is said to be superior because it (correctly, so
>>the story goes) predicts that aspiration of voiceless stops will
>>occur in one fell swoop in both L1 acquisition and diachronic
>>phonological development:
>>(1) [-vd, -cont] --> [+spread glottis]/X_____ (where x is a
>>stressed syllable, simplifying)
>>(2)   a. p ---> ph/X___
>>      b. t ---> th/X___
>>      c. k ---> kh/X___
>>A problem for (1) and the distinctive feature approach will arise
>>just in case we find examples of children learning the aspiration
>>of one consonant before the aspiration of another or historical
>>cases where one consonant undergoes the aspiration rule prior to
>>another in the history of the language, even though both belong to
>>the same (relevant) natural class of segments. Such cases will
>>support the 'taxonomic phoneme' approach over the distinctive
>>feature approach.
>>Another potential source of evidence for phonemes is the
>>distribution of phonemes in the relevant 'articulatory space' or,
>>non-technically a 'phoneme chart'.
>>In other words, Suzette, there are so many possible sources of
>>evidence for phonemes and so many theoretical approaches to the
>>issue that is very unlikely that Spike is right or could even be
>>right in principle in making this kind of assertion, if that is
>>indeed what was intended. (I hasten to say again that I do not
>>recall seeing Spike's assertion, so I do not want to put words in
>>his mouth.)
>>-- Dan
>>Daniel L. Everett
>>Professor of Phonetics and Phonology
>>Department of Linguistics
>>University of Manchester
>>Manchester, UK
>>M13 9PL
>>Phone: 44-161-275-3158
>>Department Fax: 44-161-275-3187
>>'Speech is the best show man puts on' - Whorf
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