question about phonemes

Tom Givon tgivon at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Fri Apr 4 21:32:19 UTC 2003

Sure. And while we're at it, reality doesn't exist either. Not really. Besides,
it is so tyranical & oppressive. You gotta watch out, gotta compute, gotta worry,
gotta duck. So let's hear it for freedom & new power, hey?  TG


Rob Freeman wrote:

> Hello All,
> I find this discussion very interesting because it fits in with a perspective
> I am trying to push - that grammar does not exist.
> I shouldn't be surprised because the advocates I hear for the non-existence
> of the phoneme are the same (Langacker, Hopper) I have read and identified
> with at the syntactic level.
> Personally all I can say of substance on the phoneme issue is that
> non-existence is for me a "happy congruence" with the way I believe syntax
> works.
> That said I can understand how the two sides of the discussion can easily
> misunderstand one-another. In a sense, of course, grammars (and phonemes) do
> exist, we can see them.
> I would propose that the non-existence advocates re-phrase their argument
> from one that states outright that phonemes don't exist, to one that
> emphasizes more that they are in a state of being continuously created. That
> is what I read in Spike's post and what prompted me to write here:
> "cognitive theories like the one represented in Joan Bybee's recent work, ...
> see phonemic behaviors as schemata that are constructed by generalizing over
> a body of stored, phonetically rich word-level exemplars."
> That way you can have your cake and eat it too. It is not an issue of whether
> something exists or not, but whether that existence is a fundamental
> principle or a product of fundamental principles.
> As an analogy I like to compare grammar, and phonemes might be the same, with
> waves on the sea. Waves don't have an independent existence, they are the
> constant products of uncountable tiny interactions between water molecules.
> Hope I'm not getting too meta-physical. This perspective has concrete
> applications. It turns our conventional ideas of language inside out, so that
> they don't so much become wrong, but you see that the fundamental processes
> underlying them are somewhat lateral to those we have been accustomed to
> seeing.
> That gives us new power.
> -Rob Freeman

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