17.2161, Disc: Re: 17.2149, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

Thu Jul 27 15:39:55 UTC 2006

LINGUIST List: Vol-17-2161. Thu Jul 27 2006. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 17.2161, Disc: Re: 17.2149, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar

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Date: 27-Jul-2006
From: Mike Cahill < mike_cahill at sil.org >
Subject: Disc: Phonetics in Grammar 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2006 11:37:04
From: Mike Cahill < mike_cahill at sil.org >
Subject: Disc: Phonetics in Grammar 

A second to Avelino's call for including phonetic data in grammars! There
are at least two other reasons for including such. 

First, the more outlandish, or more charitably, the more unusual, the
claim, the better support is needed for it. Our default assumption is that
the researcher knows what he is talking about, but primary phonetic data
can be reassuring. 

Second, for those scanning the literature in search of cross-linguistic
generalizations, phonetic data is simply part of documenting the language.
If someone wants to know something as basic as the average pitch difference
between high and low tones, or how similar formant frequencies are in
three-vowel /i,a,u/ systems, the data is usually not to be found in a
"grammar" of a language.

Both of these are increasingly important in these days of documenting
endangered languages.

One quibble on the intonation question. I believe the lack of intonation
information is not primarily due to "limited access to tools that could
adequately capture the phonetic nature of the phenomenon" or "the absence
of a descriptive framework", but just that most investigators didn't see
it as part of their task (as most don't today). The grammar writeups that
were done in past years by SIL fieldworkers in Papua New Guinea, by
contrastive example, required descriptions of intonation patterns showing
several emotional states in the language under study. Many sketched out
pitch patterns to illustrate these, all before instrumentation or such
frameworks as ToBI were available. These were nowhere near a complete
description of intonation, of course, but did give a start.

Mike Cahill
SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd.
Dallas, TX 75236
email: mike_cahill at sil.org
phone: 972-708-7328
fax: 972-708-7380 

Linguistic Field(s): Discipline of Linguistics
                     General Linguistics

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