Phoneme inventory arguments and tone
donald.killian at HELSINKI.FI
Wed Jun 1 16:37:15 UTC 2011
I apologize for the potentially controversial email, but I was wondering
one thing about the recent arguments with phoneme inventory sizes, and
would like some thoughts.
Many of the arguments lately have been based off of databases such as
WALS or UPSID, which mention inventory sizes of consonants and vowels.
However, databases which include tones in phoneme inventories are
lacking, and I really am wondering how much this is affecting these
arguments. My current thought is that almost every single study which
has ignored tones in phoneme inventory questions has flawed enough
methodology that the conclusions are invalid, irrelevant of whether they
end up being true or not.
Why are tones rarely included anywhere, neither in phoneme databases nor
arguments? I can't imagine almost any modern linguist would argue that
they are insignificant, but I also find that simply not mentioning tone
at all, or the fact that the databases are heavily biased in favor of
non-tonal languages, somewhat frustrating. If ka and ke are significant,
why not ká and kà? Adding tones to inventory sizes would radically
change the number of phonemes in quite many languages.
I sent an email to Søren about his own article in particular, but I'd
love to hear other comments or responses.
Researcher in African Linguistics
Department of Modern Languages
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FI-00014 University of Helsinki
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