[Lingtyp] To include xenophones or not

JOO, Ian [Student] ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk
Thu Dec 2 07:49:48 UTC 2021

Dear typologists,

I would like to seek your advice on a database I am making.
For my doctoral project, I am compiling a phonological database of 700+ Eurasian languages.
The database includes basic information such as the list of word-finally permitted phonemes, maximal number of onsets in a syllable, etc.
For this database, I would like your opinion on whether to include xenophonic (loanword-phonological) information or not.
For example, should the database include phonemes that are only present in loanwords (such as /x/ in English)?
If the language does not allow codas in native word/ but allow them in loanwords, should that information be allowed as well?
If you were using the database, would you find such information helpful?

Pros of adding the xenophonic information:
The database would be more complete. Some xenophonic features can be very old (such as onset clusters in Tagalog, word-initial /r/ in Japanese, etc.), so in a sense they are "nativized" (although they may be still marked). If I mark the native phonology and the loanword phonology distinctly in my database (e. g. Including /ts/ in French phonology but specifying that it only appears in loanwords), then the user can use the database with or without xenophonic information.

The problem of including xenophonic information is that, when considering loanwords, it is difficult to judge what is part of a language's phonology or not.
For example /f/ occurs in very recent Korean loanwords such as /f/ail 'file' or /f/eyispwuk 'Facebook' and it's difficult to say if this is really a part of Korean phonology.
Many minority language speakers are also fluent in their national language (such as Russian or Spanish) and they may pronounce loanwords from the national language in their 'original' pronunciation (such as Tuvan speakers pronouncing Russian loanwords in Russian pronunciation) and it's difficult to say if this means Russian phonology has fully integrated into Tuvan phonology.
So where to divide the line between what is purely foreign and what has been nativized?
On the other hand, distinguishing phonological features that are only present in loanwords from those that are also present in native words is quite straightforward and less controversial (although there is also the problem that we do not always know if a word is a loanword or not).
Lastly, since I've already finished a good part of the database (about 15%), if I want to also include xenophonic information then I would have to go through the whole database again, so there's this practical issue.

So I would appreciate your advice on whether including xenophonic information would be substantially beneficial to you or not, if you were using the database.

From Hong Kong,


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