[Lingtyp] To include xenophones or not

Hartmut Haberland hartmut at ruc.dk
Thu Dec 2 14:24:16 UTC 2021

I think the best discussion of this issue may still be Bernard Bloch’s in “Studies in Colloquial Japanese IV: Phonemics”, Language 26(1): 86-125:

0.1. The presence of recent loanwords in Japanese, as in many other languages, complicates the analysis; but there is no purely descriptive test by which they be identified, and no valid excuse for excluding them –so far as the analyst recognize them through his accidental knowledge of other languages – from the total vocabulary. The view set forth by Fries and Pike [Lg. 25.29-50 (1949)] that loanwords may constitute a separate phonemic system coexisting with one or more other in the same dialect, is unacceptable. What we are able to discern as the system of a dialect is necessarily single, not multiple: the total network of relationships among all the sounds that occur in the dialect; and the analyst's task is to describe the system in a way that is correspondingly single, in a coherent set of general statements which will enable him to predict the phonetic shape of utterances that have not yet occurred. All the details that make up a language have an equal claim to be used as evidence for the system; whatever occurs in utterances of those who speak the language is for that reason a part of structure. The question how to treat loanwords can have only one treat them as words.

(Quote on p. 87.)
Hartmut Haberland
Professor emeritus

Roskilde University

Fra: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> På vegne af JOO, Ian [Student]
Sendt: 2. december 2021 08:50
Til: LINGTYP <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Emne: [Lingtyp] To include xenophones or not

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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