[Lingtyp] To include xenophones or not

Larry M. HYMAN hyman at berkeley.edu
Thu Dec 2 15:48:43 UTC 2021

Dear Ian,

As a phonologist, what I would want to know is if the loanword phonology
(sounds) had significantly affected the sound system. Your example of
learnèd [x] in English seems rather clear to me--it should be left out.
When I try to teach this sound and transcription to undergraduates with no
linguistic background, I mention its pronunciation in "Bach" and "chutzpah"
(in my speech). This doesn't seem to help much, as they do not
pronounce Bach with [x] (let alone van Gogh :-)! On the other hand, it is
useful to have this information for languages that have been in more
sustained contact with others, e.g. all of the cases of English or Swahili
creeping into Eastern Bantu languages that otherwise lack certain sounds in
their native vocabulary. Your problem will be making such decisions for
each language. I assume that if you include this information in your
database you would identify which sounds are only in loanwords.

Good luck!


On Wed, Dec 1, 2021 at 11:50 PM JOO, Ian [Student] <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk>

> 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.
> Cons:
> 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,
> Ian
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Larry M. Hyman, Professor of Linguistics & Director, France-Berkeley Fund
University of California, Berkeley
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