[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] On Vowellessness

Chris Button chris.button at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 7 18:52:21 UTC 2016

Hello everyone,

Randy's comment about "how much more interesting and significant is the life and work of one who takes the language/culture/people as the base of what one does rather than taking abstract theoretical models as the core of what one does" made me think of a comment I received recently.

I became engaged in a very interesting back and forth with someone known as "JS" over at the UPenn Language Log here (starting with my second post on May 16): http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=25730

My suggestion that no underlying distinction exists between consonants and vowels in language (i.e. it all goes back to the syllable as the basic building block) was challenged as an "odd theoretical commitment". As someone who has personally conducted fieldwork over in Burma, I was a little chagrined but not at all surprised. While I believe that the comparative evidence from Sino-Tibetan / Tibeto-Burman languages can only point to such a conclusion (as is the case with Indo-European languages), I do understand that suggesting a notion of "vowellessness" to linguists (by relegating "vowels" to surface phonetic realisations) is like suggesting DNA doesn't exist to Biologists!

Unfortunately the few people who have championed the "vowelessness" cause in the past seem to have all passed on now. However, I was wondering if anyone here knows of any academics, within the field of Tibeto-Burman linguistics or not, who is sympathetic to such a cause? If so I would really appreciate being put in touch with them. At the very least, it might stop me thinking that I am just completely crazy!

All the best,

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