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View Diary: The Phoneme and the Many Lives It Has Destroyed (15 comments)

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  •  I have a PhD in Linguistics and teach accent (6+ / 0-)

    reduction for a living, and I had a hard time making heads or tails of this sentence:

    Another way to say this is to say that for [Ι] and [i], each one is a member of a class of speech sounds that a native speaker will identify as the same sound but that they are not members of the same class.
    I think my problem was that at this point you had introduced phonemic distinctions but hadn't introduced the idea of allophones -- unless I missed it; I was skimming since I know the concepts -- and so I couldn't see how anyone would understand in what sense [i] is a member of a class of speech sounds. There are allophonic variations of [i] but they're kind of tricky to nail down, or so I think.

    When I was teaching Linguistics 101, I usually used the 5 common allophones of [t] to illustrate the idea that we can be making completely different sounds and yet they all 'count' as 'the same sound' -- to a native speaker. You may be doing something like that too; I just didn't see it.

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    by Noisy Democrat on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 11:18:40 AM PDT

    •  "Accent reduction"? Isn't that the same as learn- (4+ / 0-)
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      Noisy Democrat, alevei, whaddaya, PeterHug

      ing a different accent?  Does Laurie speak English "without an acccent" on "House"?  How can anybody speak "with no accent"  without speaking an ersatz, artificial accent that no one actually speaks in everyday life?  

      "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

      by Oliver St John Gogarty on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 12:08:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, I prefer the term "accent acquisition" (4+ / 0-)

        for the reason you pointed out -- what I'm really helping people to do is learn an American accent, not 'reduce' anything, just as when I use my methods on myself to improve my Russian pronunciation, I'm trying to acquire a Russian accent. But 'accent reduction' is such a common term, I often use it just for ease of communication.

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        by Noisy Democrat on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 12:20:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Allophonic variations are important. (2+ / 0-)
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      alevei, whaddaya

      They are the key to understanding that Phoneme is a handy concept but that Phonemes do not actually exist. The concept is abstract, which is one reason that it is so difficult to grasp, and every phoneme is realized as an allophone of that phoneme. Native speakers recognize it no matter how it is realized in speech.

      BTW, I is an allophone of the E that appears in New Zealand English as I. My keyboard doesn't have a symbol for that phoneme, but it is the difference between Sit and Set in most dialects of English. In New Zealand (and some older regional variations of English) speakers say I instead of E, and it is a regular phonemic pattern. I believe I have heard it in some northern rural dialects of England as well.

      W. H. Auden: "We must love one another or die."

      by martyc35 on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 12:43:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  allophones are members of the same class (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Noisy Democrat, PeterHug

      You write:

      "There are allophonic variations of [i] but they're kind of tricky to nail down"
      Indeed they are. Because the variants for [i] articulation are all members of the same class of speech sounds for English speakers, meaning that they are not phonemically distinct from one another, speakers can ignore the differences between them because those differences do not affect meaning. Part of what it means to be proficient is understanding which distinctions you have to pay attention to and which ones to ignore.

      And yes, those slight differences that speakers can ignore with no risk of misunderstanding are allophones, but I don't see why you need that term to understand the concept. The [t] examples you cite are how I learned about allophones in the first place, back when I was an undergrad, but since native speakers of English spend their whole lives ignoring the distinctions between them (e.g., the difference between, say, an aspirated [t] and an unaspirated [t] is of no consequence to us native speakers), I don't find them particularly helpful for students who are grappling with the basic concept of the phoneme. The foreign-language examples I refer to in the diary seem to work a lot better for the students to illustrate the "pay attention to this" and "ignore that" characteristics that help to define the concept of the phoneme, while also illustrating that our distinctions between sounds and how we categorize what constitutes the "same" sound vs. "different" sounds is not at all objective, as evidenced by the variation in what is considered the "same" or "different" across languages.

      Later in the semester, when we talk about things like phonemic splits, i.e. when allophones diverge to the point where the pronunciation differences end up resulting in a difference in meaning depending on which sound is articulated (as in the historical phonemic splits of Germanic k and g, or what may be an eventual split of [æ] articulations in American English, given their historical instability and high salience of pronunciation differences even to native speakers), we can look at specific examples of members of the same class (as [i] and [Ι] are in Spanish) compared to members of different classes (as [i] and [Ι] are in English) and talk about what that means.

      "I couldn't see how anyone would understand in what sense [i] is a member of a class of speech sounds."
      And yet somehow they do. :-)

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