15.1 Phonetic & Phonological Analysis: Can you highlight the role played by phonemes and allophones in the English Language?

Chapter 15

15.1 Highlight the place of phoneme and allophones in the English Language

Phonemes and phones

Phoneme and the phone/allophone

The historical perspective

Def: the component of language that deals with phonemes and their possible combination

There is no strict chronological description of phonological theory since each school of phonology could be seen as a new step in a continuously progressive evolution. Forerunners (not attached to any school but still influential) of phonological theory 

The term phoneme

The term had been introduced in 1873(by the French linguist Dufriche – Desgenettes) De Saussure used the term to refer to a common prototype in parent language, which is reflected by different sounds in the languages derived from this parent language.

Countenery and Kruszewski (1870s and 1880s) also used the term to mean a – linguistic unit, which underlies an alternation between sounds in etymologically related forms (both in cognate languages and written similar languages.

Edward Sapir: contributed in a decisive way to the development of phonological theory. His work greatly influenced The American, the Bloomfield school and  Generative phonology because of his views on phoneme combination and his emphasis on the psychological pattern and on alterations and underlying forms.

 

THE PRAGUE SCHOOL

A structural linguistics school that came up in the 1920’s. It was influenced by thoughts from the east of Europe, Moscow and America i.e. from linguists such as de Courtenery and Scerba. Some of the ideas incorporated were:

i) The phoneme as a sound

ii) The formal view of grammatical description (propounded by the Fortumator School in Moscow).

Jakobson (the most creative and dynamic), Trubetzkoy – the Linguistic Circle of Plague founded in 1926 by Mathesius. According to the Prague circle, the aim of phonological theory should be:

  1. to set up phonological systems
  2. to account for significant differences
  3. to find correlations e.g. contrasts such as t/ d/δ p/b
  4. to formulate general laws concerning the structure of phonological systems
  5. To account for historical change.

(The theses were discussed and accepted by schools such as – the French Dutch School of linguistics)

The aim of the Prague school

The main aim was to create an entirely new discipline which would be independent of phonetics. This however, was not feasible because in description of languages it is not possible to separate form from function i.e. describe the phonetic features of a sound in a language without presupposing phonological classification – phones, phonemes, and allophones.

The definition of a phoneme

The Prague school phonologists first defined the phoneme as a Psychological unit i.e. a sound image or sound intention. However, under the influence of de Saussures’ work, the Prague School established – phonological opposition as the fundamental concept in defining the phoneme.

Phonological opposition – a difference of sound which in a given language may serve to distinguish intellectual meaning i.e. meanings which belong to the linguistic content that is communicated – sounds marking For Example, dialect or social group etc are eliminated

Note :Due to its functions in the distinctive pairs/ non-distinctive pairs the phoneme has two definitions:

a) The smallest phonological unit, which cannot be decomposed into smaller

     successive units.’

b) Its characterized as the totality of the phonologically relevant properties of a

     sound unit.

In both definitions the property of distinction or opposition is important. It is this property which gives the phoneme a positive function of recognition or identification(in actual speech) deviating from Dufrische’s (1873) definition. Trubetzkoy since a phoneme contains only the relevant properties, a speech sound may not therefore be equaled to a phoneme – it should be considered the realization of a phoneme.

Speech sound = phone/ allophone.

Phoneme and variant

A phoneme may be realized as different speech sounds. These sounds are the variants of the phoneme. There are two types

i) combinatory variants: variants that are predictable in terms of stress, pitch, juncture, the vowel in the preceding or the following syllable, the preceding or following consonant etc. e.g. /n/ can be n. nasalization of vowels before nasals /r/- [ŗ],[r]

ii) facultative variants: predictable in terms of position in a word i.e. word initial, medial and final e.g. the voiceless stops in English ai/I – in either, s/z – analyze recognize.

Three rules are used in determining in which case different sounds are variants of the

same phoneme or are distinct phonemes.

i) If two sounds in the same environment may be interchanged without a change in the meaning of a word, then the sounds are facultative variants of the same phoneme variants. E.g. tn in /tin/ or t

ii) If the two sounds cannot be interchanged without altering the meaning (or making the word unrecognizable) then they are realization of two different phonemes e.g. t in /tin/.

iii) If two articulatory and acoustically related sounds never occur in the same environment they are combinatory allophones variants of the same phoneme (phonetic similarity) e.g. the [n] [ņ] both are nasal, stops, alveolar but [ņ] is dentalised because of its occurrence before a dental sounds e.g. in teeth length /ð/ or /θ/ i.e. the sounds should have common properties which distinguish them from all other sounds in the language.

 

Distinctive oppositions

Opposition: this is a central concept in Prague phonology. Oppositions are classified

(Trubetzkoy) according to three different aspects (of the phonemes phonetic qualities) A phoneme’s relation to the entire system (i.e. to other members of the system) gives two classifications

i) Dimensions of opposition a) Bilateral (one dimensional) oppositions. These give only 2 members e.g. the phonetic quality voice. b) Multilateral (multidimensional) opposition – they have more than one member e.g. place of articulation oppositions alveolar, labial.

ii) Isolated and proportional oppositions a) Isolated: the relationship does not recur in other oppositions in the language. E.g. r/l trill lateral (approximant fricative) b) Proportional: the same relation recurs in other oppositions e.g. p/b t/d k/g

The classification corresponding to the relation between phonemes that are members of an opposition. 3 types

a) Privative

b) Gradual

c) Equipollent oppositions

a) Privative: one member is characterized by the presence of a property which the other members lacks e.g. voicing, nasalization, rounding. If a member has the quality it is said to be marked unmarked if doesn’t have the quality. e.g. /u/ vs. /כ/ /t/ vs. /d/

b) Gradual opposition: there is the appearance of different degrees of the same

quality(e.g. vowels) e.g. u – o /u uo/ i.e. lip rounding quality

c) Privative: The classification according to the phoneme’s constant validity or suspendability. In both definitions, the property of distinction or opposition is important. It is this property that gives the phoneme a positive function of – recognition or identification.

 Phone

a) The smallest phonological unit, which cannot be decomposed into smaller successive units.

Or

b) Phonetically: the smallest phonological unit that is characterized as the totality of the

phonologically relevant properties of a sound unit.

Allophone

A phoneme may be realized as different speech sounds. These sounds are variants/

allophones of the phoneme. There are two types of allophones, namely:-

i) Combinatory variants

The variants that are predictable in terms of stress, pitch, juncture, the vowel in the

preceding or the following consonant etc. i.e. phoneme in combinations e.g. the

shortening of a long vowel because it is followed by a consonant: e.g. sea [i:] seen[i]or

the vowel in the stressed syllable being shorter than the one in the unstressed syllable.

ii) Facultative variants

These are predictable in terms of position in word i.e. word – initial, medial, final e.g. the

aspiration of the voiceless stops in English in word initial position. Can be – allophones –

free variants e.g. ai/i – in either, s/z in analyze.

 

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