Author Topic: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]  (Read 5353 times)

Offline zaba

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/phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« on: February 11, 2014, 07:15:26 AM »
If the /phonemic sequence/ is comprised of phonemes; what is the [phonetic sequence] comprised of?

Also, why is the IPA called the PHONETIC alphabet of the PHONEMIC alphabet? The IPA sound /ʃ/ is written as a phonemic segment, no?

Offline MalFet

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2014, 07:51:36 AM »
A /phonemic sequence/ is composed of phonemes because (according most models of phonology) the phonemes themselves have some degree of psychological reality for speakers. So if I claim that a fuzzy feline is known as /kæt/ to English speakers, I am claiming that English speakers know (in some complicated way) that the word is composed of three different things: /k/, /æ/, and /t/.

Phonetic transcriptions, on the other hand, are more akin to useful approximations. Every single instance of the word "cat" is different, but there are meaningful generalizations to be made (based on shared articulatory and acoustic anatomy), and it's handy to have a way of representing speech sounds approximately without needing to pass around high fidelity audio recordings. It's kind of like how you and I can talk about "purple". There are infinite shades of purple, and you and I might not even completely agree about where purple ends and blue begins, but if I tell you to pass me the purple shirt you'll probably understand what I mean.

IPA is not properly phonetic or phonological. Rather, it's a little bit of both and a little bit of neither. It's a conventional architecture for naming the sounds of a language that provides a convenient way to associate phonemes and variants with their dominant phonetic characteristics. Is a German [g] the same as an English [g]? Definitely not, and there are big-important-interesting articulatory and acoustic differences between the two languages despite the common sound-name. Nevertheless, [g] is a handy name for a wide range of sounds within a language and between languages with shared properties: velar closure, relatively early voice onset, etc.

Offline ibarrere

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2014, 09:40:07 AM »
Quote from: zaba
what is the [phonetic sequence] comprised of?

Typically the term phone is used for a sound which you don't necessarily want to classify as a phoneme or allophone; just a sound. Likewise, you could argue that a phonetic sequence isn't so much comprised of discreet units, but rather is a representation of a sound wave which has no clear beginning and end to segments. On the other hand, it's sort of necessary to have some transcription technique for such a sample (for the same reason mentioned above of not wanting to pass around high fidelity sound samples), so in transcribing the sound wave you assume discreet units and transcribe it as such.
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Offline zaba

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2014, 06:53:04 AM »
But what is the difference between phonetic segments and phonemes?

Offline MalFet

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2014, 07:00:56 AM »
But what is the difference between phonetic segments and phonemes?

Phonemes are psychologically real constituents. For speakers of the language, each phoneme in a word exists (in some complicated way) as a separate "thing". Phonetic segments, on the other hand, are distinguished only by convention, usually because of a change in the position or action of the articulators. There's no reason that a language couldn't treat a very complicated cluster (say, [smr]) as a single phoneme. However, because such a sound involves a complex sequence of articulations, we would typically identify multiple phonetic segments.

Affricates are a good example here. Many languages treat affricates as a single phoneme, but they can be analyzed phonetically as compound.

Offline zaba

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2014, 07:13:14 AM »
Quote
For speakers of the language, each phoneme in a word exists (in some complicated way) as a separate "thing".

Excellent input here -- much appreciate it! How does one know that the "phoneme exists as a separate thing" for the speaker?

Offline MalFet

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2014, 11:55:12 PM »
Quote
For speakers of the language, each phoneme in a word exists (in some complicated way) as a separate "thing".

Excellent input here -- much appreciate it! How does one know that the "phoneme exists as a separate thing" for the speaker?

This is a very big question, and the answer basically amounts to "all of phonological field methods". The simplest indication occurs when a 1-to-1 segment substitution results in a minimal pair. Since "cat" and "can" aren't the same thing, there's good reason to believe that [t] and [n] are perceived as different for speakers.

Offline lx

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2014, 03:22:54 AM »
There are many papers and sets of research data, especially in the field of L2 acquisition, that deal with the concept of phoneme acquisition and in order to get into the nitty gritty of those papers, in courses that teach it, there is usually a heavy introduction where one studies how features of a phoneme are changed. You might have a formant scale and try to differ recordings in vowel space at minute instances and ask people to report what sounds they can hear in specific words. Essentially, very quickly you see that phonemes cover wide spaces that can't be represented very easily in a phonetic way, but they consist of features which can be altered and then the threshold for different phoneme recognition accompanies it.

It's really interesting in these studies to explore the phonological inventory of the L2 learner and investigate phonological transfer, i.e. how when acquiring the phonology of the second (or 'additional' is probably the preferred term nowadays) language, how you cast forward your native phonological system into the phonological structure of the language being learnt and then fine-tune via experience the separational criteria that allow you to make different types of phonemic distinctions. There's also a lot of evidence of how L1 systems can change over time. I took L2 Speech Acquisition because it was the best of a bad bunch and I didn't really have any interest in it when doing my degree, but it turned out to be surprisingly interesting - something I'd recommend.

Offline zaba

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2014, 01:40:40 AM »
So if fonemes are studied by foneticians and fones are fonologists, who studies "fonetic sequences"?

Offline MalFet

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2014, 01:52:41 AM »
So if fonemes are studied by foneticians and fones are fonologists, who studies "fonetic sequences"?

Hmm...I think this is going in the wrong direction.

A phoneme is a language-specific perceptual category.
A phone is a generic term to describe a sound.

Both phonologists and phoneticians are interested in both phonemes and phones. The difference (generally) is that phonologists are interested in mental systems and phoneticians are interested in the mechanics articulation and perception.

It's not a hard opposition, however. For example, I personally am a very phonetically inclined phonologist. I believe that we need to understand quite a bit about phonetics to understand phonology. Not everyone agrees with me however. People working in Optimality Theory, say, tend to believe that there is a cleaner separation between phonetic knowledge and phonological knowledge than I do.

Offline zaba

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2014, 01:36:58 AM »
OK, so let me see if I got it:
a phone (studied by phonologists) is a sound category (is this so? Or is it better understood as a "generic term" as you suggested?) which is determined by linguists and is language independent.

BUT

a phoneme (studied by phoneticians) is a perceptual category that is language specific  and is determined by speakers and is language dependent.

Is this an accurate summary?

Offline MalFet

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2014, 02:30:46 AM »
OK, so let me see if I got it:
a phone (studied by phonologists) is a sound category (is this so? Or is it better understood as a "generic term" as you suggested?) which is determined by linguists and is language independent.

BUT

a phoneme (studied by phoneticians) is a perceptual category that is language specific  and is determined by speakers and is language dependent.

Is this an accurate summary?

Except for the part about one being studied by phoneticians and the other by phonologists. It doesn't really work like that. A phone is just a sound. It is usually described in terms of categories that are meaningful to linguists (velar, aspirated, voiced, etc.) but not necessarily to native speakers (man languages do not treat aspiration or voice as contrastive, for example). A phoneme, on the other hand, is a perceptual category that is specific to the language in question.

Offline zaba

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2014, 12:43:35 AM »
Oh, ok. It was djr33 who wrote that 
Quote
Phone: a sound category, determined by linguists
-- but let me try to rephrase so I can make a crystal clear comparison:

a fone is a language-independent articulated speech sound which is described in terms of categories.
a foneme is a language-dependent perceptual category of speech sounds described in terms of [???]
a fonetic sequence is an articulatory convention described in terms of [???]

Can you help me fill in those [???]s? I feel like that is totally key to me understanding.

Offline jkpate

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Re: /phonemic sequence/ vs [phonetic sequence]
« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2014, 01:36:15 AM »
Depending on your purposes, both phones and phonemes can be described using articulatory, acoustic, or additional features. When you propose that a sound has a psychological status, you are proposing that it is a phoneme; when you just want to refer to a sound in a way that is understood by people with phonetic training, it is a phone.

One way to understand this is to consider experiments that look for categorical perception. A classic experiment takes an audio recording of somebody pronouncing an unaspirated alveolar voiced stop (i.e. "d"), and modifies it by inserting silence between the stop burst and the onset of voicing. By adding more silence, we can create a continuum of stimuli with different amounts of time before voicing. The amount of time before voicing is called "VOT." Now, when I am talking to you and describing these stimuli, I just want a convenient language for describing acoustic or articulatory processes with experts, and so I'm talking about phones. That is, I'm only interested in giving you a concise summary of what these sounds are, I'm not attributing them any special status in the language or speakers' minds. How I describe them, what you wanted between the brackets, will be determined by the kind of information I want to convey to you. In this case, it's a feature specification, plus some detail about a manipulation to the waveform.

Now let's talk about what we might use these stimuli for. In one experiment, I could have non-linguists listen to random pairs of these stimuli, and say whether the two recordings they heard were "the same" or were "different." If you do this with English speakers, you will find that speakers tend to say that they are "different" if one stimulus has a VOT less than ~40ms and the other has a VOT more than ~40ms, but will tend to say that they are "the same" if both stimuli have VOT greater than ~40ms or both stimuli have greater stimuli less than ~40ms, even if the magnitude of the difference in VOT is the same. That is, they will tend to say "the same" for stimuli with VOT of 50ms and 70ms, but "different" for stimuli with VOT of 30ms and 50ms, even though both stimuli pairs have the same difference in VOT (20ms), because the first pair does not cross the 40ms boundary while the second pair does. For another experiment, you might play two stimuli, then play one of the two stimuli again and ask if it was similar to the first or second recording they heard. If the two initial recordings cross the 40ms boundary (i.e. one has VOT above and the other has VOT below), then English speakers will accurately classify the third recording. If the two initial recordings do not cross the 40ms boundary, then English speakers will not accurately classify the third recording.

With these results, we might propose that there is a perceptual category for alveolar stops with VOT above 40ms, and a different perceptual category for alveolar stops with VOT below 40ms (I have just described Liberman et al (1957)). With this proposal, we are not just trying to describe language data, we are attributing some kind of entity either to the language or to speakers' knowledge about the language. A phoneme is this second kind of entity. It is not simply a convenient way to summarize language data to an expert, it is the attribution of a theoretical entity either to a language or to speakers. How we describe the perceptual category will be determined by the kind of entity that we want to attribute to the language or speaker. For example, follow-up experiments showed that the 40ms boundary can be pushed around by context, so maybe we need the description of the entities to include context. Alternatively, perhaps we like the theoretical cleanliness of certain frameworks, like Optimality Theory, that commit to describing phonemes in particular ways.

Does that make sense? The description of phones and phonemes may vary widely depending on the kind of information you want to encode, but phones are for communicating with expert linguists (or engineering speech technologies) while phonemes are theoretical entities.
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