Methods and Problems of phonological analysis (p.a.) 

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Methods and Problems of phonological analysis (p.a.)

There are 2 most widely used methods of p.a.: the distributional method - phoneticians consider it is possible to group all the sounds into phonemes according to the 2 laws of phonemic and allophonic distribution (allophones of dif. phonemes occur in the same phonetic context; allophones of the same phonemes never occur in the same phonetic context). If 2 sounds in dif. positions are never occur in the same phonetic context their distribution is complementary: [p]-[ph] –pay. If 2 dif sounds occur in the same position their distribution is contractive: [p]-[b] pit-bit, [l]-[d] lay-day. Thus in Russian [л]-[p] are allophones of different phonemes. They are in contractive distribution: лак - рак. While in Japanese they are in complementary distribution and they don't distinguish words. Sometimes 2 sounds occur in a lang, in the same position, but the speakers are inconsistent in the way they use them. As in the case of the Russian шкап – шкаф, галоши – калоши. In such cases we must take them as free variants of a single phoneme. We could explain it on the basis of "dialect"; the semantic method - it is based on a phonemic rule that the phonemes, can distinguish words and morphemes when opposed to one another. It gives great importance to meaning. The main procedure this method uses is called the communication test. It consists of finding minimal pairs of words or morphemes which are dif by only I phoneme in the same position. [pin – bin – sin - din] – minimal pairs of words with different meaning; [phin – wrong pronunciation, but we can still recognize it]. There are 3 problems of p. a.: the identification of the phoneme inventory of a given lang; the study of interrelationship among the phonemes of the language; the system of phonological opposition.

Phonemic inventory of English

The problems in Eng consonantal system concerns affricates: [tƒ, d3] – monophonemic entity or biphonemic combination; if they are monophonemic, do the phonemes of the same kind exist in English. Jones considered that there are 6 affricates [tƒ, d3, tr, dr, ts, dz], gimson considered that there are 8 affricates […+Ө, ð]. They are monophonemic if: its elements belong to one syllable; produced by one articulatory effort; its duration should not exceed normal duration. Some more questions: is [j] an allophone of [i] and is [w] an allophone of [u], or they are separate phonemes. Americans treat them as allophones because of their weakness and unstable articulatory features; other scholars think they are phonemes because [j] and [w] can form phonological oppositions with each other and other phonemes (yet – wet [j-w], yet – met [j-m]). The problems in Eng vowel system: is [ə] a phoneme (it can form phonological opposition with a number of other phonemes and can distinguish words ([ə] – [ou] temper – tempo); it is sometimes considered that [ə] is an allophone of [Λ] because [Λ] is almost always used in stressed syllables, [ə] – in unstressed); are eng diphthongs and triphthongs monophonemic or biphonemic clusters (the duration of diphthongs doesn’t exceed the duration of eng historically long vowels [i:, u:, o:, a:, 3:] clearly determine their monophonemic character; as for [aiə, auə] it has been proved that they can’t be considered monophonemic because they are produced by more than one articulatory effort. The syllabic division generally occuers in between the diphthong and [ə]).

The System of Phonological Opposition in English.

The second problem of phonological analysis is the identification of the inventory of distinctive features on which all the phonological oppositions in the language are based. Every sound is characterized by a number of features, not all of which are equally important for communication. If one compare some of the allophones of /p/, it appears that all of them have common features and features which characterize only a few of them. The problem is to decide which of the features of a group of common sounds in a certain language are phonologically relevant and which of them are irrelevant, or incidental. This is important for teaching purposes. Each phoneme is characterized by a certain number of phonologically relevant features, which are its constant distinctive features (as they distinguish the phoneme from all the other phonemes of the language). Each allophone of a certain phoneme is characterized by definite phonologically relevant features (which are common to all its allophone) plus anumber of irrelevant or incidental, features (which distinguish the allophone from all the other allophones of the phoneme). eg: The phonologically relevant features that characterize the phoneme /p/ are therefore, bilabial, occlusive and fortis. Aspiration, plosiveness, labialisation are phonologically irrelevant features. The point is that if the speaker substitute one phonologically relevant feature for any other relevant feature the phoneme becomes a different phoneme (in this case /p/ is replaced by /t/). Such a substitution is easily perceived by any native speaker whether he had been trained in phonetics or not ("pie" - "tic", "cap" - "cat"). The substitution of one irrelevant feature for another (say, aspirated for non — aspirated) results in a different allophone of one and the same phoneme ([p] aspirated and |p| non-aspirated). Such a substitution does not affect communication. In the system of English vowels there are 3 types of oppositions: oppositions of monophthongs between themselves; diphthongs between themselves; monophthongs vs. diphthongs. In the system of English consonant phonemes there are oppositions based on: the force of articulation; the active organ of speech. According to the number of distinctive features contrasted in the minimal pairs oppositions can be single, double, and triple.

The Interrelationship among the Phonemes of the Language.

There are three views on the problem: The morphological viewpoint (Avanesov, Kuznetsov, Reformatsky). They claimed that a phoneme in a "weak" position may lose one of its distinctive features and, therefore, lose its distinctive function. For example, Russian voiced consonants lose their voiced character and are pronounced as voiceless in final position (луг, глаз). This leads to the loss of the distinction between /k/ and / г/, /с/ and / з/. Therefore, in word final position the phonological oppositions based on the phonologically relevant features "voiced vs. voiceless'' are neutralized in Russian. Scholars term this phenomenon neutralization of phonological oppositions. Neutralization of phonological oppositions is the loss of a distinctive feature by one of the phonemes of an opposition. Those who support this view consider that a phoneme is morphemically bound and, therefore, in all the deRivatives of "луга" (лугов, луг) we deal with the allophones of one and the same phoneme /г/, and in all the derivatives of "лука" (луком, лук) we deal with the allophones of the phoneme /к/. Consequently, different phonemes may have common allophones and sometimes a sound may be assigned to either of two phonemes. In the case of [k|, it may either be considered an allophone of the phoneme /k/ (as in "лук") or an allophone of the phoneme /г/ (as in "луг"). But the Russian language is the only language in which the phenomenon of neutralization has been examined more or less in depth. The phonological viewpoint (Jones, Pike) reject the notion of "neutralization of phonological oppositions". They consider that an allophone cannot lose any of its distinctive features If it does, it becomes an allophone of the phoneme the distinctive features of which it acquires. Phonemes can never have common allophones. The third viewpoint is that of Trubetzkoy and some other linguists who consider that there are phonological units higher than a phoneme - the archiphonemes. The archiphoneme is an abstraction which combines the distinctive features common to two phonemes.


Transcription – the system of signs in which sounds are symbolized. There are different types of transcription: phonemic or broad contains as many symbols as there are phonemes in the language (phoneme is usually enclosed between diagonals - /t/); phonetic or narrow or allophonic – “one symbol to allophone”. The symbols of this transcription are placed between square brackets – [t]. To mark different allophones of one phoneme scholars use diacritic marks – additional symbols used to characterize separate phonemes of their allophones (й). Diacritic marks help to use the inventory of the letters of the alphabet, without enlarging it. Allophonic transcription is the most convenient so that is why one can hardly do without it in foreign language teaching. The first attempts to represent speech sounds visually by means of special symbols were made in 16 century. The modern phonetic transcription that is most widely used now is the lnternational Phonetic Transcription devised by the International Phonetic Association in 1904. This tr-ion is a phonetic alphabet which may be applied to most of the languages. One of the principles of this transcription is to use the fewest symbols of the simplest possible shape. Most of the symbols it uses are letters of the Latin alphabet. Besides, it contains a series of diacritic marks. Jones took from this type of transcription some symbols to English (I, i:, e, ǽ, ə, a:, o, o:, u, u:, ei, ou, au, oi, uə). Diacritic marks: ~ nasalization; • devoicing; ǔ voicing; + advanced variety; - retracted variety;: length mark, etc


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