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zompist bboard • View topic - What is the limit of similarity for allophones?

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:05 pm 
Sanci
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Or let me try a different way to ask this question - how different can two sounds be and yet still have some language consider them allophones? I know what allophones are, and that different languages will see certain sounds as the same, etc. But for example, the alveolar tap [ɾ] is considered an allophone of [t] or [d] in English (I think, like in 'better' right?) but it's considered, well, not an allophone but some kind of 'r' sound in spanish. [t] is clearly nothing like [r] but there you go. Or in English the glottal stop is often considered an allophone of [t] (or in my case, [nt]).

So I guess what I'm asking, is it attested or possible for sounds that are not similar at all to still be considered allophones? For not just [p] and [b] but also [m] to be allophones ? Or all the nasals? Or [k] and [v]?


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:13 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:26 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:37 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:51 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 1:05 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 1:06 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 4:49 pm 
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Hawai'ian famously has [t] as an an allophone of /k/, though as I understand it it may be more of a case of free variation than complementary distribution.

Many Norwegian and Swedish dialects have [r`] as an allophone of /l/ (though at least in my dialect /r`/ is actually a marginal phoneme). [l] and [r`] aren't exactly birds of a feather.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:02 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:07 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:32 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:47 pm 
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I guess you can approach the question in the thread title in two different ways: allophones that are phonetically dissimilar (whatever that may mean), or allophones that share few phonological features. For instance the [t~k] alternation in Hawai'ian is striking because /t/ and /k/ tend to be quite phonetically distinct in languages that have both -- or at least viewed as being distinct by speakers of said languages -- but phonologically speaking they only differ in their point of articulation.

I think you're right that phonetic differences aren't necessarily important, but phonetically dissimilar allophones will tend to be surprising to speakers of languages where the allophones are not only viewed as distinct phonemes, but as strongly distinct phonemes. As you say, "similarity" is in the ears of the beholder.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 7:11 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 7:35 pm 
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t~k is only the tip of the iceberg in Hawaiian. In that language ALL of the following phones are possible as realizations of "/k/": [t T s ts S tS d D z dz Z dZ k x g G]. Plus many in-between sounds. The trick is to understand that this phoneme is specified for only two features: [+lingual +obstruent]. Any non-sonorant sound you can make with the tongue counts as /k/ in Hawaiian, it doesn't matter if it's voiced or what its exact POA or MOA is. Retroflexes, uvulars, whatever, it's all /k/.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 8:01 pm 
Boardlord
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Historically, very distinct allophones generally derive from 'the same sound', or more precisely, from more similar sounds. So there's no theoretical limit on how distinct they can be; they're only constrained by there being a path from the original sound, and there are few if any restraints on that.

English h/ng are by no means impossible as allophones; we just have no evidence that they have a common origin, and native speaker intuition certainly considers them separate.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 10:22 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 11:00 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 11:38 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 12:20 am 
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Another natural example: aspirate voiceless plosives ([t_h] for instance). To the average English-speaker the bold parts of top and pretty are analyzed as being the same (ie, we can't recognize the difference between [t_h] and [t]). To a Hindi-speaker, however, they're clearly separate phonemes /t t_h/.

It's all about context.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:43 am 
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 6:28 am 
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In Scouse I understand that some words (like that) can be pronounced with the last consonant either [h] (utterance finally) or [4] (before a word beginning with a vowel). This looks a lot like [4] and [h] being allophones of the same phoneme.

(Paper , though the encoding of some IPA symbols is messed up.)


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:40 am 
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:30 pm 
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