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Phonology: More on allophones and phonemes. LING 400 Winter 2010. Overview. Review of phonology Data sets Mohawk stops Russian velar stops. Please turn off your cell phone. Phonemic vs. phonetic representations. Phonetic representation directly observable

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Phonology more on allophones and phonemes

Phonology:More on allophones and phonemes

LING 400

Winter 2010


  • Review of phonology

  • Data sets

    • Mohawk stops

    • Russian velar stops

Please turn off your cell phone

Phonemic vs phonetic representations
Phonemic vs. phonetic representations

  • Phonetic representation

    • directly observable

    • contains measurable properties

  • Phonemic representation

    • inferred, not observed

    • abstract, streamlined representation of sound

  • Levels related by phonological rules

Inferring the phonemic representation
Inferring the phonemic representation

  • Minimal pairs/sets

    • sounds in contrast

  • Complementary distribution

    • sounds not in contrast

Minimal pair
Minimal pair

  • Two words differing in meaning and only one phonetic property

    • A minimal pair for voicing in English

      • [|kɹæbi] crabby vs. [|kɹæpi] crappy

      • therefore, /p b/ in English

  • Phonetic difference between pair not due to context

  • Minimal pairs contain phonemes

Near minimal pairs sets
Near-minimal pairs/sets

  • Sometimes not many minimal pairs

    • [θ], [ð]: [θɑɪ] thigh, [ðɑɪ] thy; ether, either

  • Sometimes minimal pairs lacking

    • [ʃ], [ʒ]

      • none word initially

      • word medially: [ə|luʃən] Aleutian, [ɪ|luʒən]~[ə|luʒən] illusion

  • Rule for inferring phonemes from near-minimal pairs

    • sounds must be in “same environment” or close to it

    • [phɑɪ], [spɑɪ] not a minimal pair for aspiration in English ([p], [ph] not in same environment)

Complementary distribution of sounds
Complementary distribution of sounds

  • Predictable aspects of pronunciation can be due to

    • Influence of neighboring sound

    • Position within word


  • Iroquoian family; spoken in Quebec, Ontario, and New York

map from

Mohawk stops
Mohawk stops

  • Observation: [p t k b d g] are all sounds of Mohawk

  • Suspicion: there are no minimal or near-minimal pairs for voicing

  • Question: Is stop voicing phonemic or predictable?

Mohawk phonetic data
Mohawk phonetic data

of interest: [p t k b d g]

[V:] = long vowel, [C̥] = voiceless consonant

Finding patterns in a mass of data
Finding patterns in a mass of data

  • Often useful to

    • rearrange the data

      • [p t k] vs. [b d g]

    • simplify the data

      • list immediately preceding, following sound/position

  • Then look for

    • natural classes of sounds, those sharing some property not shared by other sounds, to right or left

    • or unique position

Mohawk stop distribution
Mohawk stop distribution

# = word edge

  • Any natural classes?

  • [ɑ], [e], [o], [i], [s]

  • [l], #, [s], [w̥]

  • [ɑ], [i:], [o], [e], [h], [ɑ:], #

  • [ɑ], [e], [u:], [e:], [ɑ:]

Summarized contexts
Summarized contexts

  • [p t k] and [b d g] are in complementary distribution in Mohawk.

  • Notice: what precedes doesn’t matter

Writing a phonological rule
Writing a phonological rule

  • Which rule?

    • Mohawk has /p t k/ and Voicing rule (stops are voiced before vowels). or?

    • Mohawk has /b d g/ and Devoicing rule (stops are voiceless word finally or before a consonant).

Choose voicing
Choose Voicing

  • Voicing simpler than Devoicing

    • Voicing: “...before vowels.”

    • Devoicing: “...word finally or before a consonant.”

Final analysis
Final analysis

  • In Mohawk,

  • Stops are voiced before vowels, and voiceless elsewhere. (sentence formulation of rule)

    • /p t k/  [b d g] / ___ V

    • (  [p t k] / …)

    • (‘arrow’ formulation of rule)

… = elsewhere


  • Determining phonemes

    • Minimal pairs and near-minimal pairs

    • Complementary distribution of sounds

  • Keys to being able to do so

    • Understanding value of phonetic symbols

    • Recognizing natural classes


  • Turn in a broad phonetic (or phonemic) transcription of your first and last names

    • Transcribe primary stress (if appropriate)

    • Transcribe [ə] and [ɾ], if either of your names contains these sounds