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The phonemic status of diphthongs, thriphtongs, affricates

There are cases when the establishment of phonological oppositions is not sufficient to determine the phonemic status of a sound, especially when the sound is of a complex nature.

In the English language the sounds ItʃI, /dʒ /, /tr/, /dr/, /ts/, /dz/ form phonological oppositions and distinguish such words as "eat - each", "head -hedge", "tie - try "."die - dry",*hat - hats",*buzz - buds". But does that mean that all of them are monophonemic and should be included into the phonemic inventory?

N. Trubetzkoy worked out a number of rules which help to determine whether a sound of a complex nature is monophonemic. The main rules state that, firstly, a phoneme is indivisible, as no syllabic division can occur within a phoneme. Secondly, a phoneme is produced by one articulatory effort. Thirdly, the duration of a phoneme should not exceed that of other phonemes in the language. Consequently, /tʃI and /d3/ in words like "cheese, each, jail, hedge" are monophonemic,because both acoustic and physiological analysis provide suf­ficient evidence that these sounds are produced by one articulatory effort, their duration does not exceed the duration of either /t/ (as in "tear"}, or I ʃ I (as in "share"), or /d/ (as in "dare"). Besides that, in words like "cheese, chair, each, hedge, John, jail", no syllabic division occurs within the sounds /tʃ/and /dʒ/.

/ts/, /tz/ are obviously biphonemic combinations (i.e. combinations of two phonemes), because their duration exceeds the average duration of either /t/,/d/, /s/or/z/. As for /tr/, /dr/ (as in "tree, dream") their phonemic status will remain undecided until special acoustic and physiological analysis is made.

There appears to be another analogical problem. It concerns the phonemic status of the English diphthongs and the so—called "triphthongs". Are they monophonemic or biphonemic clusters in English?

The syllabic and articulatory indivisibility of English diphthongs and their duration which does not exceed the duration of English historically long vowels /i:, u:,a :…./, clearly determine their monophonemic character in English.

As for /ai ǝ /, auǝ /, it has been proved acoustically and physiologically that in English they cannot be considered monophonemic. They are not produ­ced by a single articulatory effort, as there is an increase in the force of arti­culation and intensity not only for the first element, but for the last element as well. The syllabic division generally occurs in between the diphthong and the schwa vowel. On account of that they shouId be regarded as biphonemic clusters of a diphthong with the schwa vowel.

In such away it has been established that in RP there are 12 vowel phone­mes and 8 diphthongs.


12. The 2nd problem: Identification of the phonologically relevant (or distinctive) features of every phoneme. All allophones of any phoneme have common features and also features, which characterize only a few of them. The problem is to decide which of the features of allophones of a certain phoneme in a certain language are PHONOLOGICALLY RELEVANT and which are IRRELEVANT. Phonologically relevant .features of a phoneme are constant distinctive features which distinguish this phoneme from all the other phonemes of the language. The phonologically relevant features are identified by opposing one phoneme to every other phoneme in the language. PHONOLOGICALLY IRRELEVANT features distinguish one allophone from all the other allophones of the phoneme. Let us consider some allophones of the

phoneme /p/


Allophones: p 1 p 2 p 3

/pi:/ /pɔ:/ /ʌp/

bilabial bilabial bilabial

fortis fortis fortis

aspirated aspirated unaspirated

plosive plosive non-plosive

unrounded rounded unrounded

The Phonologically Relevant Features of the phoneme /p/ are BILABIAL and FORTIS. Other features like aspiration, plosiveness, labialization, etc, are PHONOLOGICALLY IRRELEVANT. If one phonologically relevant feature is replaced by another, this results in turning a phoneme into another. For example, if the bilabial feature of /p/ is replaced by alveolar, we get /t/. The substitution of irrelevant features does not normally affect the communication.


13. PROBLEM 3. The Description of the interrelations among the phonemes of a language. The questions are: Can different phonemes have common allophones? Can allophones of a phoneme lose any of their PHON.REL. features in certain positions? There are cases when relevant features of phonemes disappear in particular contexts. This phenomenon is called NEUTRALIZATION OF PHONOLOGICAL OPPOSITION. A clear case of Neutralization can be found in the plosive /p/, /t/, /k/ series, when the plosives follow /s/. For example, /p/ as in PIN and /p/ as in SPIN are allophones in English because they occur in complementary distribution. English speakers generally treat these as the same sound, but they are different. The latter is unaspirated: it sounds a little more like the /b/ of English. But take the unaspirated /p/ out of context, and they might hear it differently: a recording of /p/ with the /s/ left out might be heard as /bin/ by an English-speaker.

Experiments suggest that /p/, /t/, /k/ following /s/ become neutralized, i.e. have more in common with initial /b/, /d/, /g/ than with initial /p/, /t/, /k/.

There are less clear cases. Some phoneticians claim that /ә/ is an allophone of several phonemes. For example, if we compare ‘GERMAN-GER’MANIC, E’CONOMY-ECO’NOMIC, we see that when the stress moves away from the syllables containing full quality vowels /ɜ:/ and /ɒ/, the vowels weaken to /ә/. Conversely, the /ә/ in weak syllables becomes /ɜ:/ and /ɒ/ in a strong position under stress. The conclusion here may be that /ә/ is not a phoneme of English, but is an allophone of several different vowel phonemes when those phonemes occur in an unstressed syllable. (That is an example intended to show that there are many ways of analyzing the English phonemic system, each with its own advantages and disadvantages)

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