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WikiProject Linguistics / Phonetics  (Rated Start-class, Mid-importance)
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in general[edit]

I am glad to see universal agreement that this page ( phoneme ) is a disaster area. Here are a few comments on the discussion:(1) That the phoneme is an obsolete concept is POV and, while it should be acknowledged that some people have such an opinion, should not be otherwise mentioned (2) The phoneme is not part of phonology as phonology is currently understood. (3) The phoneme is a tool of language recording, orthography and communication (4) Language do not have unique phonemic systems ("there are nine and ninety ways of ... ") (5) the fundamental reason for phonemics is the minimal pair (trio, etc.) and a phoneme system is an abstraction away from a data base of minimal pairs (by that I mean such things as writing syllable-initial 't' with the same symbol as syllable-final 't') and can be done in many different ways (6) Writing was invented three times ( Sumer, China and Meso-America ) but only one of these traditions developed phonemes. Phonemes are not inevitable. But they are a very useful tool. DKleinecke (talk) 04:54, 4 January 2010 (UTC)

I think you need to clarify on #2 and #4. #5 sounds wrong. #6 is fallacious (the writing system tradition itself didn't develop phonemes). — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɹ̠ˤʷɛ̃ɾ̃ˡi] 06:33, 4 January 2010 (UTC)

It's still a disaster area, but no end in sight. I disagree with point one. If it's a concept that is supposed to be central to phonology, by most phonologists don't believe in it, that's an issue that goes beyond POV. I agree with the original comment, though, that the phoneme is quite likely an artefact of developing sub-syllabic writing systems. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:49, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

Well, there's a laughable notion. +Angr 15:28, 6 January 2010 (UTC)
Maybe I'm missing something, but what exactly is "laughable" about the above discussion? (talk) 18:30, 6 January 2010 (UTC)
The idea that "the phoneme is quite likely an artefact of developing sub-syllabic writing systems". If there's any causal relationship between the two at all, then the phoneme is the cause and the sub-syllabic writing system is the result (since language developed millennia before writing systems). +Angr 21:26, 6 January 2010 (UTC)
Well, I still fail to see what was laughable. Not all linguists accept the existence of the phoneme as defined in this article. In fact, I'd say that probably MOST phonologists don't but into it, but still use the phoneme as a convenient working principle (even though many recent theories, both functionalist and generative, including OT, can do without the phoneme pretty well). And I understand what people claiming it is an artifact of certain writing systems are coming from. First, we have theoretical discussions of things like "letters changing their sound according to their position" since Hindu and Greek grammarians, and the modern idea of the phoneme (just like the idea of the morpheme) certainly draws a lot from those traditions. Secondly, much of the literature on phonemic awareness actually supports the 'artifact' thesis. Anyway, the phoneme is a hypothesis, not an objective and obvious fact. And if the concept is wrong, if we do not store that sort of abstract representation in our minds, then it can't be the "cause" of anything. (talk) 22:50, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

Certainly why the concept of phoneme doesn't incorporate well into models of language perception ought to be discussed. This is what, in part, ought to make it obsolete in linguistics, but modern academic linguistics still has a 'structuralist' hangover, where language as a 'system' subsists in some Platonic realm somewhere. As for the idea that phonemes represent 'inter-changeable' sounds, this too is not supported by recent empirical research that did just that--cut and splice captures of 'allophones'. What native speakers perceived were incomprehensible things. At best the phoneme is a nice fiction to discuss language formalistically at a sub-lexical level, without getting bogged down in phonetic detail (without having to acknowledge that we still don't know what is actually invariant at a sub-lexical level). One of many such fictions in linguistics. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:47, 12 January 2010 (UTC)

I couldn't agree more. But would you happen to have refs or links for that recent empirical research? I'd be interested. It would be useful for the article as well, of course. (talk) 14:02, 13 January 2010 (UTC)

It is of no importance for this article if some linguistic theories discard the phoneme in favour of other descriptions of language. This article should describe the phoneme as it is (was) defined and used by theories that accept it. With at most a remark that acceptance is not universal anymore. Furthermore it is still exetensively uswed in langage teaching. −Woodstone (talk) 17:17, 13 January 2010 (UTC)

I'm sorry, but you're wrong on a number of points. What do you mean "of no importance"? If the hypothesis is questioned, then criticism should be mentioned. If many contemporary theories ignore it, then that should be mentioned as well. And by the way, acceptance was <never> universal. Also, its widespread usage in language teaching is recognized by just about everyone, but what does that have to do with the necessity or validity of the hypothesis? (talk) 18:07, 13 January 2010 (UTC)

But he's right on one major point. We need sources for all of this. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɹ̠ˤʷɛ̃ɾ̃ˡi] 19:55, 13 January 2010 (UTC)

The article erroneously states: The reason why these different sounds are nonetheless considered to belong to the same phoneme in English is that if an English-speaker used one instead of the other, the meaning of the word would not change: saying [kʰ] in skill might sound odd, but the word would still be recognized.

Modern research on speech perception shows that it usually results in an incomprehensible item, so this idea of interchangeability is a forlorn one. But it's obvious that the culprits responsible for this totally crap article couldn't give a toss, right? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:02, 8 June 2010 (UTC)

Sorry, not sure where to put this as first time adding something to Wikipedia. The Korean example sounds really confusing: /tʰata/ is pronounced [tʰada], for example. That is, when they hear this one word, Korean speakers perceive the same sound in both the beginning and middle of the word, whereas an English speaker would perceive different sounds in these two locations" The bold makes it sound like a Korean speaker would perceive the aspirated t (the sound at the beginning of the word) and the unaspirated stop (the sound in the middle of the word) as the same. They would not, as aspiration is phonemic in Korean, though voicing isn't. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Shychigirl (talkcontribs) 15:45, 28 September 2011 (UTC)

Use of study of phonemes for trying to re-construct the history of Language[edit]

Quentin D. Atkinson. “Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa,” Science, April 15, 2011. DOI:10.1126/science.1199295. This article is making a lot of ripples. (talk) 04:51, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

However, it would probably be more relevant for Linguistic typology and articles on early human migrations... AnonMoos (talk) 07:29, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
I don't know. I think people hearing vaguely about this would probably never think of "Linguistic typology" as a place to look for it. As for articles on early migrations, what are they called? Maybe just a brief reference to the work here, with a link to what-ever article the topic more closely fits into would be the best thing to do. (talk) 00:21, 17 April 2011 (UTC)
It's a fact that the study isn't really about the basic concept of "phoneme" itself, but instead uses phonemes as a tool to conduct a study in another subject area. As for migration articles, start with Early human migrations... AnonMoos (talk) 02:06, 17 April 2011 (UTC)

<!n!> I cannot get over the preceding banter here. I almost wanted to read it twice just to try and figure out what college, and books that others have written, that you've read and taken a test on to become so vast as you all are. This page, like any dictionary; should be the definition of the word. "feelings", should all be omitted. Define the word. State the "Possible" scale of use, or the need for it. State history. State other terms that reference this field. -- 16:22, 14 October 2011‎


Please define the term "phonemicity", found in books. - Altenmann >t 06:29, 19 June 2012 (UTC)

Doesn't it mean "status as a phoneme"? So "the phonemicity of [x]" means the fact that (question whether) [x] is a phoneme (in whatever language is being considered). Victor Yus (talk) 06:41, 19 June 2012 (UTC)
He-he; your question shows that my request makes sense. Answer: so far as I saw its usage, yes and no. - Altenmann >t 07:24, 19 June 2012 (UTC)

How does one pronounce phoneme?[edit]

phoe-neem? phoe-nemm? I suggest with a hint of irony that this article is in need of an IPAing by someone who knows the IPA. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:34, 3 October 2012 (UTC)

According to Wikipedia IPA conventions for English, [foʊniːm]... -- AnonMoos (talk) 21:41, 3 October 2012 (UTC)

Number of Phonemes[edit]

I've just checked the source that was cited for Rotokas and !Xoo (Crystal 1997), and it is readily apparent that this was not correctly cited. In fact, Crystal 1997 and 2010, as well as his source, the UPSID make no reference to !Xoo whatsover, but to !Xu (Northern Khoisan), which is listed with 141, not 121 phonemes. Also, neither source mentioned the number of tones included. I've corrected this for the first paragraph of the section, but I'm unsure as to the source of the remainder of that section, as it goes into some detail about the languages and I do not have the time to go on a fact finding mission here currently - however in the light of the above discrepancy this should be checked and eventually corrected/removed. — Fffree (talk) 14:34, 27 February 2013 (UTC)

Pseudoscientific nature of the concept of phoneme[edit]

The essence of pseudoscientific phonemes can be seen in the fact that the phoneme ousted from science concept of speech sounds. Phoneme is substituted the sound of speech.

Proof that the speech sound is a scientific concept, it is from the laws of the elementary articulations and general classification as periodic table of all 30 elementary articulation of vowels and consonants of speech sounds. That were open were formulated and developed by Russian researcher Alexander Makeev to the scientific theory of biomechanics of speech sounds in the 1984-2013 period: Makeyev A.K. Normal and pathological anatomy and physiology of the human person and society. Fundamental knowledge about the qualities of the human person, human society and the software company, produces and acts of people, based on the universal algorithm of holographic structure and function at all levels and forms of matter. / / Scientific and Technical Library. July 25, 2012. 364 p. Alex makeyev (talk) 06:27, 11 March 2013 (UTC)

Image 1. Intuitive graphical representation of the laws of elementary articulation of vowels and consonants of speech. In the form of general classification "periodic table" of thirty elementary articulation of vowels and consonants sounds of speech. Makeyev Alexander Konstantsin is the author of the discovery of these laws and the development of the system of elementary articulations, he is a freelance researcher and inventor, a member of the Moscow Society of Naturalists.

— Preceding unsigned comment added by Alex makeyev (talkcontribs) 07:22, 11 March 2013 (UTC)

Your "intuitive" system of articulation covers only the sounds of Russian - and basic idea of the "periodic table" you suggest was already developed by Sanskrit grammarians in 500BC - and a real one that works for all the languages of the world is developed by the International Phonetic Association and is basic knowledge for every college level student of phonetics. And the concept of the phoneme does not replace the science of phonetics, you don't seem to understand what the phoneme is and how it relates to speech sounds. It is generally a good idea to start by studying what is already known in the sciences that you aim at revolutionizing.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 15:20, 11 March 2013 (UTC)
Maunus|snunɐw· -- I displayed the all 30 physiologically optimal (elementary) articulation of vowels and consonants of speech is not due to a language, or race, or nation. I know very well the essence of the phoneme. Russian linguists very jealous defend place in science for the phoneme. Because that Russian linguists had formulated the basic definitions of phoneme. These definitions are confused. Different linguistic schools have to different determine the composition of phonemes. Alex makeyev (talk) 16:25, 11 March 2013 (UTC)
Yes, that makes no sense at all, since apparently most of the world's languages do not agree that these random 30 sounds are optimal or elementary. In fact you don't even have the cardinal vowel [i] which exists in the vast majority of the worlds languages. And you include as elementary sounds affricates that are clearly composed of dual articulations (i.e. ts can be analyzed as consisting of the elementary articulations t and s) It is not about jealously defending the phoneme, its that your theory makes no sense at all and is obviously based on not knowing the basics of phonetics and phonology.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 17:14, 11 March 2013 (UTC)
Dear Maunus, -- you do not understand the essence of biomechanics of speech. There are 6 types of articulation. Moving apart vowels. Dense shutter sonorant. Plane shutter slot muffled and slot voiced consonants. Moving apart of the tight-closing stop consonants. The sounds of speech, which are called affricates TS, DZ, TSH, J, is blasting the sounds of speech (in the international system for transcription are no characters, but this does not mean that it is a sequence of two speech sounds). Which falsely combined with a sequence of speech sounds: PF, BW, MB, NG, and so on. I work in this subject since 1984. Alex makeyev (talk) 06:50, 12 March 2013 (UTC)
Alex makeyev -- the phoneme is somewhat superseded by more advanced concepts in modern "generative" phonological theories, and certain semi-baroque mid-20th century elaborations of the phoneme concept ("biuniqueness" etc.) have been definitively rejected; however, the phoneme still does have a place in linguistics, and much practical work on orthographies etc. would become much more difficult without it. If you want a Russian connection, much of the early work on the phoneme was done at the University of Kazan or by Nikolai Trubetzkoy... AnonMoos (talk) 16:02, 11 March 2013 (UTC)
Dear AnonMoos, -- I'm just finishing writing an interdisciplinary an article for publication in the international scientific journal. Wait. Will see the publication of the article, and I'll give you the link to it. We can make sure in my rightness in different directions and areas natural sciencies, humanities and social sciences. Alex makeyev (talk) 16:32, 11 March 2013 (UTC)
Image 2. Scheme of oral human vocal apparatus in the longitudinal section (left). Intuitive unified alphabet Simmetritsa by Makeyev (right).

Alex makeyev (talk) 12:23, 12 March 2013 (UTC) Alex makeyev (talk) 07:07, 5 April 2013 (UTC)

Image 3. Intuitive unified relief-point tactile writing system for the blind and the visually impaired. The authors are Louis Braille (1824, 1829, 1837) and Alexander Makeyev (1996, 2009, 2013).

Alex makeyev (talk) 13:35, 12 March 2013 (UTC)

minimal pair in Korean[edit]

Can anyone tell me where this comes from? "In other languages, though, including Korean, even though both sounds [t] and [d] occur, no such minimal pair exists. The lack of minimal pairs distinguishing [t] and [d] in Korean provides evidence that in this language they are allophones of a single phoneme /t/. The word /tata/ is pronounced [tada], for example. That is, when they hear this word, Korean speakers perceive the same sound in both the beginning and middle of the word, whereas an English speaker would perceive different sounds in these two locations." — Preceding unsigned comment added by Def0021 (talkcontribs) 16:07, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

What the author may have had in mind is that many languages neutralise this contrast in intervocalic and word-final contexts (e.g. final obstruent devoicing in German, Dutch, etc.). I'm not so sure about Korean there, but from reading some work on word-initial denasalisation (/n/->[d]) in Korean (, which compared the resulting phones to various underlying plosives I had the impression that /t/ and /d/ are contrastive in Korean too. Could it be the case that Korean voiced plosives intervocallically, but that /t/ and /d/ are contrastive in word-initial position? In any case, it does not seem justified to say that mere lack of having found a minimal pair is a justification for allophony, as the remainder of the paragraph argues against this. One would want this to be predictable or demonstrable, for instance through such a process as intervocalic voicing. —Fffree (talk) 03:24, 1 March 2014 (UTC)
Just as an addition, the article on Korean phonology states that Korean plosives make a three-way voicing distinction between lenis, tenuis and fortis. I think it really must be the case that the author thought of neutralisation due to intervocalic voicing here. A better example with true absence might come from language without a voicing distinction in plosives, such a Pirahã or any of the ones marked in WALS as not contrasting voice in plosives and fricatives.( —Fffree (talk) 03:42, 1 March 2014 (UTC)

Proposed redefinition of phoneme[edit]

Sorry, in spite of the claim that yours is much easier to understand, it just won't do. Gimson chose his words with great care. Your term 'unit of speech' is vague, and does not reflect the importance of contrastivity. Hence a sneeze or a hiccup could count as a unit of speech in your definition. It is not enough to say that something makes one word different from another word. You can produce that result by whispering, or speaking more slowly. The notion of change of meaning is absolutely critical, and your definition misses that. RoachPeter (talk) 19:37, 11 June 2014 (UTC)

Who are you talking to? -- AnonMoos (talk) 03:36, 14 June 2014 (UTC)
Someone called Zeddocument who changed the definition of the phoneme on June 11th. I reverted the change, for the reasons given. RoachPeter (talk) 08:43, 14 June 2014 (UTC)

Importance scale[edit]

I started a discussion relating to this article's rating on the importance scale at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Linguistics § Importance scale. — Eru·tuon 18:42, 17 February 2015 (UTC)

Background and related ideas[edit]

Someone called Bertivit has just added a second reference to an article or book apparently written in Swahili to this section, in addition to a reference to the same work in 'Other features with phonemic status'. I can't see how this reference could possibly be any use to non-Swahili-speaking users of WP. Could Bertivit write a note justifying the addition of this ref (Matlakhow Witawt, Maisha Ali. Msamiati. Kufa na kupona. (in Kiswahili's lang.) Dodoma, 2008)? Otherwise I think it should be removed. RoachPeter (talk) 11:05, 3 May 2015 (UTC)

Opening paragraph[edit]

Am I alone in finding the opening definition "A phoneme /ˈfoʊniːm/ is all the phones that share the same signifier for a particular language's phonology" completely unsatisfactory? The introduction to an article should define the topic in a clear way, not using confusing terms like "phone" which are even less well known that the word "phoneme" itself. If you are explaining something for beginners, you need to explain the unknown in terms of the known, not in terms of the even more unknown. Technical terms such as "phone" and "signifier" (terms which, I confess, despite having a degree in linguistics, I have never heard of) should be left for later in the article. Kanjuzi (talk) 03:01, 23 November 2015 (UTC)

Neutralized nasal in English[edit]

The article claims under the "Archiphonemes and neutralization" section that English nasals are neutralized before consonants. But examples like downplay, hanged, dreamt, concrete and a multitude of compound words contradict this.2602:306:3642:CB90:249D:6D5C:73B0:5076 (talk) 15:01, 21 April 2016 (UTC)

There's a morpheme boundary in each case: down|play, hang|ed, dream|t. Mr KEBAB (talk) 16:00, 9 November 2016 (UTC)