Re: Character Identity and Font Selection

From: CE Whitehead <>
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2011 00:00:48 -0400

From: André Szabolcs Szelp (
Date: Thu Jun 09 2011 - 09:14:09 CDT
From: Stephan Stiller <>
Date: Fri, 10 Jun 2011 18:54:11 -0700
> I agree: in my experience, most linguists casually use IPA in a phonemic
> manner, exactly in the way Philippe Verdy describes. Italian phonetician
> Luciano Canepari argues that the IPA is used phonemically (not
> phonetically) by most linguists. Some people emphasize a distinction
> between "broad" (essentially phonemic) and "narrow" (more phonetic)
> transcriptions, but most transcriptions are broad. (Interestingly,
> Canepari invented his canIPA as a derivative of IPA more suitable for
> very narrow transcriptions than even IPA with all its diacritics.)
> The thing is that, fwiw, often cultural conventions trump accuracy in
> picking symbols for such broad transcriptions. For example, [ə] is used
> for the default reduced vowel in many language. (On that note, Korean
> linguists tend to transcribe ㅓ [ɔ] as [ə] for really no good reason at
> all, as it's not actually used a reduced vowel in Korean.) Linguists
> have argued that standard British practice of transcribing the vowel in
> "bet" as [e] is really outdated ([ɛ] is more appropriate). Linguist Ian
> Maddieson has argued (personal communication) that [ʌ] is not the best
> choice for the vowel in "but". American linguists tend to omit
> diphthongization and vowel length [:] for vowels. Most linguists pick
> symbols from the "most commonly used" IPA symbols (such as [r] instead
> of the many r-derived symbols), with the rarer used ones appearing
> mainly in JIPA.
> Stephan

I think most phonetic transcriptions with the IPA are focused on transcribing features such as aspiration, labialization, length, tone, whether or not continuant, etc. that can be seen as minimal features in some language. I don't think voice quality distinctions between male-female or adult-child are normally transcribed using the IPA, although these would show up in speech analysis graphs.
Fundamental frequency can differ on the basis of gender/age, or even on the basis of language* in some instances, and while pitch contour is of interest in IPA transcriptions, fundamental frequency is less so I think (except to the extent that it is related to vowel quality, but then what's recorded is the contrast -- that is whether a vowel is spoken farther to the back of the mouth than another vowel uttered by the same speaker -- and not the actual fundamental frequency; if fundamental frequency -- apart from contrast -- were to become more of interest in transcription, then because I like Firth personally, I would hope to see some super-segmental symbols; but sound spectograms may be the best solution for recording fundamental frequency for now).
(* Brian de Boysson-Bardies & others have, in research on early speech, described language-specific differences in syllable contour and fundamental frequency -- although it seems de Boysson-Bardies reported no major fundamental frequency differences between English and French, for example, so there are not always language-specific differences;
Note for anyone interested: apparently vowel quality -- related to fundamental frequency -- distinguishes infant speech on the basis of language earlier than other features do. Different features of vowel quality may be transcribed phonetically/phonemically, depending on the purpose of the transcription; there's often more interest in indicating contrasts, but not always; you could for example indicate that all the vowels in a particular language were breathy if such were the case, and then breathiness would not be in contrast to anything else in the language. For those interested in fundamental frequency and early vowel quality:
De Boysson-Bardies, Halle, Sagart, and Durand, "A Crosslinguistic Investigation of Vowel Formants in Babbling" Université Paris V Cambridge Journal of Child Language 16: 1-17; 1989.
Oller and Eillers, "Similarity of Babbling in Spanish- and English-learning Babies."
Richards & Gallaway, "Input and Interaction in Language Acquisition" describes "wider pitch range and higher pitch" in speech of children when compared to that of adults.)
In any case, I personally would not think that having a new system would suddenly change the features linguists transcribe. (The current system works fine IMO if you note what features you are transcribing and what not and make sure you define symbols as needed.)
(Just thought I'd add my 2 cents on this.) Thanks.
 --C. E. Whitehead
Received on Sun Jun 12 2011 - 23:05:32 CDT

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