LIGN111-H5-Psychological-Reality

LIGN111-H5-Psychological-Reality - LIGN 111 Phonology The...

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LIGN 111 — Phonology UCSD, Winter 2010 Prof. Bakovi ć p. 1 of 2 The Psychological Reality of Phonemes The title of this handout is taken from a famous paper by Edward Sapir, first published in 1933. In this paper, Sapir argues from the following premise, “If the phonemic attitude is more basic, psychologically speaking, than the more strictly phonetic one, [then] it should be possible to de- tect it in the unguarded speech judgments of naive speakers who have a complete control of their language in a practical sense but have no rationalized or consciously systematic knowledge of it. ‘Errors’ of analysis, or what the sophisticated onlooker is liable to consider such, may be ex- pected to occur which have the characteristic of being phonetically unsound or inconsistent but which at the same time register a feeling for what is phonemically accurate.” In other words, the phonemes of a language are more real to its speakers than the objec- tive, scientifically observable allophones. Naive speakers (i.e., those without linguistic training) are aware of their language’s phonemes but quite unaware of its allophones, even though the al- lophones are what we see if we study speech with objective laboratory methods. The Southern Paiute example Sapir’s first case comes from Southern Paiute, a now-extinct Uto-Aztecan language of Utah and Arizona. Sapir was teaching his Southern Paiute informant how to transcribe phonetically, and asked him to transcribe a word that is pronounced as [p ɑːβɑʔ ], with a voiced bilabial fricative in the middle. Sapir was surprised to see his informant write p ā pa ʔ , using exactly the same symbol for the initial and medial consonants, even though phonetically they are quite different. Why did the native speaker of Southern Paiute write
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LIGN111-H5-Psychological-Reality - LIGN 111 Phonology The...

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