It is interesting at this stage to consider the system of phonetic
notations which is generally termed as “transcription”. Transcription
is a set of symbols representing speech sounds. The symbolization of
sounds naturally differs according to whether the aim is to indicate the
phoneme, i.e. a functional as whole, or to reflect the modifications of
its allophones as well.

The International Phonetic Association (IPA) has given accepted values
to an inventory of symbols, mainly alphabetic but with additions.
“Agreed values” means, for example that the symbol [q] represents a
lenis backlingual stop as in gate and not the orthographic “g” of gin,
which is notated as [d3].

The first type of notation, the broad or broad or phonemic
transcription, provides special symbols for all the phonemes of a
language. The second type, the narrow or allophonic transcription,
suggests special symbols including some information about articulatory
activity of particular allophonic features. The road transcription is
mainly used fir practical expedience, the narrow type serves the
purposes of research work.

і], -[e] – [ae], [ ] – [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ] – [ ]. This way of
notation disguises the qualitative difference between the vowels [ ] and
[і:], [ ] and [ ], [ ] and [ ], and [ з:] though nowadays most
phoneticians agree that vowel length is not a distinctive feature of
vowel, but is rather dependent upon the phonetic context, that is it is
definitely redundant. For example, example, in such word pairs as hit –
neat, cock, pull – pool the opposed vowels are approximately of the
same length, the only difference between them lies in their quality
which is therefore relevant.

More than that. Phonetic transcription is a good basis for teaching the
pronunciation of a foreign of a foreign language, being a powerful
visual aid. To achieve good results it is necessary that the learners of
English should associate each relevant difference between the phonemes
with special symbols, that is each phoneme should have a special symbol.
If not, the difference between the pairs of sounds above may be wrongly
associated with vowel length which is non-distinctive (redundant) in
modern English.

The other type broad transcription, first used by V.A. Vassilyev, causes
no phonological misunderstanding providing special symbols for all vowel
phonemes: [ І ], [і:], [ е ], [ае ], [ а: ], [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ],
[ и ], [ з: ], [ ], Being a good visual aid this way of notation can be
strongly recommended for teaching the pronunciation of English to any

But phonemic representation is rather imprecise as it gives too little
information about the actual speech sounds. It incorporates only as much
phonetic information as if is necessary to distinguish the functioning
of sounds in a language. The narrow or phonetic transcription
incorporates as much more phonetic information as the phonetician
desires, or as he can distinguish. It provides special symbols to denote
not only the phoneme as a language unit but also its allophonic
modifications. The symbol [h] for instance indicates aspirated
articulation, cf. [kheIt] – [skeIt]. This type of transcription is
mainly used in research work. Sometimes, however, if may be helpful, at
least in the early stages, to include symbols representing allophones in
order to emphasize a particular feature of an allophonic modification,
e.g. in the pronunciation of the consonant [f] it is often necessary to
insist upon the soft and hard varieties of it by using not only [f] but
also [f] (the indication of the hard variant).

Now that we know what the phoneme is let us view the main trends of the
phoneme theory. Most linguists have looked upon the phoneme as one of
the basic language units. But not all them have described it in the same
way. The majority of them agree them the phoneme serves to distinguish
morphemes and words thus being a functional unit. However, some of them
define it in purely “psychological” terms, others prefer physically
grounded definitions. Some scholars take into consideration only the
abstract aspect of the phoneme, others stick phonology some of which be
discussed below. Views of the phoneme seem to fall into main classes.

The “mentalistic” or “psychological” view regards the phoneme as an
ideal “mental image” or a target at which the speaker aims. He deviates
from this ideal sound partly because an identical repetition of a sound
is next to impossible and partly because of the influence exerted by
neighbouring sounds. Acoording to this conception allophones of the
phoneme are varying materializations of it. This view was originated by
the founder of the phoneme theory, the Russian lingust I.A. Baudauin de
Courtenay (6) and something like it appears to have been adopted by E.D.
Sapir. The same point of view was shared by other linguists, Alf. (76)
for one, who described phonemes as “models which speakers seek to

The “psychological”, or “mentalistic” view of the phoneme was brought
back into favour by generative phonology, and the idea of the phoneme as
a “target” has recently been revived, albeit under different terminology
by M. Tatham (77).

It is definitely not possible to establish such ideal sounds which do
not exist in reality. For this reason the American linguist L.
Bloomfield (46) and his followers rejected the view and the English
phonetician D. Jones (64), while basically favourable to the view
preferred in practice to take a «physical» view. This approach to the
phoneme as a clearly idealistic one cannot be taken up by Soviet

The so-called «functional» view regards the phoneme as the minimal sound
unit by which meanings may be differentiated without much regard to
actually pronounced speech sounds. Meaning differentiation is taken to
be a defining chaiacteristic of phonemes. Thus the absence of
palatalization in [?] and palatalization of [?] in English do not
differentiate meanings, and therefore [?] and [?] cannot be assigned to
different phonemes but both form allophones of the phoneme [?]. The same
articulatory features of the Russian [л] and [л/] do differentiate
meanings, and hence [л] and [л’] must be assigned to different phonemes
in Russian, cf. мол – моль, лог — лёг. According to this conception the
phoneme is not a family of sounds, since in eveiy sound only a certain
number of the articulatory features, that is those which form the
invariant of the phoneme, are involved in the differentiation of
meanings. It is the so-called distinctive features of the sound which
make up the phoneme corresponding to it. For example, every sound of the
English word ladder includes the phonetic feature of lenisness but this
feature is distinctive only in the third sound [d], its absence here
would give rise to a different word latter, whereas if any other sound
becomes fortis the result is merely a peculiar version of ladder. The
distinctive-ness of such a feature thus depends on the contrast between
it and other possible features belonging to the same set, that is the
state of the vocal cords. Thus when the above-mentioned features are
distinctive, lenisness contrasts with fortisness. Some approaches have
taken these oppositions as the basic elements of phonological structure
rather than the phonemes in the way the phoneme was defined above. The
functional approach extracts non-distinctive features from the phonemes
thus divorcing the phoneme from actually pronounced speech sounds. This
view is shared by many foreign linguists: see in particular the works of
N. Trubetskoy (34), L. Bloomfield (46), R. Jakobson (62), M. Halle (62).

The functional view of the phoneme gave rise to a branch of linguistics
called «phonology» or «phonemics» which is concerned with relationships
between contrasting sounds in a language. Its special interest lies in
establishing the system of distinctive features of the language
concerned. Phonetics is limited in this case with the precise
description of acoustic and physiological aspects of physical sounds
without any concern to their linguistic function. The supporters of this
conception even recommend to extract phonetics from linguistic
disciplines which certainly cannot be accepted by Soviet phoneticians.

A stronger form of the «functional» approach is advocated in the
so-called «abstract» view of the phoneme, which regards phonemes as
essentially independent of the acoustic and physiological properties
associated with them, that is of speech sounds. This view of the phoneme
was pioneered by L. Hjelmslev and his associates in the Copenhagen
Linguistic Circle, H.J. Uldall and K. Togby.

The views of the phoneme discussed above can be qualified as idealistic
since all of them regard the phoneme as an abstract conception existing
in the mind but not in the reality, that is in human speech, speech
sounds being only phonetic manifestations of these conceptions.

The «physical» view regards the phoneme as a «family» of related sounds
satisfying certain conditions, notably:

1. The various members of the ‘»family» must show phonetic similarity to
one another, in other words be related in character.

2. No member of the «family» may occur in the same phonetic context as
any other.

The extreme form of the «physical» conception as propounded by D. Jones
(64) and shared by B. Bloch and J. Trager (45) excludes all reference to
non-articulatory criteria in the grouping of sounds into phonemes. And
yet it is not easy to see how sounds could be assigned to the same
phoneme on any other grounds than that substitution of one sound for the
other does not give rise to different words and different meaning. This
approach may seem to be vulgarly materialist since it views the phoneme
as a group of articulatorily similar sounds without any regard to its
functional and abstract aspects.

Summarizing we may state that the materialistic conception of the
phoneme first put forward by L.V. Shcherba may be regarded as the most
suitable for the purpose of teaching.

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