Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

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Chronically curious モ..

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Phoentics vs phonology (again?)

Here is something that came out of Paula Fikkert's talk. There has been this distinction between phonetics and phonology and acoustics aplenty. For example, what is the unit over which TPs are computed in fluent speech? Syllables? Consonants? Jacques thinks that it might be over something acoustic, while at the other extreme other believe it is over phonological representations. Clearly, very young infants, who have all the phonetic contrasts possible must use those for computing TPs. But the problem is, you might have a certain feature in your language, but it might be completely useless in terms of the lexicon. Like Paula suggested, the feature [coronal] is redundant for German. You NEVER have two phonemes which differ only for coronality. The same is the case for aspiration in English. It's clearly there. It's very relevant for prosodic phonology; since voiceless stops like /t/ are aspirated when they are foot-initial. But does aspiration contribute to the lexicon? Not at all! So, here is a proposal: ALL features are available for the infant, but in adults you retain only those that (1) form minimal pairs in words and (2) are used in prosodic processes. I've always maintained that what you hear and how you respond to it is task specific. As a consequence, if you are trying to spot words, or somehow your word-retrieval system is tickled, you WILL throw away acoustic information. Now I think this can be extended: not only do you throw away acoustic information, you also throw away phonetic feature information that is irrelevant. I now remember saying this to Adrienne Fairhall a long long time ago.. that the only reason you would not be sensitive to allophones is if they did not change lexical items. So perhaps Jacques is the closest: it might be that even adults compute TPs, for a foreign language, over the universal featural repertoire (except [coronal ;) )

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