CALLE

Centre for Applied Linguistics & Language Education

Sounds Of English: Future of this Project?

Dear Readers,

The Sounds of English series (see the list of posts on the right hand menus) has proven to be far more popular than I had ever imagined.  Over 50,000 people have read it since it was posted a little over a year ago.  It currently averages 1000 unique reads (website tracking terminology that means someone has to purposefully click on the page, stay there for a certain minimum period of time, and then interact with the page by scrolling through it or clicking links within it, and who haven’t visited before — basically it means this many new people look at it and actually read it) every week.  However, the project that’s currently posted was never meant to be anything more than a temporary version through which to get the input and advice of people like you.  And, to everyone who has been kind enough to comment and email, thank you very much.  Your observations and advice have been quite helpful.

Now though, I need to take this project to the next level and put it into a truly interactive format that will be more useful to everyone.  Here is what is planned (again from what input I have received from you):

1.  Expand to other Languages

This project began as a way to provide ESL instructors with no linguistics background with the tools needed to teach themselves how to teach their students how to produce all the sounds of the English language.  Most people who use the site however, aren’t reading it for this reason.  Instead we will be expanding the project into an introductory phonetics / phonology course that is still centered upon English but also will include sounds from other languages representing the standard IPA (International Phonetics Alphabet).

2.  Introduce and Discuss the Basics

As mentioned above, the second version of this project will be an introductory course in Phonetics and Phonology.  As such it will include definitions and descriptions of the various concepts and terminology of these subfields of linguistics presented in the same manner as the current project.  By this, I mean that the information will be covered simply and clearly so that anyone with no linguistics background can understand the lessons, but also things will be discussed thoroughly and in enough depth that even seasoned language professionals can use it as a reference or refresher.  All writing however shall be kept, clear, simple, and concise and I will avoid complex terminology, theories, and formulae as much as possible as my goal is that the reader can easily use and understand this resource rather than filling page after page with “big words”.

3. A New Format

The new project will be available in three connected forms:  an e-book in .pdf format that looks and feels very much like a traditional textbook but with hyperlinks throughout the text that allow access to all the interactive features through a web browser; a new stand alone website that is fully interactive and easily searchable that has all of the features of the current project (and more) but puts everything on the same pages so that there is no need to click separate links or go to other sites for demonstration videos or animations or examples; and finally, a smart phone app (iPhone/iPod/iPad, and Android) meant to coordinate with the main site/ebook allowing a quick-access tool for use in the classroom or on the go.  It will include a searchable IPA, a phonetics/phonology dictionary, the ability to look up individual sounds/symbols and see the description of them, the instructions for producing them, the interactive animations and videos, and to hear examples, etc.  There will also be the ability to link back to the appropriate part of the website (via your phone’s browser) or to pull up the appropriate page in the ebook (as a pdf document), to find outside resources such as articles and journals, and a series of tools such as phonetic / phonemic transcription tools, and a mini-phonetic/phonological encyclopedia of world languages.  These features would be available through the main site as well.

———————————

Now, here’s the thing, I need your help!

I have given myself a tentative deadline of two months to have the “test version” of this second rendition written and operational.  However in accomplishing this, I will need some assistance.   I can handle the linguistic side of things (although I always welcome advice and criticism from others in this area as well).  But, what you see on WordPress here is pretty much the extent of my Website development skills.  If anyone would like to help me put this project together in a web format, I would really appreciate the help.  Finally, I know NOTHING about programming for iPhone and Android.  If anyone is an app developer and wants to assist in developing this app, please contact me!

So everyone, please add your comments to this thread, and email me directly if you’d like:  drew.ward@calleteach.org

Thank you for reading,

Drew

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April 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Syntactic Hierarchy

I’ve mentioned syntactic hierarchy in previous posts and in several papers I’ve written and received some inquiries on the subject.  First, let me point out that I’m a linguist and as such sometimes get a bit technical in my discussions of English.  It’s a curse of being part of a technical/academic field – if you don’t use enough technical language (that is, the language of your chosen field) then your peers and colleagues won’t give your work due credence, however if you uselanguage that is too technical you run the risk of alienating or confusing lay readers.  Because this blog is essentially a mix between language education and linguistics, it leaves me often walking a fine line.  Sometimes technical terms are necessary, and in discussing this topic – syntactic hierarchy, it’s one of those times.  That said, I will do my best to explain this (honestly very simple concept) in the least technical terms possible…

 

Syntactic Hierarchy

First, this article on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntactic_hierarchy has nothing to do with syntactic hierarchy.  I’m honestly not sure what the author’s point is with the wiki entry as it seems to be little more than a cluster of terminology and references to the concept of syntax in general.  Google tossed out a few more hits for syntactic hierarchy, but most are simply reprints of the Wikipedia article or a collage of syntax and hierarchy.  There are a few other references to syntactic hierarchy on the web, but these mainly attempt to define a classification of linguistic concepts from most to least important, or in terms of grammar as lexical units as pertain to other lexical units within an utterance.  These are primarily limited to adjectives modifying nouns or adverbs modifying verbs.  Basically, someone out there has had the right idea but hasn’t quite fully grasped the concept.  From what I can tell, at least within the terms defined herein, and especially within the realm of English linguistics, the term ‘Syntactic Hierarchy’ is of my own coining.  It seems such a logical concept that I myself (and many of my students) have been using for years.  I haven’t found an equivalent named concept, and as I believe in the KISS (‘keep it short and sweet’ or ‘keep it simple, stupid!’) principle, and as this concept is one of a governing hierarchy of syntactic units, I am sticking with Syntactic Hierarchy.  I hope before long that others will choose to use this term and to incorporate awareness of syntactic hierarchy into their study of English and their methods of teaching the language.

Syntax

Syntax is one of those rather more unfriendly sounding linguistic concepts, but luckily its definition is nowhere near as harsh as its name may imply.  Syntax and semantics are probably the two most important concepts for understanding language.  Semantics is the overall name given to the concept of meaning – meaning of a word, meaning or a phrase, or the meaning of an entire sentence or paragraph (you may note that linguists generally use the term utterance instead of sentence, because sometimes the information being discussed is a whole sentence, but other times only a clause, or a phrase).  Whereas semantics deals with the meaning of an utterance, syntax deals with the structures of the utterance used to express that meaning.  Syntax is the overall category given for things like nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, prepositions, etc.  Syntax is basically the architecture of language.  Or, semantics is the information conveyed, and syntax is the method for conveying it.  Syntactic is the adjective form of the noun syntax – thus the syntactic in syntactic hierarchy refers to structural hierarchy.

Word Order & Hierarchy

Within languages which use set (or fairly set — in this usage meaning rigid) word order to define the role of various items within the utterance, the older systems of declensions and case have been replaced or at least heavily augmented by a system which utilizes relative position to convey meaning and role within the utterance.  Now, there is more than enough information widely available describing the various word orders and implications and usage of each.  Thus, these will not be discussed here.  However, I shall point out again that English has four basic word orders and a few variations on these (see TAMPA articles for a more thorough treatment).   The normal role of these word orders is in determining which components of an utterance are nominative (subjects), predicative (verbs), accusative (direct objects and objects of prepositions), dative (indirect objects), or genitive (possessives).  This is the general treatment of word order when discussing language.

There is however another layer of word order which caries meaning in most languages and which has its own set rules.  That layer deals with the relative position of one component of an utterance to other components, especially the ones directly adjacent.  To put it simply this word order is what determines what one word’s role is in regard to the next or previous word in an utterance (word x modifies word y but word y does not modify word x, etc).  This layer of information is called syntactic hierarchy.  English has a left-to-right syntactic hierarchy.  This means that within a given functional group (say a phrase or clause, or even the utterance as a whole), items to the right will always modify items to the left.  So, ‘The big red dog’ has a hierarchy in which ‘the’ modifies ‘big red dog’ while ‘big’ only modifies ‘red dog’ and is itself modified by ‘the’; ‘big’ can never modify ‘the’ and if ‘big’ is passed by by ‘the’ then the information of ‘which red dog?’ is lost.

This left-to-right syntactic hierarchy is especially important to be aware of when analyzing for things like mood in which one modal may modify another and another and another.  For more on this, check out the articles here on structure of modals.

 

 

January 6, 2011 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TAMPA: The Basics

This is page 2 of the introductory section for the TAMPA series on Time and Language.  The first page can be found here.

Introduction

The primary point of the TAMPA series is to do away with longstanding confusion over language and time and to provide linguists, language enthusiasts, and educators with a solid yet simplified overview of these five concepts and how all languages use them to express the relationship of time and communication within  those languages.  As pointed out in the introduction, much of this confusion stems from the fact that terminology did not often keep up with developments in research and understanding in this field.  Also, as new concepts were discovered and explored, rarely were languages reanalyzed within the context of this new understanding.  This has led to a system where these concepts to be discussed (especially aspect and tense) are often conflated.  It’s also led to quite disparate terminology being used to explain the same concepts within different languages or language families.  Notice, that I said same concepts rather than similar ones.  This is because these five attributes (tense, aspect, mood, perfection, and aktionsart) are universals of linguistics.  That is, they are the same concepts, with the same definitions, and the same relationships with each other regardless of the language to which the terminology is applied.  This is not to say that all languages express the relationships between time and language in the same way.  They certainly do not, however it is these same universal concepts that are at work in all of these languages in much the same way that all languages use subjects and verbs and objects.  The ways in which these attributes are utilized may be quite different from one tongue to the next, but the basic building blocks and rules of these relationships remain the same across the linguistic spectrum.

Every utterance in every language expresses within its meaning and structure information relative to time.  This temporal information includes a time reference (when), the nature of that time reference (how long), the status in relation to that time reference (finished or not finished), whether the nature, status, and reference to time is certain or dependent on something else, and it even provides information regarding the type of utterance and information conveyed and how that effects its relation to time[tense, aspect, perfection, mood, aktionsart].  The manner in which these five attributes are exhibited varies greatly from one language to the next and often can seem visually quite different even within various utterances within the same language.  Some languages have a very strongly marked system for expressing these attributes, using various declined verbs, phrases, and structures in conveying such temporal insights (English and most other Indo-European Languages are of this type) while other languages use very few special forms and are in fact often mistakenly thought to ‘have no tense’ (Chinese) or to be missing certain of these five attributes.  Often it’s simply difficult to actively identify time elements within a language because they work together in a way that leaves very little clue as to the independent temporal workings of an utterance.  Consider these two sentences in English:  “You will have been working on this for 3 days by the end of the week.” and “Stop!”

In the first utterance the tense = future (will); which is a modal future of high certainty by the subjects volition (by his own will or doing) — so mood = volitive; ‘be + -ing’ is a form in English which uses structure to express duration — this is called aspect, so aspect = durational; ‘have + past participle’ is a structural form marking completeness which is often referred to as ‘the perfect’, so in this utterance perfection = perfected;  finally the verb ‘work’ when used with this meaning is an activity and has an inherent time quality of occurring over a length of time (because it’s rather difficult to ‘work on’ something for only a single moment in time) — the time quality that is inherent in the meaning of a verb itself is called aktionsart, so for this utterance aktionsart = durational activity.

For the second example much less information seems visually available, yet all 5 time attributes are in fact present and being conveyed:  “Stop!” is a command.  It’s said now, and intended that the person who hears it stops ‘now’, so tense = present; there is no special structure used to convey duration, so the aspect = non-durational; commands use a special set of modal forms called imperatives, so mood = imperative; no information is given as to whether the activity ordered in this command is completed or not, so perfection = nonperfected; yet, the verb ‘stop’ obviously has an endpoint to it (because once someone has stopped, well, they have stopped and are not going to continue stopping beyond that).  At the same time though while there may be effort and time needed to slow down or prepare in some other way to stop, the actual act of stopping really doesn’t take any time.  You’re either stopped or you’re not, but the actual change from doing something to not doing it does not take place over a period of time so that means that stopping has no duration itself.  So together this means that for the verb ‘stop’, aktionsart = perfected, non-durational change of state.

These two examples show two seemingly very different utterances conveying the same sets of information in very different ways.  However the time information in both are conveyed using the same five temporal attributes.  These same attributes are present in every sentence in every language regardless of how different they may seem on the surface.  It is the goal of this series to provide an understanding of these concepts in simple clear terms and to equip the reader with the ability to analyze any utterance in any language in terms of these five universals of time and finally to understand how these concepts interrelate and how language combine these elements to express time — that key component of human existence and communication.

Terminology

Below is a basic glossary of terminology used throughout this text.  A brief description of each of the five TAMPA concepts follows.  An extensive treatment of each concept and a discussion of how they relate to one another and other elements of syntax and morphology begins in the next section.  Some terminology listed below may be used in a manner that is not the same as other texts.  It is recommended that each definition and detail section be read and considered with an open mind toward defining existing concepts within the context of the usage detailed in this work.  It is the author’s belief that completion of these texts that the logic behind these usages and the usefulness of this system shall be clear upon the reader’s successful completion of the full Time & Language project:

Activity – an idea expressing an action that is performed by or on a person or thing.

Assertion – in a purely informative utterance, that point which is established by the predicate.

Attestation – in habituals, generalizations, and modal constructions, the argument proposed by the predicate which may be evaluated as true or not.

Duration – the quality of a verb or the predicate in which it is used occurring over a period of time (specified or not).

Generalization – an utterance in which it is attested that some point is generally true.

Habitual – an utterance in which it is attested that something occurs repeatedly under a given set of circumstances.

Punctular – occurring at a specific point in time versus over a range, not having duration.

Temporal – an adjective meaning of or related to time.

Timeline – an abstract or visual representation of the utterance in relation to time with the present being at the center, the past left of center, and the future right of center, onto which the temporal references used to determine tense are plotted.

Utterance – any structure expressing a complete thought and including at minimum a subject and predicate.  Utterance may refer to sentences, clauses, or certain phrases; or to sentences which contain one or more of these.

TAMPA Defined

Tense – tense is the name given to a way of describing the contrast between two temporal references along the timeline of an utterance.  In describing tense, the relative location of these two references (to the left or right of each other) and the relative distance between them along that timeline determines tense.  Tense has nothing to do with the type of time information given or the nature of the information conveyed by the utterance, it is merely a manner of describing the above explained contrast.  Tense is an attribute of an utterance, not of any element within that utterance (meaning that verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions cannot be said to ‘have tense’).

Aspect – Like tense, aspect is an attribute of the utterance (and not of any component within that utterance).  Aspect, refers to the use of  structural elements to express the temporal nature of the utterance.  Aspects can be divided into durational and non-durational varieties.  Within this division, further forms may be used to determine the type of information conveyed.  These types of information can show whether something is meant to be purely informative, whether it is habitual (occurring over and over again), an activity, a change of state, an accomplishment, an activity, or simply to show that any of these others occur with a prolonged measurable duration.  Multiple systems of classifying and naming aspect within various languages exist and while little agreement has been achieved toward a universal system, the common points of all are that all aspects (regardless of what they are called) are either durational or non-durational, and that they are a method of using the specific structure of the utterance (word order, auxiliary verbs, special forms, etc) to override any lexical attribute of verbs used within that utterance.  It should be noted that aspect cannot be considered without awareness of the aktionsart of the inclusive verbs.

Mood – in linguistics mood and modality are mostly interchangeable terms, although to be specific, mood is an attribute of an utterance determined by the modality expressed by its form.  Modality refers to the quality within a language of adding a further qualification to the assertion of an utterance.  That is, beyond what is purely expressed by the combined meanings of the individual words used, the addition of specific modality creates an added layer of meaning to the utterance as a whole.  Modality is used to express things like certainty, probability, willingness, coercion, confidence, certainty, or a lack of any of these things as well as a vast variety of other concepts.  Like aspect and tense, mood is an attribute of an utterance itself and not of any specific component therein.  Specific words and structures within an utterance however are often used to express mood.  These forms are called modals and can be single words such as shall/will/can/could, phrases such as be going/be willing/had better, special forms such as let’s, and even slang such as gotta or gotsta.  Mood is an attribute that is present in all utterances in all languages — just as with the other four TAMPA concepts.  In some utterances that mood may be seen as missing, but would better be described as neutral, or the usual mood signifying no additional qualification (usually referred to as the indicative mood).  This should not be misconstrued as a lack of mood, as mood is present, it is just simply the mood that is most prevalent and thus least noticeable.  In most languages, expression of certain tenses and aspect require the use of specific moods.  In English, eight of the ten possible forms for expressing the future require the use of specific (non-indicative) moods.

Perfection – perfection refers to the linguistic quality of completeness.  The term (often just ‘perfect’ in common parlance) derives from the Latin perfectus and further further from the verb perficio meaning ‘finish’ or ‘bring to an end’.  Perfection is actually a universal concept of many fields and comes originally from philosophy.  Greek philosophers first coined the idea to describe a uniform circle as being whole and without beginning or end.  Because a true circle had no corners or starting or stopping points, they referred to it as ‘perfect’ (the ‘perfect circle’).  This idea spread first through the sciences, and later entered everyday speech with the meaning of flawless.  The idea was first proposed by Aristotle who defined perfect as ‘that which is complete or which has attained its purpose.’  Thus in linguistics, perfect refers to the quality of a verb or predicate as completed.  Like tense, aspect, and mood, perfection is an attribute of the utterance as a whole (structural), unlike aktionsart which is an attribute of the verb itself (lexical).  At the lexical level, perfection is also expressed as an attribute of the verb’s aktionsart as complete or not (called telicity rather than perfection at the lexical level).

Aktionsart – as with aspect, aktionsart refers to the nature of information provided in an utterance.  Unlike aspect though which is an attribute of an entire utterance, aktionsart is an attribute of the individual verb used within the utterance.  In fact, aktionsart is also sometimes referred to as ‘lexical aspect’ (lexical meaning ‘of the word’ from the linguistic term lexeme which is the smallest independent unit which can express an idea — this smallest unit normally being simply put, a word).  The term aktionsart is German and comes from the original idea of ‘kind (art) of action’ — the plural form is aktionsarten (-en is how most German words become plural) and the adjective is aktionsartig (pronounced ‘aktionsartish’).  As with aspect, several systems have been proposed for classifying aktionsarten of verbs with no single system ever having gained prominence.  But also as with aspect, aktionsarten can be basically classified as either durational or non-durational, and perfected or non-perfected.  It is important to remember that aktionsart is an attribute of the verb as used in an utterance.  It is therefor inherent in the actual meaning of the word.  If however, a verb has more than one possible meaning, it may likely also have more than one possible aktionsarten depending on how it is used.  Regardless of classification scheme used (if any is used at all), all verbs within an utterance can be defined in terms of a combination of durative (having duration or not) and telic (perfected or not) qualities.  For example, Live has a naturally durative aktionsart in all forms, yet is not naturally telic, but lived (past tense) is (ie ‘John lives in Texas’ — the ‘living’ is done over an undetermined duration of time, yet no information is given regarding whether it is finished or not — but, in ‘John lived in Louisiana’ the ‘living’ is completed while the duration is still unknown.  Yet, we know that there was a duration purely from the fact that a person can’t live somewhere for merely a moment in time).  Sneeze and cough are naturally telic and have a non-durational aktionsart (because sneezes happen, then they are done (perfected) and if need be to talk about multiple sneezes over a period of time, the form of the durational aspect ‘John is sneezing’ must be used).  It is the connection between aktionsart and aspect that tend to determine the structural and temporal nature of an utterance.  The aktionsart of the verb (as a combination of duration and perfection) determine the temporal nature of the utterance (which will match that of the inclusive verb) unless, the aspect of the utterance (which remember uses the structure of the utterance to determine temporal nature) or the perfection of the utterance overrides that aktionsart of the verb.  For this reason, when determining the nature of information conveyed in an utterance, the aktionsart of the verb must first be analyzed, and then the aspect and perfection of the utterance analyzed on top of that.

Continue reading Tense

February 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tense

This is the first of 5 areas of focus for the TAMPA series on Time and Language, along with articles on Aspect, Mood, Perfection, and Aktionsart.  The introduction to this series can be found here.

Tense is one of three primary temporal attributes of language (temporal meaning related to time).  The other two are aktionsart, which is the temporal nature of a verb, and aspect — the temporal nature of an utterance.  They are used together with perfection and mood to express time in all languages.  *Remember, an utterance is the linguistic term for any formation that has a subject, verb and/or object and expresses a complete thought.

Definition:

Tense represents the contrast between two measurements along the timeline of an utterance, with one of those measurements being the Time of Utterance TUTT (the time at which the actual utterance is made).  TUTT is always the primary point of reference for tense.  There are three additional references to which TUTT can be contrasted:  TAST — the Time of Assertion, TCOM — the Time of Completion, and TEVL — the Time of Evaluation; these are secondary references.  Which type  is used for the secondary reference is determined by aspect and type of utterance.

TAST – Time of Assertion:  This is the time at which the action of the verb takes place.  It can be a single point in time (in non-durational aspects) such as in “I had dinner at 5pm.”  Or, it can be a range of time (in durational aspects) such as “I was eating dinner from 5 till 7.”

TCOM – Time of Completion:  This is the point in time at which a verb is completed.  TCOM is used with perfected forms.  In perfected non-durational aspects it represents the time by which a verb is finished, as in “I have eaten dinner.”  In perfected durational aspects it represents either the time at which a verb is finished, or more normally, a time up to which the verb is completed (but that it may continue beyond); this function of allowing for interrupting of the verb is the more standard use of this form and allows the duration of the verb to be measured up to a given point (TCOM).  Consider “I had been eating for 2 hours by 7pm,” in which an action (eating) has a duration, of which two hours of it is completed, as of 7pm.

TEVL – Time of Evaluation:  Some utterances do not support measuring a specific action.  Instead, they express a change in state, a generalization, or perhaps an habitual truth.  These utterances express an idea that is evaluated as true or not.  The earliest point in time at which the idea expressed (called the attestation) can be evaluated as true is the TEVL.  Consider “Birds fly.”  In this utterance a generalization is made (in the present) about birds and it can be immediately evaluated (present) as true.  Likewise “I used to drink coffee everyday,” refers to an habitual action that was true in the past so that the TUTT is present (it is said now) but its TEVL is the past.

Present, Past, & Future

A common misconception is to mistakenly speak of the “three tenses”.  Actually, aside from the true present (saying something right now that is happening right now) which can be a point (that point being right now), tenses are ranges.  These ranges refer to the contrast between the primary TUTT and the secondary TAST, TCOM, or TEVL.

If the primary and secondary references occur at the same point on the timeline, an utterance is said to be in the present tense.  If the primary reference occurs after the secondary reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL is to the left of TUTT), then that utterance is said to be in the past tense.  And, if the primary reference occurs before the secondary reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL is to the right of TUTT), the utterance is said to be in the future tense.

The Time of Utterance is almost always the present.  The only instances in which TUTT occurs in the past or future is when dealing with reported speech, i.e. “John said “He is the murderer,” (TUTT in the past)” or “John will say “He didn’t do it.” (TUTT in the future)”.  Note in even these examples that the primary TUTT of the whole utterance is present, but the TUTT of the quoted utterance is in the past or future as reported.

It is best to refer to present tenses, past tenses, and future tenses rather than just tense because utterances can occur in the immediate present, general present, near future, distant past, etc with the differences in these subcategories within a range of tenses being the relative distance along the timeline between the two temporal references — the greater the distance between TUTT and TAST, TCOM, or TEVL, the farther in the past or future the tense.

Tense does not Equal Time

The word tense is often mistakenly used to refer to time in general or for anything related to time within language.  Tense is not time.  It is merely a contrast between temporal references as explained above.  A verb cannot have tense.  Verbs alone are just words.  Tense is an attribute of an utterance, and a verb outside of an utterance cannot express tense because there is nothing to compare it to.

This is not to say that verbs don’t have temporal qualities.  They certainly do.  In fact, all verbs have a temporal nature.  This temporal nature of verbs is called Aktionsart.  Aktionsart in some verbs are very strong so that they generally occur in one aspect more than another such as statives or actions.  Utterances also have a temporal nature, and like aktionsart does for the verb itself, aspect determines the temporal nature of the utterance itself.  In English, aspect determines whether the utterance expressed duration through its structure or not.  Verbs can also be completed, this is called perfecting.  Verbs can be naturally perfected via their aktionsart (such as verbs that naturally occur in an instance such as die, or sneeze).  Utterances can also be completed through perfecting their aspects (have eaten, have been eating).

With all this talk of aspects and aktionsarten (the plural of aktionsart (it’s German)) and perfecting, it is important to remember that while these all deal with time, they are not tenses.  So, there is no such thing as the “present perfect tense” or “present progressive tense” or the “past continuous tense” or the “subjunctive tense” or “the perfect”.  An utterance can occur in the perfected durational aspect in the past (I had been eating) but ‘in the past’ is the only part of that description that deals with tense.

Continue reading Tense, Part II: Present

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Tense, Part II: Present

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here).  The following are examples of varying combinations of tense in different statements.  Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).

Present Tenses

The present tenses are those in which the two contrasting time references occur at the same time.  Technically there can only be one present tense in the strictest interpretation of the word — that is, a situation in which TUTT occurs at exactly the same time as TAST/TCOM/TEVL.  Most languages though tend to group situations in which the secondary time reference occurs very near the primary TUTT as present.  This allows for tenses such as the general present, immediate present, recent present, and such to be expressed.  In actuality these tenses are actually in the future or past (happening before [past] or after [future] the TUTT, and occurring to the left [past] and right [future] of TUTT) but the temporal distance of the secondary reference from the primary is negligible, so they are generally considered present tenses.  Outlined below are diagrams showing the five possible references in which present tenses occur (all diagrams represent true present tense rather than near present tenses discussed above):

TUTT coincides with TAST

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (John paints a picture.) are represented in this diagram.  Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TUTT = TEVL below).  Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”).  In utterances of this type, the time of utterance coincides with the time of assertion.  Thus, both primary and secondary reference occurs at the same time.  In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could also be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains present tense however, so long as TAST coincides with TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the past, so long as TAST also occurs at the same time in the past as TUTT (visually at the same spot on the timeline as TUTT), the utterance is still present tense.  Likewise, if TUTT is in the future, TAST may also be in the future so long as it occurs at the same time as that future TUTT (again, visually at the same spot on the timeline of the utterance). Because verbs in these forms have no measureable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TUTT coincides with TEVL

As with TUTT = TAST described above, a common present tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths.  These types of utterances always occur in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects.  In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurrence to observe (and thus no assertion).  Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform.  In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms).  The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions.  The diagram shows this temporal relationship in the present tense with the TUTT coinciding with the TEVL.  In other words, for generalizations and habituals, if the attestation may be evaluated as true immediately at the time of utterace, or to put it simply, if the the attestation being evaluated is known to be valid when the utterance is made, then the tense of the utterance is present.  Examples of this in English include such statements as “John drinks coffee (generalization)” and “John goes to school everyday (habitual).”

TUTT during TAST

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (John paints a picture.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (John works for IBM.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John is eating pizza.).  The diagram shows that for these constructions, in the present tenses, the time of utterance occurs during the time of assertion — the duration in which the verb occurs.  The smaller arrows in the diagram show that while the action may begin and end before or after the time of utterance, that TUTT falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration.

TCOM coincides with TUTT

It should be noted in this diagram and the following, that the secondary temporal reference (TCOM) is listed prior to the primary TUTT in its description.  This is because TCOM – the time of completion, represents the termination of the verb, an end point.  This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms (TUTT = TAST and TUTT = TEVL) in the present tenses, often referred to as ‘the present perfect’ or ‘present perfect simple’.   These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of the time of utterance.  In other words, the verb is finished as of now.  Because TCOM always coincides with TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of now.’  For this reason, specific time phrases may not be used with perfected forms in the present tenses.  Examples include “John has eaten dinner,” and “They have just arrived” (both perfected TUTT = TAST), and “John has eaten dinner at that café everyday” (perfected TUTT = TEVL).

TCOM coincides with TUTT during TAST

As with the above diagram, note that the secondary temporal reference (TCOM) for this type of utterance is listed prior to the primary TUTT in its description.  This is because TCOM – the time of completion, represents the termination of the verb, an end point.  This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TUTT during TAST) in the present tenses, often referred to as ‘present perfect progressive’ or ‘present perfect continuous’.   Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured.  It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not the TAST but the TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT.  These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration.  In the pressent tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up to the time of utterance, which is always now.  Because TCOM always coincides with TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of now.’  In other words, these constructions read as the verb has a given duration up to now.  Thus, specific time phrases regarding the time of completion may not be used with perfected forms in the present tenses.  While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit duration], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit duration].  Examples include “John has been eating dinner, (perfected TUTT = TAST with implicit duration)” and “It has been raining for three days (perfected TUTT = TAST with explicit duration).

Continue reading Tense, Part III: Past

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Tense, Part III: Past

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here). The following are examples of varying expressions of tense in different statements. Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).  All of the examples that follow are past tense, regardless of the nature or aspect of the utterances.

Past Tenses

The past tenses are those in which the secondary temporal reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL) occurs before the primary reference (TUTT), or visually, with TAST, TCOM, or TEVL occurring to the left of TUTT on the timeline of an utterance. Technically there is no such thing as ‘the past tense’.  There are in fact innumerable past tenses with varying degrees of temporal distance between reference points.  The greater the temporal distance between the primary and secondary references, the farther in the past the tense is.  Common classifications of past tenses include the general past (that which occurs before the present with no defined time),  and a variety of past tenses with defined times such as these (listed in increasing temporal distance from TUTT) immediate past, recent present, distant past, and far distant past.

TAST precedes TUTT

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (John sneezed.) are represented in this diagram. Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TEVL < TUTT below).  Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”). In utterances of this type, the time of assertion precedes the time of utterance.  In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains past tense however so long as TAST occurs to the left of TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the past, so long as TAST is further in the past than TUTT (to the left of TUTT), the utterance is still past tense.  Likewise, if TUTT is in the future, TAST may also be in the future so long as it occurs at a time before that future TUTT (again, visually to the left of it on the timeline of the utterance).  Because verbs in these types of utterance have no measurable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TEVL precedes TUTT

As with TAST < TUTT described above, a common past tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths. These types of utterances always occur in non-durational aspects. In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurance to observe (and thus no assertion). Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform. In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth about the past is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms). The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions. This diagram shows this temporal relationship in the past tenses with TEVL preceding TUTT. In other words, for generalizations and habituals, the attestation may be evaluated as having been true at a time prior to the time of utterance.  Examples of this in English include such statements as “John used to drink coffee (generalization)” and “John went to school everyday (habitual).”

TAST occurs during a range of time beginning before TUTT

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (John painted a picture.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (John worked for IBM.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John was eating pizza.) in the past. It shows that in the past tenses, the time of utterance occurs after the time of assertion, which for this type of utterance is not a point, but rather a span of time — the duration in which the verb occurs. The smaller arrows in the diagram show that the action begins at a time prior to the time of utterance, and continues for a length of time (also prior to the utterance), and may end before or may continue beyond the time of utterance.  However in past tense constructions, the contrast is made between the TUTT and that portion of the TAST that falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration which also occurs prior to the TUTT.

TCOM precedes TUTT

In this diagram and the following, that the secondary temporal reference is TCOM – the time of completion, which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms in the past (TAST < TUTT and TEVL < TUTT).  These forms are often referred to as ‘the past perfect’ or ‘past perfect simple’. These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of a time prior to the time of utterance. In other words, the verb is finished before now. Because TCOM always prior to TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the past].’ For this reason, a specific time prior to TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually prior to TUTT. Examples of this form include “John had eaten breakfast before lunch, (contextual)” and “They had arrived yesterday (specific time phrase)” (both perfected TAST < TUTT), and “When John lived here, he had eaten dinner at that café everyday” (perfected TEVL < TUTT).

TCOM occurs during or at the end of TAST and precedes TUTT

As with the above diagram, the secondary temporal reference for this type of utterance is TCOM – the time of completion which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TAST occurring over a duration prior to TUTT).  In the past tenses, these are often referred to as ‘past perfect progressive’ or ‘past perfect continuous’. Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured. It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not the TAST but the TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT. These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point in the past, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration. In the past tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up any specific point prior to the time of utterance. Because TCOM always prior to TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the past].’ For this reason, a specific time prior to TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually prior to TUTT.  While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit]. Examples include “John had been eating dinner when the phone rang, (perfected TAST < TUTT with implicit duration and specific past TCOM)” and “It had been raining for three days.  It’s just cold now.” (perfected TAST < TUTT with explicit duration and contextual past TCOM).

Continue reading Tense, Part IV: Future

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tense, Part IV: Future

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here) and past tense forms (here). The following are examples of varying expressions of tense in different statements. Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL). All of the examples that follow are future tense, regardless of the nature or aspect of the utterances.

Future Tenses

The future tenses are those in which the secondary temporal reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL) occurs after the primary reference (TUTT), or visually, with TAST, TCOM, or TEVL occurring to the right of TUTT on the timeline of an utterance. Technically there is no such thing as ‘the future tense’. There are in fact innumerable future tenses with varying degrees of temporal distance between reference points. The greater the temporal distance between the primary and secondary references, the farther in the future the tense is. Common classifications of future tenses include the general future (that which occurs after the present with no defined time), and a variety of future tenses with defined times such as these (listed in increasing temporal distance from TUTT) immediate future, near future, distant future, and far distant future.

TUTT precedes TAST

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (The plumber comes tomorrow.) are represented in this diagram.   Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TUTT < TEVL below).   Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”). In utterances of this type, the time of utterance precedes the time of assertion. In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains future tense however so long as TAST occurs to the right of TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the future, so long as TAST is further in the future than TUTT (to the right of TUTT), the utterance is still future tense.  Likewise, if TUTT were in the past, TAST may also be in the past so long as it occurs at a time after that past TUTT (again, visually to the right of it on the timeline of the utterance). Because verbs in these forms have no measurable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TUTT precedes TEVL

As with TUTT < TAST described above, a common future tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths. These types of utterances always occur in non-durational aspects. In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurance to observe (and thus no assertion). Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform. In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth about the future is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms). The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions. This diagram shows this temporal relationship in the future tenses with TEVL preceding TUTT. In other words, for generalizations and habituals, the attestation may not be evaluated as being true until a point in time after the time of utterance. Examples of this in English include such statements as “Our supply of fossil fuels shall only last 50 years(generalization)” and “I am going to go to the gym everyday this year (habitual).”

TAST occurs during a range of time ending after TUTT

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (Santa Clause comes tonight.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (The TV will work if you hit it.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John and Mary are going to the cinema later.) in the future.   It shows that in the future tenses, the time of utterance occurs before the time of assertion ends.  For this type of utterance, TAST is not a point, but rather a span of time — the duration in which the verb occurs. The smaller arrows in the diagram show that the action may begin at a time prior to the time of utterance, and continues for a length of time, but ends at a time beyond the time of utterance.   In future tense constructions, the contrast is made between the TUTT and that portion of the TAST that falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration which occurs after the TUTT.

TUTT precedes TCOM

In this diagram and the following, the secondary temporal reference is TCOM – the time of completion, which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms in the future (TUTT < TAST and TUTT < TEVL). These forms are often referred to as ‘the future perfect’ or ‘future perfect simple’.  These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but rather, merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of a time after the time of utterance. Because TCOM always beyond TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the future].’ For this reason, a specific time after TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually beyond TUTT. Examples of this form include “John will have eaten breakfast before he eats lunch, (contextual)” and “I will have finished my project by the end of the week (specific time phrase)” (both perfected TUTT < TAST), and “By the mid 21st Century our supply of fossil fuels will have been exhausted” (perfected TUTT < TEVL).

TUTT precedes TCOM which occurs during or at the end of TAST

As with the above diagram, the secondary temporal reference for this type of utterance is TCOM – the time of completion which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TAST occurring over a duration which terminates after TUTT).  In the future tenses, these are often referred to as ‘future perfect progressive’ or ‘future perfect continuous’. Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured (an interruption).   It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not TAST but TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT. These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point in the future, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration.   In the future tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up any specific point beyond the time of utterance. Because TCOM always after TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the future],’ where x is the specific future time.  For this reason, a specific time beyond TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the future tenses, either as a specific time phrase (by next week, by tomorrow, etc), or expressed as contextually after TUTT. While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit]. Examples include “John offered to help this evening, but I will have already been been finished by then, (perfected TUTT < TAST with implicit duration and specific future TCOM)” and “I’ve been told I may be promoted, but I will have been working here for three years by then. (perfected TUTT < TAST with explicit duration and contextual future TCOM).

Continue reading Tense: Conclusion & Review

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tense: Conclusion & Review

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here), past tense forms (here) and future tense forms (here).

Conclusion

In the previous sections tense has been discussed in terms of its general characteristics and its various uses in referencing present, past, and future time.  As has been previously covered, tense is not a generic term for time in language nor is it the only time element with which linguists are concerned.  Instead it is one of five universal attributes of language used to convey time information.  The other attributes (aspect, mood, perfection, and aktionsart) are inherently tied to tense and the relationship of all five are so intertwined that each can rarely be discussed without consideration of all of them together.

Tense is however a very straight forward concept.  It is purely a manner of expressing the contrast between two temporal references on the timeline of an utterance.  The primary reference for determining tense is always the Time of Utterance (TUTT) — the point in time at which the utterance is actually said, heard, written, read, or otherwise communicated.  Except for in cases of reported or quoted speech that happens in either the past or future, TUTT is always now (present).  This makes it easy for determining the primary temporal reference because most of the time it’s present and thus doesn’t require further analysis.  The position of the secondary temporal reference and its relative distance from TUTT is what actually determines tense.  If the secondary reference occurs earlier than the primary reference (or visually, to the left of it) the tense of the utterance is past.  Likewise, if it occurs after TUTT (or visually again, to the right of it), the tense is future.  Unlike present tense which is absolute (it’s always now), past and future are not specific tenses but rather ranges.  If the secondary reference is to the left of the primary but very close to it on the timeline, tense can be said to be immediate past.  Likewise if were to the left but much farther away, it could be said to be distant past.

It is the interelation with aspect and aktionsart that determines which type of secondary temporal reference is used to establish tense.  As stated above, the primary reference is always TUTT, and that Time of Utterance is almost always present because most utterances are communicated at the instant they are written, read, said, or heard (for instance, since you are just reading this, it’s being communicated to you now, thus its TUTT is now).  The secondary reference can be either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Evaluation (TEVL) or Time of Completion (TCOM).  TUTT, TEVL, and TCOM are always punctular, meaning they have no duration and occupy only a single point on the timeline of the utterance.  Depending on whether either the aspect of the utterance or the aktionsart of the inclusive verb are durational or not though, TAST can be either punctular or durative — occuring over a range of time along the timeline rather than a point.  The various types of aspect and aktionsart are discussed in specific chapters to follow with a more detailed discussion of their effect on methods of determining tense.

Some resources describe tense as either relative or absolute, yet while the dual systems proposed are incorrect, there is some merit to this idea.  The only absolute tense is the pure present which occurs when an utterance has a TUTT of ‘now’ coinciding with a TAST, TEVL, or TCOM of ‘now’.  Even this expression of tense is not truly absolute in the sense of being locked, because if both temporal references where to move equally to the left of right along the timeline (say in reported speech), the tense of the utterance would still be present, even though the utterance itself has been moved into the future or past.  It is thus much more rational to consider tense as relative to the time of utterance, and to think of the time of utterance as relative to now (the time of analysis for tense).  This type of analysis can quickly become cumbersome and provides a good example of how descriptions of tense have become so disparate from language to language and conflated with other concepts over the years.

Finally, it should be remembered that tense is only this contrast between temporal references of the utterance described above.  It is an attribute of an utterance as a whole and not any part within.  Tense of an utterance can only be described in terms of present, past, and future, and degrees thereof.  It is thus correct to say present tense, but not present perfect, present simple, or present progressive.  Present perfect refers to the idea that an utterance is in present tense and is perfected (see Chapter 4 – Perfection); present simple refers to an utterance in the present tense, simple (a generic name for non-durational aspects) aspect, nonperfected; likewise present progressive refers to a non-perfected, durational aspect utterance in the present tense.  These terms all refer to the same single tense however — the present.

Review:

Tense is a contrast between two temporal references along the timeline of an utterance.  That is all tense is.

Tense is an attribute of the utterance and not of any part within an utterance (verbs, adjective and other things don’t have ‘tense’).

The primary temporal reference is always the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and this is most often ‘now’.

The secondary temporal reference is determined by the other 4 TAMPA elements and can be either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM) or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).

TAST can be either a point on the timeline of the utterance or a range depending on if the idea expressed has duration.  TUTT, TCOM, and TEVL are always points.

Continue reading Aspect

February 2, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sounds of English

Sounds of English provides an introduction to the attributes of the sound system of the language.  It provides information on phonetics, phonology, and orthography.  It also explains how to produce the sounds of English with particular focus on the bio-mechanics of articulation.  Sounds of English provides background knowledge and understanding which will enable the reader to understand the system of spelling and pronunciation of modern English and its historical roots.  The series consists of the following individual posts:

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Articulation
  3. Phonetics
    1. Plosives & Stops
    2. Fricatives
    3. Affricates
    4. Nasals, Liquids, & Glides

    It is recommended that posts be read in the order above.  Additional links will be made active as posts are updated.

Continue reading Part 1: Introduction

January 11, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sounds of English: Introduction

This post begins a series on the sounds of English.  First, a brief discussion of phonetics, phonology, and orthography of English:

To begin with, let’s talk terminology. These concepts of phonetics, phonology, and orthography are all interrelated as they involve the sounds of languages and how those sounds are combined and represented in writing. Phonetics (from Greek phone, meaning sound or voice) is simply put, the study of sounds and how they are produced using the vocal organs (mouth, throat, vocal cords, etc). Phonology (from Greek phone, meaning sound, and logos meaning speech — the ‘sounds’ of ‘speech’), on the other hand, is not the study of sounds, but instead of the sound system of particular languages — how sounds are used within a given language, and the rules governing them. Orthography (from Greek orthos meaning correct, and graphein meaning to write — or, the way things are written) deals with the way in which a language uses combinations of letters or symbols to represent the sounds of that language. Another way to look at this is that in English, phonetics describes sounds and how they are produced, phonology establishes a set of rules for how to use those sounds (pronunciation), and orthography provides visual representation of those sounds (spellings that equate to those pronunciations).

English

Within English there are roughly 50 unique sounds(phonetics).  These 50 sounds are represented by 26 letters, alone or in combination with one another (orthography).  The sound system of English consists of about 2/3 consonants, which are either voiced or voiceless depending on which sounds surround them, and 1/3 vowels, which may be long or short depending on where they fall within a word (phonology).

Of these sounds, vowels are fairly well understood and will not be addressed too heavily in this series.  Vowels are also more difficult to discuss definitively because many of them vary by dialect.  Consonants shall be the focus of these discussions on English, and to understand consonants, it is necessary to be familiar with the organs of the vocal tract used to produce them.  This is the focus of the next post.

Consonants

The 30+ consonants in English, consist of the following types:

*Stops are technically the first two parts of a plosive, with the third part being a sudden expelling of air as a release.  Without this ‘explosion‘ of air, a plosive is merely a stop.

The first three involve some type of halting or obstructing the flow of air. They always occur as voiced and voiceless pairs, with two sounds being produced in mechanically identical ways, but with the only difference between them being the vibration (or lack of vibration) of the vocal cords. The final three types of sounds involve redirection of the air exiting the body without halting or obstructing its flow. These sounds are always voiced, but often occur in more than one form depending on how they are combined with other sounds.  Each category is discussed in separate posts later in this series.

Symbols

Each language has its own orthography — its way of expressing sounds with letters or symbols.  These systems vary by language from very similar systems (English, German, Latin) to different but similar systems (Russian, Arabic, Hebrew), to systems that have very little in common with the standard concept of alphabet (Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian hieroglyphs).  Because sounds are present in all languages regardless of orthography, linguists needed a way to represent the same sounds in different languages, no matter in which language they occur.  To represent the full spectrum of sounds without using different orthographic systems, a universal alphabet of sounds has been developed.  The IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet uses a single symbol for each specific sound.  Sometimes these symbols match the letters in English which represent these sounds.  Sometimes they do not.  IPA symbols are used throughout this series, but don’t worry, they shall always be explained and examples of each sound shall be given with normal English spelling.

Continue reading Part 2: Articulation

January 11, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments