Wednesday, October 5, 2016

sonorants - further RefLectioN

This is some introductory stuff you may already have seen, expanded.

The UCL's SAMPA page (SAMPA being a typewriter-friendly* form of phonetic transcription, in  which "N" – for example – represents the IPA symbol /ŋ/ [the nasal consonant at the end of sing] ) defines sonorant consonants like this:

The sonorants are three nasals m n N, two liquids r l, and two sonorant glides w j
[BK: note that j is the glide often represented in English as "y", as in you].

UCL's SAMPA page 

*The web-site says 'computer-friendly' rather than typewriter-friendly, but surely in the 21st century there is not a computer – outside a museum, that is – that can't handle Unicode.

This grouping (of the sonorants) may at first sight seem rather arbitrary, but a quirk of English demonstrates their inter-relatedness. Consider words that can be given a negative spin by attaching the prefix in- – elegant/inelegant, for example. Students of ESOL know that there are several exceptions – for words with an initial l or m or r illicit, immoral, irrespective..onn the oy jer jand. These exception-creating letters are nearly always sonorants (though admittedly the im- one applies also to bilabials, as in imprecise and imbecile.... But those non-sonorant exceptions don't behave in the same way.  The sonorants simply double themselves, with the  first  of the pair replacing the n of the prefix;  in the case of words with an initial p or b, on the other hand, the n of the prefix assimilates to the bilabial that follows it – it would be hard not to [just try saying "inprecise"!] That n is not replaced, it is simply modified.)

An example from another language relates to Japanese speakers' problem with the English phonemes /r/ and /l/ . Both [r] and [l] sounds do exist in Japanese, but as context-dependent variants (allophones) of a single phoneme. (If the idea of allophones is new to you, consider the English words leek and keel. In the first, the [l] sound is formed toward the front of the mouth [the so-called "clear l"] and the [k] is formed at the back of the hard palate. In the second, the [k] sound is formed toward the front of the mouth,  and the [l] is formed at the back [the so-called "dark l"]. In both cases the distinct [l]s and [k]s are allophones of the /l/ and /k/ phonemes.)

Returning to English, consider what sort of letter can go in these contexts:
  • "<vowel>__<affricate>" (an affricate being – in English [other languages have many more] – /tʃ/ or /ʤ/); for example filch, bilge, lunch, lunge, perch, purge [in these cases, in non-rhotic accents, the r disappears but changes the preceding vowel, as some other sonorants do]....
  • "<vowel>__<fricative>" (fricatives including – in English [other languages have many more] – /s/, /z/, /f/, /v/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /θ/, and /ð/); for example else, bells, shelf, shelves, welsh, [belge – native English words don't have this pattern], tilth, ....
  • "<stop>__<vowel>" (where the English stops are /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/); for example plead, bleed, pre, Brie. lunch, lunge. (The nasals don't work in this pattern.)
  • "<unvoiced_fricative>__<vowel>"; for example slow, snow, flee, free, athlete, three. (The voiced fricatives don't work in this pattern – except in borrowings [such as zloty] and proper names [Hazlitt, Oslo, Wesley...]. And n works only before s; while even s can't be followed by r – except in colloquial contractions such as "s'right" and the borrowed "Sri".)
All these examples demonstrate, how there is something special about sonorants. This book sets out to show how that something special affects the way vowels behave in conjunction with them.

Update: 2016.10.06.12:45 Added afterthought in red (prompted by this morning's In Our Time – coincidence?)

Update: 2016.10.06.22:45 – Added a further  afterthought in blue.

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