On Mon, 16 Oct 2000, jesse stephen bangs wrote:

> > [monstrous snippage to the beginning of Dirk's comments]
> >
> > I use the Akmajian et al, text (and accompanying workbook) for my
> > Intro to the Study of Language course for several reasons:
> >
> > 1)  It presents a theoretically coherent point of view to the study of
> > language (not all texts do; Language Files from the Ohio State U comes
> > to mind!).
> Granted.
> > 3)  The data to be examined, while never complete or comprehensive,
> > are presented with a degree of accuracy which not all texts achieve.
> Our teacher usually has us do exercises from other books, which I
> enjoy.  We've had to do a morphology exercise that involved extracting the
> roots and relevant inflectional morphemes from a corpus, and similar
> exercises in phonology.  It was all pretty simple to me, but I enjoyed
> it.  I actually think that many of the exercises were from "Language
> Files."

The exercises in Language Files are excellent. The accompanying text
is not.

> > 4)  The phonetic transcription scheme presented for English is
> > extremely useful for discussion of tense/lax oppositions--especially
> > when I turn the discussion to syllable structure and stress patterns.
> > Having tense vowels presented as branching nuclei allows the
> > generalization that syllables with branching rhymes attract stress in
> > English. This point is difficult to make with other transcription
> > systems. It is a relatively simple matter to remind students that not
> > all languages have a tense/lax opposition like that found in English,
> > and that using the tense/lax transcription conventions may not be
> > appropriate elsewhere.
> We haven't gotten to the syllable structure parts yet, and I'm looking
> forward to it, since it's one of the few areas I don't already know.  I
> don't really mind the tense/lax distinction in English as a *phonological*
> feature, but it makes for very bad *phonetics*.  Plus, the book goes with
> Chomsky's SPE in suggesting that [tense] should be a feature for *all*
> languages, which is nonsense.

I agree that [tense] needn't be invoked in all languages, but in
English it is absolutely crucial. And it can't be reduced to some
other phonetic contrast, such as retraction of the tongue root;
Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996) demonstrate this fairly convincingly.
So if it's good phonology to invoke [tense], it's also equally good
phonetics, if only because we haven't been able to explain it away as
something else.

> > Also, it should be remembered that *all* transcription schemes are
> > arbitrary. This is equally true for the alphabet of the IPA as it is
> > for the common scheme in use in North America. I often have students
> > who have previous experience with the IPA's system (usually vocal
> > performance majors and international students) and who therefore
> > prefer to use it in appropriate contexts. I have never had a problem
> > with that, as long as they are consistent in using it.
> All transcriptions may be arbitrary, but at least some systems are
> universal.  IPA is recognized by pretty much every linguist on the globe,
> while the North American system is only used in this continent and only
> used for English.  For the limited purposes of this book, I guess it
> suffices, but that doesn't make me like it.

Nah, don't worry about it. I'm not making you learn it :-). The
differences between the Americanist system and the alphabet of the IPA
are small enough to make the arguments about them kinda silly.
However, it isn't true that the Americanist system is only used by
North American linguists and only for English; most researchers
looking at Native American languages use this system, or some version
of it--I used it in my dissertation on Shoshoni phonology--hence
"Americanist". I believe it (or something like it) is also in common
use among Semiticists.

> > As for Jesse's "retaliation," all I can say is that if I had a student
> > who was that motivated and ambitious, I would weep for joy.
> Heh.  My teacher (really just a bewildered grad student) told me to "stop
> showing off."  I think he was joking though--he wrote a little smiley on
> the side.  BTW, where do you teach, Dirk?

I'm at the University of Utah, in beautiful Salt Lake City.

> > 1)  The phonology and syntax chapters present way too much formalism
> > for an introductory course. I have my students skip that material.
> What do you mean?  I've enjoyed learning the phonological feature marking
> (even if it *is* the flawed SPE) more than
> anything else, since I never really mastered it before.

I don't argue with the fact that learning about distinctive features
is Good For You; I just don't think that freshmen taking the course
for a General Education requirement should have to; it goes way beyond
the scope of the course.


Dirk Elzinga
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