[Sugar-devel] Phonology (was Re: Fwd: Summer of Code Proposal: Furthering Speech Recognition in Sugar.)

C. Scott Ananian cscott at laptop.org
Tue Mar 24 10:36:21 EDT 2009

On Mon, Mar 23, 2009 at 3:38 PM, Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Sun, Mar 22, 2009 at 3:43 PM, Sean DALY <sdaly.be at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Greetings Satya,
>  I seem to remember reading that most of the world's
>> languages draw from a pool of only 50-60 phonemes.
> This turns out not to be the case. Individual languages commonly have
> that many. English by itself has between 40 and 50 phonemes in
> different dialects. Hindi/Urdu has a similar number.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_phonology
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindi-Urdu_phonology
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipa#Description
> Among the symbols of the IPA, 107 represent consonants and vowels, 31
> are diacritics that are used to further specify these sounds, and 19
> are used to indicate such qualities as length, tone, stress, and
> intonation.

There are languages with impressively small phoneme sets, but they are
the exception rather than the rule.  It is also important to
distinguish allophones: English has a large number of phones which are
not semantically meaningful.  For example, the 'k' sounds of cat and
scat probably sound the same to you, but the first 'c' is actually an
aspirated 'kh'.

And then when we consider writing systems, we have even more fun,
since you can both write "extra" letters which don't map to
semantically distinguishable phonemes, as well as omit semantically
meaningful distinctions which the reader can "fill in" -- cf writing
systems which omit vowels for the most obvious examples.

But I have no idea what the original discussion was about. ;-)  I'm
just saying "be careful of trying to count phonemes: unless you're a
linguist, you're probably counting wrong".

                         ( http://cscott.net/ )

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