[Corpora-List] what influences the size of the phonemic inventory?

Yuri Tambovtsev yutamb at mail.cis.ru
Sun Jul 31 11:43:01 CEST 2005

Dear Corpora colleagues, the article "Linguistic and scial typology": the Australian migrations and phoneme inventories" by Peter Trudgill in "Linguistic Typology" (ed. Frans Plank), Volume 8 - 3, 2004, page 305 - 320, is very interesting. It deals with the size of the phonemic inventory and the factors which may influence it. Since 1973 when I was a post graduate in general phonetics and phonology, this is a riddle for me. I remember I was amazed why some languages have only 3 vowels and about a hundred consonants, while others have 6 vowels and 12 consonants only? Is it not a riddle? This is indeed a challenge for linguistic typology, is it not? Peter Trudgill tried to give his answer, but may be the most interesting were the tests by several other linguists who supported Trudgill's idea (Keren Rice, p.321 - 342; John Hajek, p. 343 - 350; Barish Kabak, p.351 - 367) and those linguists who opposed Trudgill's idea with their critiques (Peter Bakker, p. 368 - 375; Vladimir Pericliev, p. 376 - 383). So, the discussion made this issue of Linguistic Typology quite interesting. I wonder if other linguists would give their opinions on this problem? I'd urge the editor-in-chief Frans Plank give the opportunity for other linguists to speak. However, my idea is a little bit different. One should take into consideration the frequency of occurrence of every phoneme in the speech chain. It is quite usual that the great inventory uses onle a small part of its total as the most frequent phonemes. I have studied 157 world languages from this point of view and came to this conclusion. When the inventory is rather small then all the phonemes have the great frequency load. May be some other modern linguists noticed it, I wonder? It is an extremely interesting promlem in general linguistics and typology. May be some less known languages of Australia or the Americas have different tendencies? Actually, in the 1960 -1970 when many languages undergone thorough phonemic counts (among them English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Finnish, Hungarian, Mansi, Mari, Karelian, Estonian, Komi, Nenets, Kazah, Kirgiz, Turkish, Chookchi, Polish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Bolgarian, etc. etc) the languages of Australia or the Americas were never investigated by the methods of phonostattistics. In fact, the Turkic languages which had many contacts undrwent the tendency of dropping some complex phonemes. It is quite understandable since they were nomadic tribes which contacted many other peoples on their way. In my opinion, these most stable phonemes were the real phonemes of the parent proto-Turkic, or proto-Slavonic, or wider, proto-Indo-European. One should use phonostatistics before reconstructing the proto-language. However, now phonemic counts are not used in the historical reconstructions. Looking forward to hearing the opinions of those interested to my e-mail address: yutamb at hotmail.com Yours sincerely Yuri Tambovtsev, Novosibirsk Ped. University, Russia.
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