Are Mandarin [e] and [o] different phonemes?

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Sibutlasi

Senior Member
Spanish-Spain
Hello all!

I am beginning to study Mandarin and I have a question concerning the phonemic/allophonic status of the sounds written as "e" and "o" in pinyin. Many textbooks consider /e/ and /o/ distinctive (phonemes) and say that Chinese has the following vowels: /a, e, o, i, u, ü, and a dark 'schwa'/. Yet, as to /e/ versus /o/, I am a bit confused, because I do not find clear cases in which two Mandarin words differ only in that one has a clear /e/ sound whereas the other has a clear /o/ sound.

In what seem to be the most favourable cases of evidence for /e/ versus /o/, pairs of words like "teng/tong", "geng/gong", "heng/hong", "zheng/zhong", etc. are written (in pinyin) as if the "e" and the "o" contrasted in sound, though, and, indeed, those are the obvious 'contrasts' there are, but the presence of "ng" enforces a 'dark [e]' sound that might be an allophone of 'schwa' rather than /e/(compare with the "e" in e.g., "xiè", "tie3", "jie4"), and the only "o" possible before /ng/ is so close to /u/ (= so different from the 'pure' [o] in "bo1", "po4", "fo2") that it might well be an allophone of /u/ rather than an /o/. So, I am looking for clearer contrasts, but I find very few (if any!). As far as I can tell, the situation is this:

There are a few Chinese syllables beginning by e/o (e.g., e4, ei1, en4, er4, and o2, ou1), but *eu, *oi, *on, *or, *eu do not exist, so no e/o contrasts arise in that small set.

Chinese has syllables ending in a dark "e" sound, e.g., ce, de, ge4, he1, je, ke4, le, me, ne, re, se, te, ze, with various tones, but *co, *do, *go, *ho, *jo, *ko, *lo, *no, *ro, *to and *zo do not exist; the only possible contrast in that pattern is between "me" and "mo", but "me" also has a dark schwa-like [e] sound and "mo4" seems to be pronounced /mwo/!; if so, again, the e/o contrast is dubious in this context.

Of syllables containing only a semi-consonant i/u/ü + e/o, Chinese has /ie/ = "ye3" and /uo/ = "wo3", but not *io,*ue, *üe or *üo, and, again, no e/o contrast.

As to syllables containing a (semi)consonant + e/o + a semi-vowel /i/, Chinese has bei, dei, gei, fei, hei, lei, mei, nei, pei, wei... (with various tones), but NOT *boi,*doi, *foi, *hoi, *loi, *moi, *noi, *poi, *woi; furthermore, if the final semivowel is /u/, Chinese has only /o/ in the core, never /e/, cf. dou, tou, gou, kou, lou, rou, you,... but not *beu, *deu, *geu, *leu, *meu, *reu, *yeu; hence, there are no e/o contrasts in that set either.

When a consonant precedes e/o and the syllable ends in "n", Chinese has ben, pen, fen, gen, hen, men, ren, zhen...(with various tones), but not *bon,*pon, *fon, *gon, *hon, *ron, *zhon...., etc.; other consonants do not precede either "e" or "o" (e.g., t, s, l, d...): no e/o contrasts here, either.

In syllables containing a consonant + e/o + ng (teng/tong, etc.), a few contrasts arise, yes, but only dark [e] and u-like [o] seem to contrast. If the former is a variant of schwa (not /e/), and the latter is a variant of /u/ (not /o/), there is no e/o contrast even here.

Finally, in the most complex type of Chinese syllable, it is possible to find a few consonants ("x", "q",...) + /i/ + "o" + /ng/, as in "xiong", "qiong", with a close u-like "o", but "e" does not occur in that context, apparently (cf. "*xieng", "*qieng",...).

That exhausts the possibilities, I think.

If all that is accurate, no contrasts justify saying that Chinese has different e/o phonemes. One may say that clear [e]-like and [o]-like sounds arise here and there (e.g., in "xie4", "tie1", versus"bo1", "po4"...), along with 'darker-[e]' or 'u-like-[o]' ones (e.g., in "he1", "che1", and "heng", "cheng", "teng"..., versus "hong", "chong", "tong"..., respectively), but since they never contrast with each other in any one context they cannot be said to be different phonemes. If so, Chinese has only /a, i, u, ü/, and a central vowel that may gain e-quality near /i/, o-quality near /u/, or schwa-quality in other contexts.

From my inspection of several bilingual dictionaries, I suspect that this is right, but I cannot be sure. If more clear contexts of contrast between "e" and "o" exist that I do not know of, Chinese might have /e/ and /o/ after all.

Question: Do clearer contrasts exist?

Thank you!
 
  • We speak Chinese in syllables, not in phonemes.
    A syllable is regarded as a whole entity. The consonant, vowel and tone in a syllable are strongly affected each other.
    People who have not been trained can't even tell how many vowels there are in mandarin.

    There are only several thousands valid syllable combinations in mandarin. You can list them as many linguistists did 1000 years ago. Whether there is o/e contrast or not is not so important, just a phonological consideration.

    More over, pinyin is a romanization system, not a phonetic transcription system.
    There are many strange conventions, such as,
    Ong -> weng
    uei -> wei/ui...
    It also specifies how capital letters, spaces and punctuations should be used...

    No minimal pair does not imply no contrast.
    There are no minimal pairs between zcs gkh and jqx.
    As far as we think they are different, they are different.
     
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    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    Pinyin is a broad, phonemic transcription. Its main purpose is to provide a system able to write Chinese characters in Roman alphabets. Since there is no [ə] in Roman alphabets, it is substituted with another letter. As a native Mandarin speaker, I know the /e/ in Pinyin Ben 苯 actually represents [ə] and yet the one in Ye represents [ɛ]. They are different phonemes in my mind and thus they are not allophones. They are written the same simply, as I said, for the reason of convenience. Thus using Pinyin to define allophones is a dangerous path in my opinion. It may not necessarily reflect the true picture in native speakers' minds.
    If you combine the information from both Pinyin and 注音符號 Zhuyin fuhao, you will get a better picture of how native speakers define phonemes. Unlike Pinyin whose main purpose is Romanization, 注音符號 is to facilitate Chinese of all dialects in learning Standard Mandarin. So, if you are asking whether Mandarin [e] and [o] are different phonemes, I would temporarily put Pinyin aside. Mandarin [e] is transcribed as ㄝ in 注音符號and [o] (or more accurately [oʊ]) as ㄡ (as in English "go" or "toe"). They are clearly treated as two different phonemes and are NOT in complementary distribution, for instance,
    [jɛ] (|ㄝˊ, Pinyin ye) vs. [jo] (or [joʊ])(|ㄡˊ, Pinyin you). Historically, they have been treated as two different phonemes since Old Chinese.
    : Old Chinese *lhia > Middle Chinese *zha > Mandarin [jɛ]
    : Old Chinese *lu > Middle Chinese *jǝw > Mandarin [jo] (or [joʊ]).
    In summary, I recommend you to discover what native speakers consider as phonemes before analyzing their allophones. After all, if we cannot prove they belong to the same phoneme, we are in no position to claim that they are allophones.
     

    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I agree with all above. According to how I learnt Pinyin, each Pinyin final in my mind represents one sound (or several sounds in special cases) as a whole. For example, "-eng" is the symbol for [əŋ] and is NOT spelled by "e" and "ng". In fact, "e" in different finals can be /ɤ/, /ə/, /e/, /ʌ/, /E/; and "o" can be /o/, /ʊ̯/, /ə/. A Chinese without training would never think about whether "ie" and "eng" have the same "e". And an average man is simply unable to figure out which vowels they are, different or not, etc.

    Although it does not make too much sense to talk about "e" and "o", I think it is possible to talk about some finals a little bit:

    1. There are no contrast between "-e" and "-o" (each as a whole final) after SOME consonants. For example, 博bo can be pronounced as "be" by some people, and it is still understood as "bo". However, "e"鹅 and "o"哦 as whole syllables are clearly different; "zhe" is possible but "zho" does not seem possible in standard Chinese or its common variants or wrong pronunciations.

    2. There are no contrast between "-eng" and "-ong" after SOME consonants, for example "meng" can be pronounced as "mong" by some people, and "nong" can be "neng". However, there is a very clear contrast between "hong"红 and "heng"横, and "teng" vs "tong" as you said. I've searched some materials, I think "e" here is indeed a variant of schwa and "o" is between /u/ and /o/.

    I don't think it makes much sense to talk about "-oi", "-eu", etc, because they do not exist in Pinyin and their sounds are not defined. (Even if we assign them certain sounds by our experiences of Pinyin, they still do not seem possible in standard Chinese or its common variants.)

    Edit: After reading the post again, I found the OP actually did a very careful research. Maybe there are more things to clarify. There exists "ce" but no "co", but it does not necessarily mean "co" would be considered as a variant of "ce". In fact, personally I feel "co" would be more like "cuo" or "cao" but far from "ce" if such syllable existed. Another example is "boi" (sounds like "boy"?), even if it existed in Chinese, I don't think anyone would connect it to "bei" because they are quite far away. So two vowels may still be perceived very differently even if they never appear at the same place.
     
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    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    For example, "-eng" is the symbol for [əŋ] and is NOT spelled by "e" and "ng".
    That's exactly how 注音符號 sees it. It is not /e/ + /ng/. It may not have anything to do with [e] in a native speaker's mind.

    In response to the question given in the thread title “Are Mandarin [e] and [o] different phonemes”, here is a minimal pair: luè [e/ɛ] vs. Luò [o/ɔ]. Say, if [o] of the original poster actually means [oʊ] like English [o] in “go”, then we also have a minimal pair vs. as I have explained in my previous post.
    No minimal pair does not imply no contrast...As far as we think they are different, they are different.
    Superficially it goes against the principle of theoretical linguistics, it actually says a lot about the truth. We shall never ignore the psycholinguistic or cognitive aspects. With a relatively limited number of syllables in Chinese words, the need to maintain contrast was so strong that tones were developed. Another tool to maintain contrast concerns distribution. If they are restricted in different environments (as if in complementary distribution), the chance to confuse them becomes less. Isn't that a good way to maintain contrast?
     
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    The classification of “开合口”“洪细音” or “开合齐撮” might fit better in Chinese.

    e is 开口洪音
    uo is 合口洪音
    üe is 合口细音
    ie is 开口细音

    This more or less explains the complementary distribution after many consonants.

    开口音 and 合口音 are complementary distributed after b p m f.
    bo po mo fo  *be pe me fe (o = uo)
    bei pei mei fei * bui pui mui fui (ui = uei)
    ben pen men fen * bun pun mun fun (un = uen)
    bie pie mie * fie büe püe müe füe
    ...

    The vowels are still considered different despite of the classification.

    I'll try another one: 噎 yē vs. 唷 yō.
    yo as well as o, ɛ, lo, is only used as an interjection.
    I doubt if people can articulate them consistently.
     
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    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    We speak Chinese in syllables, not in phonemes.[...]
    Thank you, sir, but I hope you do not mean that Chinese does not have a phonological system with a small number of elements out of which its hundreds of syllables can be formed according to a few phonotactic rules, or seriously claim that determining the phonological system of Mandarin is a secondary matter. Not for me, anyway. The fact that untrained native speakers may be unable to list the distinctive vowels of their mother tongue is completely irrelevant. And, obviously, although I did use pinyin to cite my examples (unfortunately my knowledge of characters is still negligible) I was not confusing pinyin with the IPA - just re-read my first two paragraphs in 1# above. I am really surprised, though, to learn how few native speakers and even teachers of Chinese who offer their services online are aware of the difference, even if they are conscious of the (not so many) 'strange conventions' you refer to. As to the fact that within a syllabic domain the quality of the core is bound to be affected by the surrounding sounds and suprasegmental features, that is also very old wisdom, but I'm afraid none of that answers my question, :)!.
     
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    I'm sorry but I did seriously claim that determining the phonological system of Mandarin was a secondary matter as you said.

    Mandarin has only several thousands of syllables, if we don't count tones, r-colored vowels, there are only several hundreds(about 400).
    I think it is already simply enough, do need any other rules to describe it.

    Question: What do your want to do with the rules? Possible answers:

    1. Just curious.
    All what I can say is, o(s) and e(s) are different. Natives without being trained will definitely treat them different.
    Whether they are
    allophone or not is totally up to you.

    2. To predict possible syllables or sound combinations.
    As I said, you can simply enumerate them all.

    3. To predict or explain phonological changes
    Just knowing contemporary Mandarin is not enough.
     

    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    No minimal pair does not imply no contrast.
    There are no minimal pairs between zcs gkh and jqx.
    As far as we think they are different, they are different.
    As to your first claim, I wish you could tell me how it can hold. As to the second one, it is vacuous, because such combinations cannot correspond to the 'form' of any sign in any language, so, by definition, minimal pairs are out of the question. As to your third statement, it is a crude rendition of Kenneth Pike's 'emic principle', and I'd never challenge the natives' intuitions, of course, but wouldn´t you grant a foreign learner the right to start from an 'etic' approach? "It's so because I think it is so" is a rather poor explanation for a teacher to offer an adult student, particularly if there is some risk that the teacher, as the majority of native speakers, may not be as competent in their own language (phonological structure, in this case) as current conventions force us to charitably accept! Can we be serious, please? Although in Chinese I am a beginner, I am also a linguist, and, as such, I cannot but start from the assumption that Chinese is as likely to fail to obey general linguistic principles (e.g., phonological ones) as China is to ignore general physical laws. My question was very simple: I do not find convincing examples of contrast between Chinese words represented by "...e..." and "...o..." graphs in pinyin once the value of pinyin symbols is established against an international standard like IPA. Are there such examples? If not, the "e" and the "o" may represent phonetically different sounds, but do not qualify as different phonemes, even if native speakers perceive them as different. Anybody with a good ear will notice the difference between e.g., "l" in "leg" and "girl", but English is not on that account said to have two different [l]-like phonemes. In certain Chinese phonology textbooks, as well as many Chinese for foreigners ones, Chinese is said to have two different /e/ and /o/ phonemes. Well, is that a well-founded claim? Where is the evidence?
     

    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I'm not a linguist and I might have misunderstood the question at the beginning, and probably there are something to explain.

    First, I want to show "my version" of Pinyin: The 7 vowels should be a, o, e, i, u, ü and ê. (The last one sounds like a variant of /e/.) I use the pinyin "e" in most cases to mean the schwa or a variant of schwa. I got quite confused when I was reading post #1 about 'e', /e/, and schwa.

    I'm an amateur and I'm not sure about the exact definition of allophones. It is probably true that /e/ and /o/ can be considered as complementary allophones but not free allophones. Moreover, the Chinese Wikipedia page actually says that e, o, ê can be considered as complementary allophones if we don't consider interjections. http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/音位#.E9.9F.B3.E4.BD.8D.E8.AE.8A.E9.AB.94

    Personally I think YangMuye's second post is meaningful actually. The consonant 'j' can only spell with things starting 'i' and 'ü', whereas 'h' can never spell with them. Can we claim /tɕ/ and /x/ are allophones in Chinese? No, it's difficult for me to accept this. Maybe we can say /ɕ/ and /x/ are allophones (because /ɕ/ partially comes from the ancient /x/ and they are both fricatives), but I seriously doubt if we could do so for j and h because they seem quite irrelevant. Therefore, I doubt that complementary distribution implies allophones. I mean, should there be conventions or subjective factors of doing such classifying?

    What makes me more confused about "being allophones" is that the Chinese Wikipedia claims j,q,x and z,c,s (or zhi,chi,shi) can be considered as allophones. So two sounds CAN be allophones but they don't have to be. This is because "zhen" and "zen" are different in Chinese, so j can be allophone of at most one of zh and z. This is still quite strange to me because 'z' and 'zh' are different but there are people messing them up, whereas 'j' and 'zh' can be considered as allophones but I never heard of anyone messing them up.

    From the point of learning Chinese and speaking Chinese, /o/ and /e/ are definitely different vowels. /e/ and /o/ can form a different type of contrast in many cases. For example, "bei" (/pei/ or similar) exists in Chinese, where /poi/ is far away from any valid word. This is a contrast between "meaningful" and "meaningless". Maybe a better example is /en/ vs /on/. Both sounds do not exist in Chinese. But if I hear them, I'd consider /en/ as /ən/ (Pinyin "en") and /on/ as the sound of Pinyin "ong" or "ang". From this point of view, they are better to be considered as different vowels.
     
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    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    Hi, Sibutlasi

    I would like to point out that the definition of phoneme is NOT "the smallest contrastive linguistic unit that can be demonstrated by a minimal pair". Rather, it is defined as "the smallest contrastive linguistic unit which may bring about a change of meaning". Minimal pair is a useful, powerful, and valid tool to test or demonstrate the contrast, but it doesn't mean all contrasts must be manifested in a narrow definition of minimal pair.

    "A change of meaning" is the key here. If you substitute a sound with an allophone, native speakers will detect an accent or even feel somewhat difficult to understand. Still, they would attribute the communication difficulty mostly to accent. If you substitute a sound with another phoneme, native speakers will think you are saying an entirely different word (i.e., "a change of meaning"), a word that may or may not even exist. If it is in existence, we have a minimal pair for us to test upon. If not, it doesn't mean no change in meaning. A complete loss of intelligibility IS another manifestation of contrast. After all, minimal pair is simply a tool to test the existence of contrast in native speakers' minds. It is a tool, not the goal. Your goal is to find out whether the two vowels are indeed contrastive phonemes in native speaker's minds. When native speakers say "Yes, they are very different. We don't need minimal pairs to prove it," it says a lot about the truth--It means if you swap them around, it will result in a total loss of intelligibility.

    The main reason we can't find minimal pairs for [e] and [o] is that we stick to a narrow definition of minimal pair by demanding all other things remain strictly equal except for the sound we are investigating. Is that a realistic requirement when a language demands anticipatory assimilation to exaggerate the contrast in vowel? The fact that we cannot find identical linguistic environments for the pair doesn't mean there is no contrast in those vowels. Quite to the contrary, the contrast is so strong that the neighboring sound alters as a result thereof. I actually provided a good example for that: lüè vs. Luò, and you can easily find many more.

    I am fully aware that some theoretical linguists have argued that /e/ and /o/ are in complementary distribution and therefore they should be merged. I also understand that many, if not most, including your textbooks, treat them as separate phonemes from a practical phonological perspective. The practical reason includes loss of intelligibility. And the practical approach is to study and describe a language as it is. The theoretical approach held by some people, in my opinion, is to squeeze and bend a language into a framework that they see fit. They are inventing a language against how native speakers' brains are actually functioning.
     
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    In summary, I recommend you to discover what native speakers consider as phonemes before analyzing their allophones. After all, if we cannot prove they belong to the same phoneme, we are in no position to claim that they are allophones.
    I would like to highlight Skatinginbc's words.

    I would consider initial consonants as phonemes. The evidence is that we can replace the initial of a syllable with another consonant and the listener can perceive and reproduce the process, as we have been doing with 反切 for thousands of years.

    However, I won't treat semivowels, vowels and final consonants as phonemes. As a said, the consonants and vowels in a syllable affects each other strongly. A change on a vowel or consonant will virtually cause every other vowel, coda and semivowel to change in order to make a natural syllable. Mandarin is different from English here.

    To me, /..o../ /..e../ are not phonemes.
    uo/o, e, en, in, un/wen, eng, ong/weng, ei, ui/wei ... are.

    Each phoneme has its set of allophones.
    For example, for many people, ing is pronounced as ieng. Many people's final n/ng's are nasal vowels. The difference between an/en/in and ang/eng/ing has more to do with the quality of vowels rather than the consonants. I have a friend who distinguishes en/eng but mixes up an/ang.
    All this evidence suggests that the final, the vowel along with its semivowel and coda, is perceived as a unit.

    There are people who claim that Mandarin only have two vowel: a and e, and three semivowels: i u yu.
    Such abstraction might be useful to create input method editor. I can hardly find any practical use.
     
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    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    The classification of “开合口”“洪细音” or “开合齐撮” might fit better in Chinese.[...]
    Thank you very much, but note that if that happened in all contexts (that is, that e-like and o-like sounds were in 'complementary distribution' after specific subsets of initial consonants) it would follow that they are not different phonemes, but conditioned allophones of a single phoneme. My original question was whether that was the case or not.
     
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    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Sibutlasi, could you please answer the following question about allophones, since I don't quite understand it? Thanks.
    According to your understanding, if A and B are allophones, B and C are also allophones, then what about A and C? Must they be allophones?
     

    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    I'm sorry but I did seriously claim that determining the phonological system of Mandarin was a secondary matter as you said.[...]
    Well, I'm sorry to hear that, but I cannot take it seriously. You will probably tell me next that determining the grammar of Mandarin is perfectly unnecessary as well, that all is 'pragmatics', :). Actually, it is astonishing how many educated speakers (and teachers!) of Mandarin think they can tell you that and get away with it. They do, for fifteen seconds, until you ask them the first "why" question; then they get very irritated and ask you why you are such an arrogant and impossible beginner (or that has been my experience with a few Chinese people). I do not know who may have been responsible for that preposterous idea; certainly poor old Wilhelm von Humboldt did not remotely intend to go as far as that in his famous letter to M. Abel Remusat, but Chinese language teachers seem to love the idea! I wonder how they reconcile it with the hard facts they must eventually encounter if they learn English, Spanish, German, French, or Russian, not to mention really complex languages!

    But back to our issue here: As a matter of fact, with tones and all, the number of actual syllables in use in Mandarin is barely 1400 (or so I'm told), but even that 'small' number, or the <400 segmental combinations now in use, would represent an intolerable learning load if learners (and Chinese children!) were to learn them as a list. Fortunately, textbooks provide us with a theory of sorts (including the restrictions you mention) about the underlying system native speakers have internalized and so we can immediately discard most theoretically possible combinations (imagine how many, over a set with some 20+ consonants, 5-7 vowels, semiconsonants/vowels on either side of the core, etc.: tens of thousands!). Consider what it would be like for an Englishman to start from the idea that Chinese has syllable templates like those of English. Fortunately, the small 'theory' of initials and finals that most coursebooks provide allows learners to discard c+c+c and even c+c onsets, c+c+c codas, most V+c syllables, etc. and concentrate on c+v patterns plus a few ripples. So far so good, but what's wrong with trying to also get a precise idea of the range of values V may have at the core of a Mandarin syllable? That was all I intended with my initial question.

    As to my motivations to ask about concepts and rules, I do not see why they should matter provided the question is coherent, clearly formulated, and relevant to the matter under discussion, but, since you ask, I'll tell you: As a linguist I am theoretically interested in how Chinese works, phonologically and at all levels, of course, but, as I said, I'm also a beginning student of Mandarin, and I just happen to learn much more easily, faster, more safely, and with more resulting confidence, when I understand what I am learning and can explain to myself why things are the way they are and cannot be any other way. From my point of view, to have to tell a student "This is the list of all the syllables we use, learn them by rote and stop asking embarrassing questions", or "That's the way we say it, listen to me, imitate me, and shut up" is the worst possible teaching scenario I can imagine in a classroom. Maybe Chinese children are used to such authoritarian pedagogy, but I do not see why the rest of the world should learn Chinese under such methods, which became obsolete in Europe more than fifty years ago. If that is all a Chinese teacher (or textbook author) can do for me, I prefer to teach myself. Obviously, I'm not denying that there are facts that cannot be explained (or not yet) and must be learnt as 'arbitrary', but in many, many cases teachers can do much better that that if only they know their subject well enough.

    Finally, we seem to disagree on a matter of principle: you refer to a question of fact as if it were a purely terminological matter. 'Phonological considerations' are mere speculation as you refer to them, whether to categorize sounds as phonemes or allophones is 'totally up to me' (?), (elsewhere) 'there is no right or wrong'...etc. That ultimately 'Quinean' relativism trivializes rational inquiry. If considered strictly in the terms Quine introduced such ideas, they are far from trivial, of course, but in the wider context of doing science, including linguistics, and teaching or learning languages, they are completely sterile.

    Anyway, thank you for your time, but, frankly, I've had enough of all that authoritarian mythology about the rulelessness of Chinese.
     
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    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Sibutlasi, I'm pretty sure you are misunderstanding the posts. Do you have problems in reading the posts sequentially? You may want to read posts #15-#17.

    There is no Chinese teacher here, and you are probably the only "linguist". I'm very interested in linguistics and all of us were trying to explain things in longer and longer posts. But I didn't see a further question, or a comment like "you have misunderstood my question and allophone means xxx". All what I see is your complains about your Chinese teachers. Your teachers are not here. And you seem to be forcing us to accept that 'e' and 'o' are allophones because otherwise we are "the worst teachers" of "the worst culture". Personally I'm learning linguistics as a reasonable science and would not like to accept things merely told by a "linguist" on forum, just as you don't want to accept things without understanding it.

    The phonology of standard Chinese is much easier than any western language and is easy to explain thoroughly. But if you want to figure out an answer, please do the following: Explain clearly what you want to ask. (To me, it suffices to answer the question in #19, so that I will understand what you mean by "allophone".) You may skip posts that you don't like and there are more interesting things to do.
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    Hi, Sibutlasi
    Although YangMuye didn't speak the same language or vocabulary that you are accustomed to, it doesn't mean there is no truth in his/her speech. Let me translate some of them for you if you don't mind:
    Natives without being trained will definitely treat them different.

    Native speakers that are not trained in linguistics naturally see those two as distinct phonemes--That is a piece of important information regarding the language acquisition, language recognition, and cognitive processes in native speakers' minds. This information cannot be treated lightly when one attempts to form a theory about the language.
    Just knowing contemporary Mandarin is not enough.

    As you probably are aware, to prove
    /ɨ/ and /i/ being the same phoneme in Mandarin, scholars had to demonstrate not only they are in complementary distribution but also they are historically related. The same Chinese characters have been used for two thousands years. If two vowels are seen as distinct phonemes in ancient texts (e.g., rhyming poems), we learn they are different and therefore treat them as being different. Although language change is always ongoing, historical factors can not be easily ignored.

    We speak Chinese in syllables, not in phonemes...A syllable is regarded as a whole entity. The consonant, vowel and tone in a syllable are strongly affected each other.
    It echoes what I said in Post #16: The preceding approximant undergoes anticipatory assimilation. Different vowels result in different medials and therefore it is nearly impossible to find "minimal pairs" under the narrow definition.
    I've had enough of all that authoritarian mythology about the rulelessness of Chinese.
    I hope it doesn't include me. I enjoy scholarly debates. But you seem to ignore my existence and Tarlou's existence. "T
    hat has been my experience with a few Chinese people," you said. Maybe if you look around, you will find people like Tarlou and me that do not find you irritating, that enjoy having a conversation with you, that argue for the sake of finding the truth, not for preaching the "authoritarian mythology about the rulelessness of Chinese."
     
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    Many thanks to Skatinginbc for translating my layman's terms into technical terms.
    I would appreciate if you could keep on translating what I wrote when it sounds misleading.

    But back to our issue here: As a matter of fact, with tones and all, the number of actual syllables in use in Mandarin is barely 1400 (or so I'm told), but even that 'small' number, or the <400 segmental combinations now in use, would represent an intolerable learning load if learners (and Chinese children!) were to learn them as a list.
    It's subjective.
    As I admit tones, initial consonants and finals can be perceived seperately(*), you can just teach them about 20 initials and and about 30 finals. (Still, they have to practice how to combine initials and finials together, because the quality of initials(e.g. roundedness) are strongly affected be the finals.)
    It is nether much more than the standard set of phonetic symbols for English and the pronunciation key attached in many English dictionaries, nor much more than Japanese 50-on.

    * We can't make a isolated consonant, but by demonstrating bang + ma => ba, a learner can quickly derive sha from shi + ma by himself. This is how 反切 works.

    Fortunately, textbooks provide us with a theory of sorts (including the restrictions you mention) about the underlying system native speakers have internalized and so we can immediately discard most theoretically possible combinations (imagine how many, over a set with some 20+ consonants, 5-7 vowels, semiconsonants/vowels on either side of the core, etc.: tens of thousands!). Consider what it would be like for an Englishman to start from the idea that Chinese has syllable templates like those of English. Fortunately, the small 'theory' of initials and finals that most coursebooks provide allows learners to discard c+c+c and even c+c onsets, c+c+c codas, most V+c syllables, etc. and concentrate on c+v patterns plus a few ripples. So far so good, but what's wrong with trying to also get a precise idea of the range of values V may have at the core of a Mandarin syllable? That was all I intended with my initial question.
    You are keeping ignoring facts I and many native speakers have mentioned. Syllables, especially their finals, are not dividable.

    Although there are people who claim /aɪ̯/ is two phonemes in English, most people will see it as just one.
    /aɪ̯/ may have an allophone /ʌɪ̯/ for some speakers while /a/-/ʌ/ contrast exists for most speakers.
    I think English /aɪ̯/ is comparable with Chinese /aɪ̯/ /ɑʊ̯/ /ioʊ̯/ /an/ /ung/ ... (we distinguishes initial nasals with final nasals, the latter are not released)
    And for historical reasons, we use /i/ /u/ rather than /w/ /y/ to represent medials and codas. (English uses j/w to represent semivowels, but i/u to represent codas for the same reason.)

    As to my motivations to ask about concepts and rules, I do not see why they should matter provided the question is coherent, clearly formulated, and relevant to the matter under discussion,
    It is important.
    As you are not asking for facts, but about how to deal with the facts.
    What you want decides what you do.

    but, since you ask, I'll tell you: As a linguist I am theoretically interested in how Chinese works, phonologically and at all levels,
    ...
    Finally, we seem to disagree on a matter of principle: you refer to a question of fact as if it were a purely terminological matter. 'Phonological considerations' are mere speculation as you refer to them, whether to categorize sounds as phonemes or allophones is 'totally up to me' (?), (elsewhere) 'there is no right or wrong'...etc. That ultimately 'Quinean' relativism trivializes rational inquiry. If considered strictly in the terms Quine introduced such ideas, they are far from trivial, of course, but in the wider context of doing science, including linguistics, and teaching or learning languages, they are completely sterile.
    You are not the first one who tries to advocate or to justify that o and e are allophones.
    Many people/linguists/scholars are more radical than you. Don't feel depressed because we can't agree with you. You are not alone.

    But I does seriously think it's just a phonological consideration, which depends on what you want to get.
    A neat, smart classification? or a system reflecting the way of natives' cognition better? or to teach foreigner? or to teach Chinese speakers who speak other dialects?
    There are many trade-offs.

    Anyway, thank you for your time, but, frankly, I've had enough of all that authoritarian mythology about the rulelessness of Chinese.
    of course, but, as I said, I'm also a beginning student of Mandarin, and I just happen to learn much more easily, faster, more safely, and with more resulting confidence, when I understand what I am learning and can explain to myself why things are the way they are and cannot be any other way.
    I have been advocating "no rules" many times. But this is merely a pedagogical consideration.
    If something is already simple enough that doesn't need any rules to explain it, or it need too many rules to describe it, learning and understanding rules may take much more time and efforts than simply learning without rules.

    From my point of view, to have to tell a student "This is the list of all the syllables we use, learn them by rote and stop asking embarrassing questions", or "That's the way we say it, listen to me, imitate me, and shut up" is the worst possible teaching scenario I can imagine in a classroom. Maybe Chinese children are used to such authoritarian pedagogy, but I do not see why the rest of the world should learn Chinese under such methods, which became obsolete in Europe more than fifty years ago. If that is all a Chinese teacher (or textbook author) can do for me, I prefer to teach myself. Obviously, I'm not denying that there are facts that cannot be explained (or not yet) and must be learnt as 'arbitrary', but in many, many cases teachers can do much better that that if only they know their subject well enough.
    They sound pretty fine without the offensive words.
    I have seen many Mormon missionaries, who learnt Mandarin pretty well in 3 months.
    Listing all the syllables and say “listen to me imitate me” is just what we do when teaching them Cantonese at the very beginning. This process takes about 10 minutes every class.

    I learned Japanese by myself. To be honest, I hadn't been able to write 50-on in sequence until I had studied for a year although I could recite iroha. (I'm lazy enough)
    It doesn't matter. As you will learn a language for years, you have enough time to practice it.
     
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    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    Hi all,
    This seems to be an interesting debate going on but I haven't got the opportunity to see what it's really about beyond the 1st post. I looked at the 1st post and feel that I have to alert you of something not quite right there (and I believe, if the starting point is not correct, who knows where we would end up? :)).

    The discussion is about [e] and [o] but I'm not quite sure what they represent (sounds or letters?). Whatever they are intended, I would like the OP to rethink of these 2 points:

    1- It's not a good idea to link the sound "e" in de, te, ne, le,... with "e" in deng, teng, neng, leng,... They are two completely different sounds that happen to be represented in pinyin with the same letter "e". The confusion would get even more serious if "e" in "me" and "e" in "bie", "mie", "die" are thrown in. These are again another pair of sounds, distinct from the previous two.
    2- You said that po, mo, fo exist but not co, do, go, ho,...They all in fact exist, but in different spelling conventions (ie., pinyin is again being inconsistent by representing the same sound with different spellings). Saying them aloud and you'll know that the sounds of the finals in the following are all the same: po, mo, fo, cuo, duo, guo, huo,...

    I hope this helps, and do continue with your discussion (but make sure not to go off topic! :))
     

    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    Pinyin is a broad, phonemic transcription. Its main purpose is to provide a system able to write Chinese characters in Roman alphabets. [...]
    Thank you very much for your reply and the historical information in it, and please accept my apologies for the delay in acknowledging it. It was never my purpose to ignore it; simply, I'm not online often enough and long enough to properly answer all posts. (Actually, I did not expect as many answers, nor as long ones; what I did expect was more concise answers, and ones more strictly centered on the question). I started replying to YangMuye simply because his/hers was the first reaction I obtained, and then we engaged in a sort of discussion that, in the circumstances I said, did not give me the occasion to reply to other answers as they deserve. I insist on my apologies and will try to acknowledge all contributions as soon as I can.
    To this post of yours, let me just reply that native speakers cannot be reasonably expected to be able to 'define phonemes'. That is something only linguistically trained people can do. All a native speaker can usually tell you is "I perceive A and B as different", which is a much weaker claim than "A and B are different phonemes". And, as I already said in #10, in my question I was not depending on pinyin when I stated my impressions about the distribution of [e]-like and [o]-like sounds (except for the purpose of writing the example words); I had the phonetic values of "e" and "o" in various contexts in mind all the time, as you will notice if you re-read my first post; so I need not 'put Pinyin aside'; I know what Pinyin is for and its shortcomings as a source of phonetic information. Finally, you cannot first find the phonemes and then go on to discover their allophones. That's the pedagogical order but not the heuristic one. Phonemes and allophones emerge as such as you try to establish the phonemes.
    Thank you again for your attention, info and suggestions.

    Regards
    I agree with all above. According to how I learnt Pinyin, each Pinyin final in my mind represents one sound (or several sounds in special cases) as a whole.[...]
    Thank you, and please accept my apologies for my delay in acknowledging your answer in the terms I expressed in my previous reply to Skatinginbc. What you say rather supports than challenges my own provisional statement in 1# once a few simplifications and misunderstandings (of my initial post) I have already discussed are put aside. As far as I can tell, then, my question remains open.
    That's exactly how 注音符號 sees it. It is not /e/ + /ng/. It may not have anything to do with [e] in a native speaker's mind.[...]
    No two phonemes are ever required to be distinctive in all contexts. That would be ridiculous. In practice, consonants and vowels occupy different syllabic slots and, so, strictly speaking, perhaps never 'contrast' in the same context. However, to be 'distinctive' (N.B.: not just perceptibly different!) two sounds must generate at least a minimal pair: two 'signs' of whatever level of complexity, not necessarily of minimal complexity) must be distinguishable to natives only as a consequence of the presence/absence of one or the other. Tone alternation qualifies in typical cases, as far as I can tell. The gist of the matter is that I am not talking about mere contrast (=perceptible difference); I'm interested in semantically distinctive contrast, i.e., phonemic contrast. I hope YangMuye does not mean that the phonemic principle does not apply to Chinese.
    Sibutlasi, could you please answer the following question about allophones, since I don't quite understand it? Thanks.
    According to your understanding, if A and B are allophones, B and C are also allophones, then what about A and C? Must they be allophones?
    'Allophone' is a relational concept. Sound [s] is or is not an allophone of phoneme /S/. As stated, your question makes no sense.
    I would like to point out that the definition of phoneme is NOT "the smallest contrastive linguistic unit that can be demonstrated by a minimal pair". [...]
    Hi Skatinginbc

    Thank you very much for all the attention you are paying to my beginner's question, but do not create a strawman: do not attribute to me a concept of the phoneme I never even considered. Of course 'a change of meaning is the key here'. As to the concept 'minimal pair' I'm not subscribing to the 'narrow' definition you refer to, either, and, as far as I know, nobody in his senses would, because if they did the phonemic principle would collapse and paradigmatic substitution would no longer be a useful heuristic tool. Everybody knows that in "lab" and "lap", the ae-like sound also changes, but that does not invalidate "lap"/"lab" as one of many minimal pairs on the basis of which /p/ and /b/ are traditionally recognized as different phonemes.

    Hello YangMuye

    I appreciate all the work you are putting into this but as to your statements (in 16#) to the effect that "As a said, the consonants and vowels in a syllable affects each other strongly. A change on a vowel or consonant will virtually cause every other vowel, coda and semivowel to change in order to make a natural syllable. Mandarin is different from English here." (end of quote), I must again disagree. All languages I know of, including English, show such 'spreading' effects. Mandarin is not different from English in this respect. And when linguists speak of 'phonological opposition', 'minimal pairs', etc. such alterations in the neighbouring sounds are ignored, for practical purposes, and what 'counts' is only whether a substitution of one sound for another in a given environment has semantic effects or not.
     
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    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    'Allophone' is a relational concept. Sound [s] is or is not an allophone of phoneme /S/. As stated, your question makes no sense.
    Thanks for the clarification. What I actually wanted to ask is this: A and B are in complementary distribution, therefore they can be considered as allophones of the same phoneme. (Or perhaps they are the same phoneme. I'm not sure which is the correct phrasing.) The same situation happens for B and C. Then what about A and C?

    I ask this question because the following happens in Chinese: 'j' and 'z' are in complementary distribution, hence they are allophones of a single phoneme. 'j' and 'zh' are also in complementary distribution, hence they are allophones of a single phoneme as well. However, 'z' and 'zh' are different phonemes because 'zen' and 'zhen' are different syllables in Chinese.

    This is so strange to an amateur like me, because the concept of "phonemes" and "allophones" has nothing to do with our intuitional classification of similar sounds. (In English, allophones of a single phoneme are typically similar sounds, I think.)

    If the above "strange" scenario is acceptable or even expected, then my understanding of phonemes was completely wrong, and the answer to your question is simple: e, o, and schwa are allophones of a single phoneme because they are in complementary distribution (if we don't consider interjections). But I would doubt how useful such concept is (with no offense).
     

    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    Sibutlasi, I'm pretty sure you are misunderstanding the posts. Do you have problems in reading the posts sequentially? You may want to read posts #15-#17.[...]
    Hello Tarlou.

    Please accept my apologies for my delay in acknowledging your contributions. I am virtually a newcomer here and, indeed, I AM having a bit of trouble in coping with the posts in the order they come in. Besides, I am overwhelmed by the number (and length of some) of the reactions my question has generated. However, I do not think I am misunderstanding anything so far, as I have tried to show in my recent replies to most of the older answers, including my reply to your question about the concept of 'allophone'.

    I grant that my identification of YangMuye's attitude concerning the superfluousness of 'phonological rules' with that of many teachers of Chinese for foreign learners as regards the rules of grammar (syntax, semantics) in general was unnecessary, and I withdraw it if somebody is offended, but I never tried to force anybody to accept that [e] and [o] are allophones (please re-read my earlier posts starting with 1#), nor accused anybody here of being a bad teacher, or issued any value-judgments about culture. All I did say was that a certain kind of statement was typical of what seems to be a broadly extended attitude among Chinese-as-a-foreign-language teachers, so my limited experience suggests.

    As to your statement to the effect that "the phonology of Chinese is much easier than (that of) any Western language", it is in line with YangMuye's earlier one about the possibility of just listing all actual syllables of Mandarin, but allow me to disagree: That of Spanish, my own language, is rather simpler, to cite but one counterexample.

    Next, I hope I have by now succeeded in explaining to you what I (and everybody else) mean by an 'allophone'.

    Finally, once such terminological uncertainties are dispelled, my initial question in #1 should be clear enough, I think. I suggest we all stick to it and avoid going off topic and telling the asker what he already knows instead of what he wants to know.

    Regards
     
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    You can insist your extremely theoretical analysis model as far as it does not violate the underlying phonic facts.

    But I'm afraid you will quickly run into trouble.

    Mandarin have many speakers and most of them are considered to "have an accent".
    We can understand each other, is aware or unaware of the accent difference.

    For example,
    /ai/ is actually [ɛ] for many speakers, but just an allophone for most speakers.
    /in/ is has two frequent variants [in] and [jən], and for many speakers, it is [jəɨ̃].
    /iŋ/ varies from [iŋ] [jɤŋ] and [jəŋ].
    /au/ is typically [ɑʊ̯], but sometimes pronounced as [ɔ] or [aʊ̯].
    /a/ has many variants, the typical one is [ä], as well as a reduced version [ɐ]. [ʌ] is usually perceived as /a/ too.
    /ɤŋ/ can be [ɤŋ] or [ǝŋ]. But [ɐŋ]/[ʌŋ] is occasionally used, especially in the forth tone.
    /uŋ/ is [wʊŋ] [wɤŋ] [wǝŋ] or [wʌŋ]/[wɐŋ] sometimes.
    /uo/ is usually [uɔ], while [ɔŋ] is a variant of /aŋ/.
    ...

    It's not always clear if a sound is more o-like, u-like, e-like or a-like.

    With your approach, you will get more troubles than convenience when you have to explain the allophones and their condition they appear.
     

    Rethliopuks

    Member
    Mandarin
    not finish reading yet, but yes, [e] and [o] do not contrast directly except in interjections(e.g. ye vs. yo) and some loan-syllables.
    Also you may consider i u yu as glides(which are consonants) and substitute a null nuclear or something for single i u yu, or you may just view them as consonants which may form syllables without vowels to reduce the number of vowel phoneme to 3 or 2. This is very crazy but they are perceived and usually pronounced as vowels so I don't agree, however.

    I doubt how "many" pronunce /in/ with a clear schwa. And perhaps [ɔŋ] is considered as variant of /ong/.
    P.S. /uo/ can be also pronounced like /u/+/e/.
    And here I use // for clarity indicating pinyin but not IPA.
     
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    I doubt how "many" pronunce /in/ with a clear schwa. And perhaps [ɔŋ] is considered as variant of /ong/.
    P.S. /uo/ can be also pronounced like /u/+/e/.
    And here I use // for clarity indicating pinyin but not IPA.
    It depends on people.
    But I think [ɔŋ] is more like /ang/ to me. I have never thought Cantonese /ɔŋ/ sound like Mandarin /aŋ/. You can check these words 香, 广场.
    However, their /ɐŋ/ sounds like either /ɤŋ/ or /aŋ/ in Mandarin and many Mandarin speakers have the same feeling.

    Japanese /ɔ/ before /n/, however, sounds more like /uŋ/ to me.

    I think the /ɔ/ of my /wɔ/ is more open than Japanese /ɔ/, but less open than Cantonese /ɔ/.

    And my /wo/ is rounded though out the vowel. /u/+and unrounded /e/ sounds rather strange to me.
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    The discussion is about [e] and [o] but I'm not quite sure what they represent (sounds or letters?)
    Hi XLJ! If I understand correctly, OP was talking about the phonemes /e/ and /o/. As you know, many (most?) Chinese textbooks present Mandarin as a seven-vowel language (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/, /y/, and schwa), but OP challenged this analysis, and suggested a five-vowel analysis be more reasonable. This is what he writes,
    If so, Chinese has only /a, i, u, ü/, and a central vowel that may gain e-quality near /i/, o-quality near /u/, or schwa-quality in other contexts.
    This is a perfectly respectable analysis, and as Muye, Skating and Tarlou say here and there above in their posts, such an analysis isn't new. And Mandarin is certainly not the only language that has been subject to different phonological interpretations.
     

    Rethliopuks

    Member
    Mandarin
    Thanks for the clarification. What I actually wanted to ask is this: A and B are in complementary distribution, therefore they can be considered as allophones of the same phoneme. (Or perhaps they are the same phoneme. I'm not sure which is the correct phrasing.) The same situation happens for B and C. Then what about A and C?
    A and C can be different phoneme. I think it will be interesting for you that a Japanese dialect treats /k/ as [k] in initial position and [g] in words while /g/ as [g] intially and [ŋ] in words, so you may find three sounds [k] [g] [ŋ] with two phonemes and [g] shared by both.
     
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    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    Hi, Sibutlasi
    Although YangMuye didn't speak the same language or vocabulary that you are accustomed to, it doesn't mean there is no truth in his/her speech.[...]
    Hi, Skatinginbc

    Thanks for your mediation between YangMuye's and my own intellectual frameworks and terminologies. As far as I am concerned, there should have been no room for misunderstanding, since I never assumed the 'narrow' concept of 'minimal pair' you refer to (and nobody else does, to my knowledge, or most minimal pairs will vanish). A 'broad' view is OK provided the principle of semantic distinctiveness is preserved. When one addresses the general public, as in this kind of forum, certain commonly accepted simplifications like saying that A and B form a minimal pair iff they differ only in that A contains [... e...] whereas B contains [... o...] should be understandable, I think.

    As I already explained in several earlier posts (sorry, I am new at this and I find it hard to keep track of everything that has been said), it was by no means my purpose to ignore your and Tarlou's contributions, far from it; it was rather more innocent than that: you were on the queue; I started with YangMuye's posts because they were earlier, shorter, and more categorical, and I was leaving yours and Tarlou's subtler ones for later in order to make sure I understood all the information in them and detected possible misunderstandings that might have arisen in your interpretations of my initial question.

    Certainly, my impatient remark about what strikes me as rampant authoritarian mythology concerning the rulelessness of Chinese was not aimed at you, Tarlou, or even YangMuye, at bottom. Some of the latter's statements did sound a bit like "Chinese needs no rules" or "Learners need not bother about grammar", etc. Such statements are as childish as that of the rationalist French scholars who claimed the word order of French to be the 'natural one' (to the human mind) and so to need no statement or discussion, :)! Well, that kind of mythology, for which Von Humboldt may in part have been responsible in the particular case of Chinese, is irritating, unscientific, and completely unhelpful, but I have no reason to believe that even YangMuye really subscribes such beliefs, and so, if I sounded angry at him, I regret it, I withdraw all of it, and I apologise.

    From what I have seen, I'm very glad to have access to people like you and Tarlou in this forum, and I hope to take advantage of YangMuye's intuitions and perspective as soon as we remove the terminological obstacles that may interfere with mutual understanding. I came to this forum to learn (obviously, being a beginner in Chinese I cannot teach anybody here anything worth knowing!), not to argue. If I have offended somebody, I apologise, and since I do not know the ropes of this forum yet (technically, I mean), I hope to be forgiven (for a while) if I lose track of posts, my intended answers mysteriously do not get published, etc. I'll try to learn fast.

    Regards
     
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    Rethliopuks

    Member
    Mandarin
    It depends on people.[...]
    Well in fact later I thought [ɔŋ] does not approximate both ang and ong, lol. I said that just because I thought some people speak ong as near to real /oŋ/(not [ɔŋ] though).
    P.S. you may check /sɔŋklɔŋbɔŋtʃɔŋ/, which I just created extemporaneously with absolutely no meanings. w
     
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    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    Ghabi said:
    Hi XLJ! If I understand correctly, OP was talking about the phonemes /e/ and /o/.
    Thank you for clarifying, Ghabi! In spite of what the OP stated, his analysis seems to based on the pinyin letters, and that was the reason for my asking.


    tarlou said:
    'j' and 'z' are in complementary distribution, hence they are allophones of a single phoneme.
    Again, just a remark as an observer :): Where did you get this from? It's completely wrong and is probably said by someone who doesn't understand what "complementary distribution" means. 'J' and 'z' in pinyin exist side by side and are not in complementary distribution.
     

    Rethliopuks

    Member
    Mandarin
    I guess I'm not going to edit my post posted so I'll complete here...IPA will be used which may cause unreadable characters(mojibake), and I apologize if any.
    Underlined letters without any further modifications represent pinyin.
    First, as I said, you may consider [ɛ] [ɔ] [ɤ] as one phoneme /ɤ/, if you ignore those interjections and loan-syllables. However, such analyzing is only resulted by complementary distribution or something. Their occurence in traditional native system is constricted and such treating is historically supported so you may do that, but that does not means they are interchargeable. Such method is only feasible in phonological treatings but not in practical. For example, a sound of [ue] is not perceived/regarded as wo but wei. Also, when borrowing foreign pronunciation people always treat them as different.

    It echoes what I said in Post #16: The preceding approximant undergoes anticipatory assimilation. Different vowels result in different medials and therefore it is nearly impossible to find "minimal pairs" under the narrow definition.
    Sadly, historically it seems that medials are what generally matter in Mandarin, As historical medials are generally well-retained.
    luo comes from Early Middle Chinese(EMC)*la/lɑ/ that underwent la>lo>luo but 略lüe is not a result of *lue>lye but EMC liak/liɑk/>>>>lio(h)/liɔ(ʔ)/>lüe, a result of . In fact what was approximately *lue in earlier Mandarin(perhaps, not checked but here formed by phonological rules, though I doubt if there would be any such combination) would undergo *lueh/luɛʔ/>>>luo. Earlier there was a distinction between /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ but they finally merged(or, in the case of *-uon, it merged with *-uan).

    Well, I'm sorry to hear that, but I cannot take it seriously.[...]
    I understand your thoughts, but I'll advise you to understand us Chinese, who indeed have treated and treat combinations instead of separate vowels and consonants as minimum units in lots of cases. This can be dated back to less than 2,000 years ago when fanqie was just invented. Fanqie is a method to tell a pronunciation of a Chinese character A by using the initial consonant of character B and everything except initial consonant(tone and final) of character C.(E.g. la1=lu2+ma1). They also succeeded in telling that difference exists in medials and codas (and even how), though they never really isoated them out. But native Chinese did no more "better". Also, lots of changes and phenomena happened on bases of combinations, or in western perspectives, "phonetic conditions". Relying solely on a phonological chart consisting of separate vowels and consonants may make things a bit complicated to treat.
     
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    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Again, just a remark as an observer :): Where did you get this from? It's completely wrong and is probably said by someone who doesn't understand what "complementary distribution" means. 'J' and 'z' in pinyin exist side by side and are not in complementary distribution.
    I don't think this is wrong. 'j' can only spell with 'i' and 'ü' whereas 'z' cannot spell with them. (The vowel in 'zi' is very different from 'i'.) Also this statement can also be found in the 3rd paragraph of http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/音位#.E6.A6.82.E8.BF.B0 (Moreover, such classification is indeed reasonable if we consider the evolution of Chinese language.)

    I understand such statement sounds absurd. This is also very strange to me. That's why I ask the OP about this to see if he is really considering this very strict definition.
     

    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    This seems to be an interesting debate going on but I haven't got the opportunity to see what it's really about beyond the 1st post.[...]
    Thank you very much, moderator! This is getting dense and exhausting to keep track of. In my initial question I simply wondered whether there was evidence for treating /e/ and /o/ as different phonemes, in the most traditional and innocent sense of the term: two sounds may be ascribed to different phonemes if replacing one with the other correlates with the alternation between two different 'signs' (= form+meaning composites), i.e., with a change of meaning, as well as form. It was to be understood that neighbouring sounds may be affected by the substitution, so it is almost never or never the case that it is only the replacement of one sound with the other that causes the shift from one sign to another minimally differing from it in form, not in meaning, of course. As far as I can tell, there was nothing vague or obscure in such a question, and I deliberately avoided enriching the concepts involved via any theory-specific additional features that my readers might not share.
    So far, the evidence brought to bear seems to me weak. However, if, as you say, [tso], [d'o], [ko], [xo] exist, except that they are not spelt "co", "do", etc. in Pinyin, then, obviously, there is further evidence I had not been able to find. If so, I would appreciate it if my correspondents expanded on it with appropriate explanations if possible.

    Thank you!
     
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    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    A and C can be different phoneme. I think it will be interesting for you that a Japanese dialect treats /k/ as [k] in initial position and [g] in words while /g/ as [g] intially and [ŋ] in words, so you may find three sounds [k] [g] [ŋ] with two phonemes and [g] shared by both.
    Thanks! So a phoneme is a theoretical "sound", which can have a set of actual sounds, and for different phonemes, their "sets" can intersect. It's much clearer now!

    Thank you very much, moderator! This is getting dense and exhausting to keep track of.[...]
    First of all, if we only consider the standard Mandarin and exclude interjections, mispronunciations and dialects, then [tso], [d'o], [ko], [xo] do NOT exist. They may be perceived as 'zuo', 'tuo', 'guo', 'huo', which exist but are different sounds.

    More importantly, this definition of the question is indeed vague and difficult to answer, because it seems not the same as the "complementary distribution" definition that you were trying to use.


    • If your definition of 'being the same phoneme' is 'complementary distributed', then 'e' and 'o' can be considered as the same phoneme.
      However, there may be problems with this definition (to an amateur like me), so that I said "they can be the same phoneme" instead "they are the same phoneme".
      The problem can be shown by this example: Each one from {j,q,x} and each one from {g,k,h,z,c,s,zhi,chi,shi} are allophones of some phoneme. However, my guess is that it is only valid to match j with g,z or zhi; q with k,c or chi; x with h,s or shi. The matching can't be arbitrary because certain sounds are related while other pairs are not (from the view of ancient Chinese, dialects, etc). Therefore, whether two things are the same phoneme are up to linguist's view probably. As for 'e' and 'o', there may also be different views even if the fact they are in 'complementary distribution' is admitted by everyone.
    • If your definition is as in the quote above, then the answer might be the opposite. Although contrast pairs do not exist in Pinyin (which is the standard pronunciation), contrast pairs like "accurate meaningful sound" v.s. "inaccurate sound with different meaning" widely exist.
      It is not clear that the inaccurate sounds that do not exist in the standard language but will be meaningful if we hear, are counted as "valid" language or not.

    NOTE: I'm not a linguist and there may be many mistakes above. This post is for reference only.
     
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    I'm a engineering student, so my perspective is strongly influenced by my major.

    The most important principles I think in engineering are:
    - to solve a specified problem
    - to control cost and uncertainty
    All other things are a secondary consideration.

    The key is to solve problems efficiently.

    Simply speaking (this may sounds quite extreme), we
    - don't do anything without a explicit goal
    - don't do anything more than we need
    - don't do anything we don't know

    What we often do in software engineering is to analysis a domain we are concerned and model the concepts and processes in it.

    If needed, we purpose different models against the same domain reflecting different views, which are tailored to solve a specific task better.

    Back the topic, I don't think your approach can solve any problems well.

    It doesn't help much if you want to teach or learn Mandarin faster.
    I think learning the pronunciation of each final is just inevitable, if you don't want to sound exotic.

    The extremely abstract system may cause the learner even more questions than the inconsistent Pinyin system.
    I have saw many foreigner asking questions like why sounds like "a" "o" sound different in different words; Why "-n" does not sound like an "n", etc.
    I have to explain the "a" in "ian", "an", "ang" are different, "yong" is actually "üong", Chinese coda "n" is different form English "n", etc.

    I don't think it will help much if you want to study the Chinese phonology, either.

    Many attempts to make an extremely compact phonology system that I know, aim to develop Romanization systems or input methods for dialects, in which case compactness is considered important.

    You will probably tell me next that determining the grammar of Mandarin is perfectly unnecessary as well, that all is 'pragmatics', :).
    You can't generalize this from my statement.
    I said it clearly:
    YangMuye said:
    I have been advocating "no rules" many times. But this is merely a pedagogical consideration.
    If something is already simple enough that doesn't need any rules to explain it, or it need too many rules to describe it, learning and understanding rules may take much more time and efforts than simply learning without rules.
    Recall the second principle I wrote: "to control cost ..."

    And you doubt:
    I wonder how they reconcile it with the hard facts they must eventually encounter if they learn English, Spanish, German, French, or Russian, not to mention really complex languages!
    My response is: Change your mind.
    We will of course encounter difficulties when learning foreign languages if we think them in the same way as we do with Chinese.
    And we have seen you have already encountered them learning Chinese.
    Chinese is not English. Many methods fit in Chinese better. Recall the first principle I wrote: to solve a specified problem

    I hope you can understand my perspective.
     

    zhg

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    It seems curious to me why you insist that -e- and -o- are the same phoneme even if you have found, in many cases, that their conterparts do not exist, in other words, in standard Mandarin po1 (泼) is meaningful whereas pe1(?) isn't. And to my litmited knowledge(thanks to google), the first rule for identifying phonemes is that they don't change in meanings if you replace one with another ,in this case -e- with -o-. Therefore I am curious to see how one claims that they are the same phoneme ,and does the comparision, if one of them is meaningless.

    In case you are interseted, actually among some of Chinses dialects, pronounciaton like pe1 for po1(泼) does exist ,but it seems to me that you want to disscus Mandarin not Chinese dialects here, right?

    Edit: Since I am completely new to this field and this is totally beyond my knowledge, please feel free to correct me if I get it wrong.

    Also I want ask an off-topic question, Are "b" and "v" (and "y","i","ll")in Spanish considered the same phoneme ? Or it depends on the varieties of Spanish.
     
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    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    Hi, Sibutlasi,
    If you tell a native speaker that you heard a word sounding like [wɔ] as in [wɔ də] or [wɔ da] and ask him what it could possibly mean, you would probably get something like [wɔ də] for 我的 and [wɔ da] for 我大. If you switch the [ɔ] to [e], you would however probably get something like [we də] for 为的 and [we da] for 伟大. Of course, we know [we] does not exist in Mandarin. What we concern is whether it would create a difference in meaning between [wɔ] and [we]. My intuition tells me it surely will.


    lüe is not a result of *lue>lye but EMC liak/liɑk/>>>>lio(h)/liɔ(ʔ)/>lüe.
    I'm not so sure. Despite Baxter-Sargart's reconstruction *lyak, Starostin reconstructed 略 as MC *lak < OC *rak without the medial y or i. It is parallel to 掠 MC *lak (Cantonese löek, Vietnamese luot) according to 《唐韻》, which prescribes it as 離灼切 (離 MC *le, 灼 MC *ćak)(灼 is shaku in Japanese On-Yomi and chak in Korean Hanja, both without medial y or i). It is worth mentioning that 略 and 駱 are seen as homophones in some dialects (e.g., Jinan luǝ, Xi'an luo). In Cantonese, it behaves somewhat like a minimal pair: 略 löek (Vietnamese luoc) vs. 駱 lɔk (Vietnamese lạc). If we accept the reconstruction of MC *lak for 略, it is not difficult to see the following sound correspondences: MC *nyak vs. Vietnamese nhuoc (Cantonese jöek, Korean yak, Japanese nyaku). Vietnamese /uo/ and Cantonese /öe/ obviously correspond to MC *-a-, and the /ö/ in Cantonese /öe/ (vs. Vietnamese /uo/) seems to be a result of assimilation.
     
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    Rethliopuks

    Member
    Mandarin
    I'm not so sure.[...]
    Well...I checked, and I'm now sure that in《廣韻》it is marked as 開口, meaning "with unrounded medials", so I think it should not be considered to contain a -y- then. Also it is in a position of 三等, which is considered to be indicating a /i/-ish medial, so to some extent I disaree with Starostin. Moreover 掠 is a homophone of 略.
    And I guess you made a very little lapse... If you check further you'll find that, 灼 is a character begining with initial 章*/tɕ/ which could only precede a "pure" -i-/-y-, so perhaps due to simplicity the always-accompanied "i" is omitted here, that in Japanese modern "sh-" is a indication of medial i as it developed from sy-[sj], and that in Korean ch is [tɕʰ] which is palatalized and thus indicates a "disappeared" -i-. Also, the öe itself in Guangzhou Canntonese is a contraction from earlier -io- (check:剛gong-EMC*kang while 姜goeng-EMC*kiang). Therefore I think they are all indicating a existed -i- sound. Sorry but I'm not quite familiar with both Jinan and Xi'an dialect and Vietnamese so I think should not comment on them.
    I'm a engineering student, so my perspective is strongly influenced by my major.[...]
    Wow that's interesting. You remind me my math teacher who accidentally chose a engineer-liked major(can't remember clearly). He said he could never understand their mind--when they make a solution they always intend to make a approximate one which is perfect and enough in practical use but not a exact one(perhaps derived theoretically).
     
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    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    It seems curious to me why you insist that -e- and -o- are the same phoneme[...]
    You seem to have misunderstood me, :). I did not insist that sounds written "e" and "o" in Pinyin are the same phoneme; I just said I was unable to find adequate evidence that they are different phonemes, as certain textbooks and even specialized books on Chinese phonology claim. That is a very different remark.

    You have also misunderstood the rule for identifying phonemes: it is exactly the opposite of what you said. To put it in your (or Googgle's) terms the first rule would be: "Two sounds belong to different phonemes when just replacing one with the other in at least one context (= two legitimate standard Mandarin words) meaning changes."

    Since I am a beginner, and I just know a little bit of spoken Mandarin, it is vastly beyond my powers to try to establish the phonology of 'pan-Chinese', even in case that made sense; but it does not make sense, because different dialects spoken in China definitely have different phonemic inventories. Actually, even different speakers of Chinese languages/dialects may have different 'personal' phonological systems. So, 'Mandarin', like 'English', etc. is just a convenient idealization; and 'Chinese' is an excessive idealization, because, leaving aside the writing system, it clearly contains contradictory systems of rules that apply in different parts of the country, to different speakers, etc.

    As to your question about Spanish, as 'graphemes' (distinctive units of the writing system) "b" and "v" contrast in the same environment, because in Spanish there are words like "vasto" (= large) and "basto" (= coarse), "iba" (= I/he/she/it was going) and "iva" (= V.A.T.), "vaca" (= cow) and "baca" (= luggage rack) that differ only in that one has "v" and the other has "b", but they are not different phonemes, because in the standard language "b" and "v" are pronounced exactly alike = . Some 'ultracorrect' speakers try to pronounce them differently, but that is just an affectation. If they eventually prevailed, there would be a case for the claim that "b" [bilabial] and "v" [labiodental] have become different phonemes, but that has not happened and is not likely to happen. The same reasoning applies to "y" and "ll": Spanish has written words like "haya" (= beechtree; also a form of "haber" = have) and "halla" (= finds [itself], 3rd. person, singular), obviously different in writing, but not in sound (in the standard language); in a small area around Valladolid some speakers do pronounce "ll" as [ly], a palatalized /l/, and "y" as Mandarin "y", but, in general, "ll" and "y" are pronounced exactly alike in Spain, so, for the great majority of speakers they do not differ in sound and hence cannot be different phonemes. Finally, "i" represents a vowel phoneme /i/ in "sí", and may function as a semivowel after the main vowels /a, e, o/ in so called 'diphthongs' (e.g., /ai, ei, oi.../), e.g. in "hay", "rey", "hoy", but it never alternates with "ll" or "y" and it never differs from "y" in sound when "y/i" are found after vowels in the written form (e.g. in "rey", "reino", "hay", "hoy", etc., pronounced /rréi/, /rréi.no/, /ái/, /ói/). Thus, we have two phonemes, a consonantal one /y/ and a vocalic one /i/; the spellings "ll" and "y" represent /y/ (for all but a minority of speakers who prefer [ly]); the spellings "i" and post-vocalic "y" represent /i/.

    I hope this satisfies your curiosity.
    If you tell a native speaker that you heard a word sounding like [wɔ] as in [wɔ də] or [wɔ da][...]
    Hi Skatinginbc

    You must give me ten years, with a bit of luck, supposing I'm still around by then, to learn enough about sinology to appreciate what the paragraph starting with "I'm not so sure." says, :). As to the [wo]/*[we] contrast, recall that possible, but non-existent, 'words' cannot count for the purposes of establishing phonemic contrasts, because, by definition, they have no meaning and no change of meaning can possibly emerge when the [o] of the existing "wo3" is replaced by the [e] of the hypothetical "we" (with whatever tone feature). I'm not saying that "we" is a phonotactically impossible word, of course. If "wei", "wen", and "me" are OK, I imagine "*we" could pass from possible to actual in the Mandarin lexicon as soon as the need arose, but this is just a supposition; I do not remotely know enough about Chinese phonology to judge.

    Regards
     
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    I was curious about the exact definition of the term "phoneme"(I admit I just wondered how linguists would make use of an apparently useless term), and I found some excellent quotes. I don't know if it is right or not, but I like it.

    To moderator: I have noticed that there are some quotation limits in the forum. There are only three lines (oh really!) of quotation and should be legit. If it is too much, please keep the last line.

    (Alex B. is the quoter, who emphasized the bold words.)
    Dresher, Elan. 2011. Phoneme. In Marc van Oostendorp, Colin J. Ewen, Elizabeth Hume & Keren Rice, eds., The Blackwell companion to phonology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. (a monumental work on phonology, in 5 volumes, a must-read!)
    <Excessive quoting removed>

    [...]
    As the above survey shows, the phoneme has not disappeared from phonological theory. The fact that recent handbooks of phonology have no chapters devoted to it is not a sign of its demise; rather, it is a function of the development of phonological theory [emphasis mine - Alex B.]. The time is past when one can attempt to provide an exhaustive definition of the phoneme and its properties apart from elaborating a complete theory of phonology. Many current topics in phonology can be viewed as being about aspects of the phoneme, even though the phoneme is not invoked.
     
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    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    To moderator: I have noticed that there are some quotation limits in the forum. There are only three lines (oh really!) of quotation and should be legit. If it is too much, please keep the last line.
    Thank you for still remembering the existence of moderators, YangMuye! I've done as requested but frankly, excessive quoting is not the only problem in this thread. With this thread, all my hope in humanity is on the verge of disappearing, and that is a more serious problem :(

    :D
     
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    tarlou

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I guess our moderate may have mistakenly merged Rethliopuks and Sibutlasi's posts (at #43). LOL

    I think we amateurs should not comment too much on how useful a research is or whether it should be done. It is very natural for a linguist to think about the phonology of Chinese using the methods he's familiar with. It's not wrong no matter it's useful or not. And in fact, as I read all these posts, I found my previous understanding of phonemes was completely wrong and the OP's analysis might be reasonable or useful.

    Let's focus on the original question. I'll summarize all finals with /e/ and /o/ in it from some materials I've read (without considering the interjection words):

    All finals that have an /e/ sound are (in Pinyin): -ei, -uei, -ie, -üe, -ian, -üan.
    (For the first 4, the vowels are all front vowels and vary between 'close-mid' to 'open-mid'. For the last two, the vowel is marked as [
    æ] or [ɛ] in different materials.)

    All finals that have an /o/ sound are (in Pinyin): -o, -uo.
    (The actual vowel is between [o] and [ɔ]. Some materials claim these two finals are the same sound, and so "mo" sounds like [mwo] as in the first post. However, there are also materials saying "mo" is [mo] indeed.
    Note to the first post: 'me' does not exist in any words other than interjection. And whenever 'e' appears without other vowels, it is always /ɤ/ or /ə/ instead of /e/.)

    Now it's pretty clear that /e/ and /o/ are in complementary distribution. We may even create a theory to explain (denoted the phoneme by X): X is a front vowel /e/ whenever there is an /i/ or /y/ before or after it, and X is a back vowel /o/ in all other cases. (Not really seriously. Forgive me if this sounds absurd!!)

    Edit: I was considering the "o" in "ong" as an /u/ sound instead of /o/. In fact it is between and [o]. The finals with this vowel are: 'o' in -ao, -iao, -ong and 'u' in -ou, -iou. (Different materials give very different narrow transcriptions... This is one version.)

    Edit 2: 'me' does exist (e.g. 'shen2me'). I was wrong in saying that 'me' does not exist in words other than interjections.
     
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    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    tarlou said:
    I guess our moderate may have mistakenly merged Rethliopuks and Sibutlasi's posts (at #43). LOL
    Thank you! As I said in post #46: "excessive quoting is not the only problem in this thread" :(

    :D
     

    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    Thank you Rethliopuks 29#, Ghabi 31#, Xiaolijie (throughout), and YangMuye for his new contributions in 28# and 40#. There is much helpful information in your posts that I am going to try to digest, integrate into a coherent set of propositions, and take into account, along with earlier replies by Skatinginbc, Tarlou and others, in my 'baby Mandarin' grammar (for strictly personal use!), but this thread has become too long and virtually unmanageable (to me), has already gone off-topic several times, is still full of recurring terminological and conceptual misunderstandings, and for my part I prefer not to make it even longer and harder to keep track of by adding any more point-by-point replies to the partially new issues you have introduced. In retrospect, though, I think a sort of consensus answer has emerged here after all, so thank you as well as all previous contributors. I will now stop posting in this thread myself unless something really new and important is added, but I am very satisfied with the quality of the debate, and I'll be looking forward to learning a lot from all of you here in the future.

    Kind regards
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    My final comment on the whole thread:
    Two sounds in complementary distribution do not necessarily mean they belong to the same phoneme. If we believe two phonemes must have a minimal pair in at least one context (= two legitimate standard words), we will be forced to accept that English and [ŋ] are allophones because they do not have minimal pairs and they are in complementary distribution (Note: [ŋ] is restricted to the coda and to the onset). Obviously, English and [ŋ] are different phonemes, and there is something unscientific about the "minimal pair" requirement with regard to the definition of phoneme. Of course, we can merge Mandarin /e/ and /o/ together and call it X as jokingly suggested by Tarlou in Post #47. It makes as much sense as combining English and [ŋ] together and calling it Y. If the original question of the thread title changes to "Can Mandarin [e] and [o] be conveniently treated as one phoneme"? My answer would be "yes", not because they actually are but because they can be treated as one with potential applications, for instance, in sign language and computer input programs. For instance, Mandarin [t͡ɕ, t͡ɕʰ, ɕ] are treated as allophones of [t͡s, t͡sʰ, s], [k kʰ x], or [ʈ͡ʂ, ʈ͡ʂʰ, ʂ] in some artificial applications like braille, Romanization, and so forth. Pinyin merges [e] and [ə] for the sake of convenience.
     
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    Sibutlasi

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Spain
    My final comment on the whole thread:[...]
    Hello, all.

    I had decided not to add anything to this already rather long and complex discussion, but Skatinginbc has just expressed doubts about the 'method' I more or less imposed on it, and so I must perhaps add a final bit of clarification in order to 'give Caesar his due'. As far as I can see, there was nothing wrong with the method, although certain statements thereof were too informal, certain hidden assumptions were not properly specified, and, above all, there has been a lot of confusion (due to participants starting from wrong concepts) and misunderstanding that was difficult to identify and dispell before the number of posts grew and the thread became difficult to follow.

    Skatinginbc is, of course, right that 'two sounds in complementary distribution do not necessarily belong to the same phoneme' (which I did not intend to claim, as far as I am aware, although perhaps my wording suggested it), but he has ignored the 'principle of charity' [roughly= "I know that this fellow is simplifying things/leaving technical details out for the sake of facilitating discussion"]. That's a generally observed convention in informal discussions like this, where heterogeneous audiences are likely to be involved, and I expected my deliberately simplified statements at various points to benefit from it. Next time, I'll be more rigorous from the start. :)

    Obviously, English /h/ and /ng/ never occur in the same syllabic slot, and as a consequence there is no pair of words distinguishable only because one has /h/ and the other has /ng/; minimally, they will differ also in that /h/ occurs initially, whereas /ng/ occurs finally; e.g., we have "hat", "hot", and "hang", but not "*toh", "*tah" nor "*ngah". That is supposed to be an extreme counterexample to the minimal-pair-based procedure of phoneme identification, and all textbooks cite it as a sort of 'exception', but it is not (cf. infra), and, anyway, there was no need to go as far as that: if sounds in complementary distribution had to belong to the same phoneme, practically any English consonant and any English vowel (or, worse, all English consonants and vowels) would have to be unified, since they must occupy different and incompatible syllabic slots and so never strictly contrast with each other (i.e., they are in 'complementary distribution' module the structure of an English syllable).

    A simple example may illustrate this: Granted a syllabic template, say [p_t], the vowels /e/, /i/, /ae/, /o/, /u/, ... are in paradigmatic contrast in the slot "_", since "pet", "pit", "pat", "pot" and "put" differ in meaning, but the consonants /p/, /b/, /g/, /sh/.... /l/, /m/, /n/.... are not, since "*pbt", "*ppt", "*pgt" do not exist. It follows that "*pbt" is phonemically indistinguishable from "*ppt" and so that and [p] should be assigned to the same phoneme (!):), but, much worse than that, "*ppt" or "*pbt" are also indistinguishable from "pot", "pet", "pat", "pit", or "put", say, and so there is no way to decide whether [p] and must be assigned to /o/, /e/, or /i/ either (!). There is no reason to assign to /e/, /i/, /o/, /a/, or any other vowel, and, conversely, there is no reason to assign [e], , etc. to /p/ rather than /b/, /g/ or whatever (!). Thus, if the vowel/consonant opposition collapses, all former 'minimal pairs' collapse with it: since the alternation between /p/, /b/, /t/, /s/.. etc. in syllable onsets was considered relevant only to the extent that "pat" and "bat" or "pet" and "bet", as well as "pet" and "pit", "bet" and "bit", etc., differed in meaning, once the vowel/consonant alternation ceases to be phonemically relevant, so does the alternation among individual consonants or individual vowels, and the whole phonemic analysis collapses.

    Obviously, classical phonologists were aware of this and it was understood that extra conditions must hold. Correspondingly, in the informal formulations that I (/we) have been using, there were also unstated assumptions without which the 'minimal pair test' could never be used to establish a phonological system. Which? Well, to be considered as potential allophones of the same phoneme, sounds must minimally be 'phonetically' similar in certain properties that allow them to occupy the same structural slot in the syllable (= occur in paradigmatic opposition within sets of legitimate meaning-form composites. Just for the sake of argument, consonants have [+consonantal] in common (plus additional features) and vowels have [+vowel] in common, plus additional features. Without at least those two categories, derived from distribution within the syllable, and without 'syllable structure' as a basic template to define legitimate paradigmatic oppositions, unconstrained sound comparisons lead to chaos and so are heuristically useless.

    Granted syllable structure and such minimal 'categories' to fill each of its 'slots', an obvious way to handle the English - [ng] problem is to assume that both are consonantal (= 'syllable marginal') - /h/ alternating with /p/, /b/, /t/, /s/, etc. in "hang", "pang", "bang", "tang", "sang", and /ng/ alternating with /n/, /l/, /t/, /s/, etc., as in "ping", "pin", "pill", "pit", "piss", etc., - and that English /h/ additionally has the feature (based on distribution) [+syllable initial], whereas English [ng] has the negative specification of the same feature [- syllable initial]. With just that, their contradictory specifications for the same feature block their unification, and, even if they do not give rise to any valid 'minimal pair', they cannot be assigned to the same phoneme.

    In sum: Although I no longer even exactly remember how I phrased my informal presentation of phonemics and the 'minimal pair test' in the preceding posts (because I took it for granted, I did not expect it would be necessary to explain, even less justify, the phonemic approach after a hundred years of use by phonologists) and so I may well have omitted technical details necessary to make it applicable, that does not say anything against the phonemic principle or the 'minimal pair test' in themselves. If anything, I may have been a bit too informal, but once the unstated assumptions are specified, we cannot blame the method for what we have not been able to achieve in our discussion.

    As to my relative informality, it must be interpreted within the usual conventions in discussions of this type, and, particularly, bearing in mind the 'principle of charity' I referred to above. After all, if posters had to share a 'proper' phonological theory in order to handle elementary questions like mine, this would be a very inefficient venue for intellectual exchange, not to mention the fact that, these days, most phonologists subscribe rather more sophisticated theories which would raise a formidable barrier to understanding unless we really talked shop among themselves, which would have left lay readers in the dark. I presented my question in 'phonemic' terms because I assumed classical phonemics was more likely to be familiar to laymen than anything else available on the current theoretical market, if only because in many countries it is taught at elementary schools since the early stages and is the only phonology schoolchildren (and then linguistically untrained mature speakers) can depend on in their dealings with native or foreign language subjects.

    Sorry, this has again become a lengthy post, but it will be the last one.

    Thanks to all for your interest.
     
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    Rethliopuks

    Member
    Mandarin
    Thank you! As I said in post #46: "excessive quoting is not the only problem in this thread" :(

    :D
    That's too bad for me since I just found a mistake in my post and now I can't edit it...
    Well I'll correct it here: 开口 means "with no rounded medials".

    :idea: < After a period of time, posts are no longer editable. If you need to correct something then, you can do it in a new post (or request the moderator for help) but make sure to tell reader where in which post the correction is intended for. Xiaolijie, moderator >
     
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