Saturday, May 1, 2010

Early thoughts of Bloomfield about the phoneme

Hi Everybody,

Here's something you may not know about Leonard Bloomfield's approach of the phoneme:

V. Phonemes:
15. Assumption 4. Different morphemes may be alike or partly alike as to vocal features.
Thus book : table [b]; stay : west [st]; -er (agent) : -er (comparative).
The assumption implies that the meanings are different.
16. Def. A minimum same of vocal feature is a phoneme or distinctive sound.
As for instance, English [b, s, t], the English normal word-stress, the Chinese tones.
17. The number of different phonemes in a language is a small sub-multiple of the number of forms.
18. Every form is made up wholly of phonemes.

Citation from
Bloomfield, Leonard. ‘A set of postulates for the science of language’. Language 2: 153-164, 1926

What is most disconcerting is that phoneme, (distinctive or vocal) feature, stress and tone are put exactly on the same level: they are the basic phonological components that combine to make up forms. It can be noted that phoneme in Bloomfield (1926) is synonymous with feature and is not yet a bundle of features belonging to a superior or different level of the description.
Isn't this unexpected ?

Best Wishes


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