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D. The Copenhagen Phonological School

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The Phoneme theory abroad

The approach of a phoneme in its historical aspect

Lecture 2.


The Phoneme Theory in our country and abroad.

1a. B. de Courtenay’s theory.

1b. Scerba’s Phoneme theory and other phoneticians’ approach

2a; The Prague Phonological School;

2b. The London Phonological School;

2c. The American Phonological School;

The Phoneme Theory. The term” phoneme” appeared in the linguistic literature of the 19th century in the works of the French linguist F. de Saussure. According to him a phoneme is defined as a total sum of acoustic impressions and articulatory movements. The linguistic aspect is lacking in this definition. He ignores the sense differentiating function of the phoneme / his phisiologysm / and draws a line between language and speech, considering it as a system of signs, expressing ideas /his psychologism /. His conceptions greatly influenced a great number of linguists and schools.

The phoneme theory came into being in Russia. Its originator was Prof. B. de Courtenay, the founder of the Kazan linguistic school. His work on the phoneme theory may be roughly subdivided into two periods. Firstly, he considered a phoneme to be a component of a morpheme. He stated that one and the same morpheme was always represented by the same combination of sounds.[as in Slavonic languages].He centered his attention mainly on the phenomenon of phonetic and historical alternations. Secondly, he abandoned this conception in the 90th of the XIX century and began to search for a unit not bound by the limits of a morpheme. He defined a phoneme as an idea of a sound which appears in the mind of a speaker before the sound is uttered. A speech sound is an invention of the scientists. What really exists is the perception of a sound, the complex perception of the articulatory movements, muscular sensation and acoustic impressions. This complex perception is a phoneme.

This theory was developed by Prof.Scerba, Krushevsky and by other Soviet and foreign linguists. According to Scerba sounds must be studied not only from the acoustic points of view, but as sounds capable of distinguishing one word of a language from other words of the same language. They fulfill a communicative function in speech. According to Scerba, a phoneme is realized in speech in concrete sound combinations, which he calls allophones. The most typical, which may be pronounced in isolation, represent a speech element, opposed to other sounds. It is “tipichniy ottenok”. The number of phonemes in a given language is defined by the principal members. In English there are 44 phonemes, in Russian – 36. Phonemic variants are very important, because they may develop into new phonemes: O.E.or they may stop functioning the theory of the phoneme was then further developed by Scerba’s disciples. [Zinder]. A phoneme is understood as a historical category. It functions in a language at a certain stage of its development. It may be characterized as a unit of different aspects: 1. its material and objective aspects. It really exists in a language. It is a concrete sound, characterized by definite formation and definite acoustic qualities. It exists independently in the speech of all the members of the community; it does not depend on the will of an individual, it is obligatory for all, as it is a product of the historical development of a given collective body. Thus, it is a social phenomenon. 1. The functional value. The phoneme has two main functions: a) to serve as a material integument of words and morphemes; b) to differentiate the meaning of words, their grammatical forms and morphemes.

2. The phoneme is the result of generalization. It is a dialectical unit of the general and the particular. It is realized in speech in concrete sound combinations as allophones, being at the same time something typical and general when opposed to other phonemes in speech.

The theory of the phoneme is being developed into two main directions in our country: the Moscow linguistic school, the St. Petersburg linguistic school. There are many different linguistic schools of the phoneme abroad: the Prague phonological school, the London phonological school, the American phonological school and the Copenhagen phonological school.

The Phoneme Theory abroad.


The Prague Phonological School.

The phoneme theory was further developed by the Linguistic Society of Prague. The head of the school is N.S. Trubetzkoy. He first became acquainted with the phoneme theory through the works of Baudouin de Courtenay and Scerba. He propounded his phonological views in a number of works, the principal of which is” Grundzuge der Phonologie.” The main points of his theory are: 1. the separation of phonology from phonetics; 2. The theory of phonological oppositions; 3. the theory of the arc-phoneme.

He developed de Saussure’s principle of the separation of speech from language by proclaiming a new science- phonology as distinct from phonetics. According to him, phonology is a linguistic science. It should concern itself with the distinctive features only which are connected with meaning, while phonetics is a biological science, it should concern itself with the sounds of a language, as they are pronounced and as they are heard, without paying any special attention to their function in the language. Trubetzkoy further develops his system of oppositions by giving special prominence to the most essential members: 1. the phoneme, which he defines as a unity of the phonologically relevant features of a sound; 2. the speech sound, which he defines as a unity of all the features, both relevant and irrelevant, of a sound representing the phoneme in connected speech. Some oppositions may be neutralized, the phoneme in the position of neutralization is the arc-phoneme, “a unity of relevant features common to two phonemes”.

The London Phonological School.

It is headed by Prof. D. Jones of London and is concerned with the physical conception of the phoneme. His views are expressed in a number of works. According to him a phoneme is defined as “ a family of sounds in a given language which are related in character and are used in such a way that no one member ever occurs in a word in the same phonetic context as any other member”. He breaks up the phoneme into atoms and considers different features of a phoneme as independent phenomena. He distinguishes tones and tonemes in tone languages, strones and stronemes as different degrees of stress, chrones and chronemes as different length of vowels.His aim is to give a phoneme a purely practical application.

The American Phonological School.

The American phonological school is headed by L.Bloomfield and E. Sapir. Their approach of the phoneme theory is synchronic. They treat the linguistic phenomena from the point of view of structuralism-“ pattern is habit, behavior is culture”. They compare linguistic processes with a fire in a wooden stove , they are invisible. One can judge about what is going on within by an individual’s behavior. The system of the language may be compared with any system of signs, for example, with Morse code.

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