An introduction to linguistics

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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#61  Postby epepke » Apr 29, 2013 6:02 am

Onyx8 wrote:Well, I'm still with you so far. :thumbup:

This is perhaps OT just yet, but in the words: WHy, WHere, WHen etc. why is it that the word is spelt W+H but is pronounced H+W?

Maybe that's a spelling question rather than linguistics? Or it's just dumb....


As the man says, that's orthotics. I don't know when the convention came about or why, but there is a consistent convention. It's not really H-W. It is when you think about it and say it slowly, but when you say it fast, it's really an unvoiced W. That is, you say W, but without the vocal cords making a noise. It eventually is voiced because you have to start saying the vowel eventually, but the basic difference between "wail" and "whale" is that in the latter you wait a bit before voicing it. HW probably would have made more sense, but you can think of WH as a W that is a bit like an H.

It's used elsewhere. In "Buddha," the "ddh" is supposed to be softer, a bit more H-like, than a regular "d." I don't know what the extra "d" is for, though. Or "dharma." In those cases, it's supposed to make it a bit more like a phoneme that doesn't exist in English.

As you can see by the minimal pair "wail" and "whale," those are two different phonemes in English. Many languages, they're the same phoneme.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#62  Postby Zwaarddijk » Apr 29, 2013 9:36 am

Delvo wrote:I just came here after reading some stuff about ancient ancient Middle-Eastern gods with names like Ba`al, El, An, Ki, Inanna, and Ea. Without written vowels, those would be Bl, L, N, K, Nnn, and nothing at all. I can see how other related languages' cognates with known vowels in later eras, together with some "rules" about sound changes based on adjacent sounds, can help linguists infer the ancient vowels between written consonants in a dead language with living relatives... but where do they get the ones that dangle out at the beginning or end of a word or even are the entire word themselves, especially in a dead isolate? Or is it just not accurate that the vowels were unwritten?

It is true that the vowels (mostly) were unwritten, although at some point in many of these languages a phenomenon called matres lectionis appeared - using certain consonants such as <y> and <h> to mark the presence of a vowel. However, the particular thing with vowels in the beginning of words is not a result of that, as semitic languages genuinely did not allow vowels in the onset of words (with some exceptions, e.g. in Biblical Hebrew, the sequence wa- can sometimes turn into u- in front of certain consonants, but that is the only permitted initial vowel in the entire language!)

This, of course, makes El sound a bit contradictory, how can that be if vowels are not permitted initially? Well, there is an initial consonant that the Hebrews pronounced, but which the Greeks, Romans and English do not have in their language, and thus lost. El would not be just L and An not just N, but they would be something like ʔL and ʔN (or ħN, not sure about that one as I don't know much about Babylonian) (One of these sounds, btw, is present in the forms of English that removes its /t/-sounds in some positions and replaces them with this pause-like sound (technically known as the glottal stop. See, e.g. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSd16tLz-0E[/youtube]. There's some other similar sounds present in these languages, if you want to hear a guy that really pronounces that kind of sound in Hebrew very clearly, listen to [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZkhWPWHqWE[/youtube]) You actually find a transliteration of that consonant in Ba`al, as ` is used for one of those consonants in some transliteration schemes for these languages. The exact sounds used in those languages vary, of course, but usually are rather far back in the mouth - laryngeals, pharyngeals, glottals and so on.

At least in Hebrew and Aramaic, there seems to be some statistical correlation between the consonant and which vowels are likely to follow/precede, so with a word for which no pronunciation tradition have survived, it's still possible to guess with some confidence as well as calculate how confident we can be of the pronunciation. (The correlation probably is a result from sound changes where the following vowel has changed due to the surrounding sounds.)
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#63  Postby Zwaarddijk » Apr 29, 2013 9:57 am

epepke wrote:
Onyx8 wrote:Well, I'm still with you so far. :thumbup:

This is perhaps OT just yet, but in the words: WHy, WHere, WHen etc. why is it that the word is spelt W+H but is pronounced H+W?

Maybe that's a spelling question rather than linguistics? Or it's just dumb....


As the man says, that's orthotics. I don't know when the convention came about or why, but there is a consistent convention. It's not really H-W. It is when you think about it and say it slowly, but when you say it fast, it's really an unvoiced W. That is, you say W, but without the vocal cords making a noise. It eventually is voiced because you have to start saying the vowel eventually, but the basic difference between "wail" and "whale" is that in the latter you wait a bit before voicing it. HW probably would have made more sense, but you can think of WH as a W that is a bit like an H.

It's used elsewhere. In "Buddha," the "ddh" is supposed to be softer, a bit more H-like, than a regular "d." I don't know what the extra "d" is for, though. Or "dharma." In those cases, it's supposed to make it a bit more like a phoneme that doesn't exist in English.

As you can see by the minimal pair "wail" and "whale," those are two different phonemes in English. Many languages, they're the same phoneme.

It's a distinction that is being lost in large areas, though, called the wine-whine merger. The /hw/ pronunciation is a result of a sound change, possibly, where the voicelessness simply got its onset move back a bit so the w part appears after the voiceless air stream.

I guess WH is written as it is because English likes to put -h after consonants to create digraphs: ph, sh, th, ch; if you think about it, any of those could just as well be written the other way around. So it'd be a bit odd to break that pattern. It was written HW up until Middle English, and I'd guess the change simply was influence from the other digraphs.

As for the spelling of buddha, it doesn't really affect the English pronunciation, but just transliterates some detail from some Asian language, it's really a superfluous spelling detail, to be honest. I bet a lot of people try to spelling-pronounce it as something distinct from budda, but ... no such difference really is implied.
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