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Phonological insanity

Phoneme says:

In spoken language, a phoneme is a basic, theoretical unit of sound that can change the meaning of a word.

This is usually operationalized via minimal pairs:

Looking for minimal pairs forms part of the research to study the phoneme inventory of a language. (Phonology)

[Minimal pairs] are used to demonstrate that two phones constitute two separate phonemes in the language. (Minimal pair)

But not is apparently not enough:

However with this method it is often not possible to detect all phonemes so other approaches are used as well. (Phonology)

What are these "other approaches"?

Fromkin says (pp. 432-4):

  1. minimal triplets, quadruplets, etc. (?)
  2. "frames": e.g. h__d
  3. complementary distributions: "X and Y are said to be in complementary distribution if Y never occurs in any of the phonetic environments in which X occurs"
  4. near-minimal pairs: "pairs which would be minimal except for some quite irrelevant difference"

Wow. This really proves there is artistic licence in defining phonemes:

If they were allophones, we would except that we could locate the RULES that determine which allophone occurs where. But a moment's reflection will show that there could be no such rules. (p. 535)

Also, why is the definition word-based?

Also, in

minimal pairs are pairs of words or phrases in a particular language, which differ in only one phoneme and have a distinct meaning (Minimal pair)

wouldn't it be more accurate to say "which differ in only one phone"? (Not really. It's more like "if all the other phonemes are the same except the one in question, and if, in the one in question, the phones are the same"?) (Actually, you were right the first time.)


X is a metaphor for Y means that Y is (or can be, or should be, or could be) understood in terms of X. Example: a seaworthy ship is a metaphor for a well-ordered state.

metaphors for Y means ways of understanding Y.


Paul Watzlawick. Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? An amazon.com review suggests this might be another perspective on "embodied mind" stuff.

he collates and develops essays by pioneers in biology, psychology and philosophy, whose work all points to a challenging hypothesis: that our biological makeup, in tandem with our linguistic codes, give rise to the very world we come to know. Far from representing a world with fixed categories of things, we construct our world through our unique perception (and expression) of it. We humans, he argues, travel a path between the intuited world of idealism and the logical one of traditional realism

The author/editor is a psychotherapist, though.

Perscriptive Fun

Talk:American and British English Differences had:

"I could care less" is equally bad American. The people who say it are just being lazy. It does mean the opposite of what they're trying to say. -- Zoe

Note the assumptions here:

  1. It is easier to say "could" than "couldn't".
  2. It is wrong to say "could". Why? Because the meaning of a phrase is completely determined by the meanings of the sum of its parts and the rules of grammar. The literal meaning, so determined, of "I could care less", is "I am able to care less", or "I am able to be less interested", or "I am able to be more uninterested". This is different from the literal meaning of "I could care less", which is "I am unable to be more uninterested". (This is not the "opposite" meaning, as Zoe implies, but it is more correct.)

The first is probably true iff if one has learned to say "could", and tends to say it unconsciously. (Maybe there is a psycholinguistics argument about it being more taxing on the brain to say the extra "n't", but this is perhaps a matter of research, and perhaps meaningless.)

The second is not always true. The meaning of wholes follow more or less directly from the meanings of their parts. Examples:

  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. (full metaphorical meaning applies to a much wider range than the literal meaning. so the meaning is motivated, but not determined)
  • rational-ize (you could maybe say "-ize" takes an adjective x and gives the meaning "to make x", so the meaning here is "to make rational". but "rationalize" doesn't mean just that; it means something more along the lines of "to make appear rational, even though it isn't".)
  • She's the bee's knees. (apparently totally unmotivated meaning)

There are perhaps ways to the meaning of "I could care less" as following from general principles as well. If you take the sentence not to be "literal" but ironic, then the normal American meaning would follow. Maybe this is suggested by stress patterns:

I couldn't care less


I could care less.

(I think these are the typical stress patterns for these phrases.)

Ortolan88 says:

No, it is an American idiom. It doesn't make sense but millions of people say it. It has nothing to to with laziness. It means "I don't care." It is synonymous with "I couldn't care less", also an idiom, a little more logical, that also means "I don't care." Ortolan88

The sound pattern of English

A silly idea for perception:

The hearer makes use of certain cues and certain expectations to determine the syntactic structure and semantic content of an utterance. Given a hypothesis as to its syntactic structure - in particular its surface structure - he usses the phonological principles that he controls to determine a phonetic shape. The sypothesis will then be accepted if it is not too radically at variance with the acoustic material. (p. 24)

Stuff to put in Linguistics:

Human language can be viewed on a number of different scales; language can be seen as a stream of words, a stream of sentences, or a stream of conversations. Language is a such a complicated affair that linguists find it helpful to think about their subject matter on several different scales at once.


morphology tries to explain the inner structure of words

(so does phonology)

syntax tries to explain how words go together to form sentences

Explanations of meaning:

lexical semantics

(unqualified) semantics

discourse analysis


  • the atomic word, with a category.
  • words build sentences
  • some combinations of words form (valid) sentences. some do not.
  • why word categories: take a valid S, replace any word with a same-cat word, and you still have a valid S
  • within a sentence, a particular word will seem more related to one word than another; words seem to form clumps.
  • clumps of words seem to form clumps
  • (clumps seem to be composed of contiguous words)
  • what governs the clumping and gramaticality seems (somewhat) independent from meaning.

  • a phrase is a clump of (words or clumps of words)

Primacy of speech
Main areas:

  • the sound<->meaning map (this is somewhat incompatible with the view that language is thought)
  • relation to thought
  • innate vs learned
  • patterns noticed along the way

clauses are not longer very important

Ryguasu, I have written a book, which I am now trying to peddle, that is basically a satire on linguistic purism and prescriptive grammarians. It is very strong in point of view, of course, so I can't (and don't want to) take the same approach in anything I contribute to the Wikipedia. To summarize very crudely, most of the prescriptive approaches are really matters of good prose style for educated readers. In such cases, I am as conservative as anyone else. In anything that I write or edit, I would not use the singular they for instance (see the brouhaha at Talk:Gender-neutral pronouns for a lot of what I think), but I recognize that the singular they has a strong function in English and is becoming more useful as people are more uncomfortable with using he, him, his to mean everyone. So also with many phrases and idioms. For written language there are right and wrong ways, but written language is inherently conservative and really represents only a single dialect of English. The only thing that really rules in English, or any language, is what people actually say and that is neither conservative nor logical. Even parts of speech, however handy, are simply convenient conventions for understanding sentences. The complaints made by purists about "verbing of nouns" are simply silly or at best conservative and do not reflect actual practice, as hundreds of thousands of words have the same spelling for both a verb and noun form, just as there are adjectives that end in -ly and adverbs that do not, etc. etc. etc. What this means for articles in the Wikipedia varies from article to article. The split infitive prohibition is virtually a myth, but on the other hand no matter how many people mix up singular subjects with plural verbs it really isn't a good idea and will cause them to be taken to be ignorant. Too much to say on an empty stomach, but you have hit on something that is a pretty big deal to me, a very big deal, actually. Regards, Ortolan88

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