Speech Prosody 2008

Campinas, Brazil
May 6-9, 2008

All is Prosody: Phones and Phonemes are the Ghosts of Letters

Robert F. Port

Departments of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

The standard way to represent language within linguistics is using letter-like units, i.e., with consonant and vowel phones and phonemes. But this representation, despite its powerful intuitive appeal is not supported by any experimental data. There are 4 straightforward predictions implied by this model. All are shown to fail. One of the main problems is the inability of segments to permit representing actual values of time. One realtime property of speech is the periodically produced speech found, e.g., in song and chant. Several audio clips of spontaneously produced rhythmic speech will be analyzed and speaker performance on the related laboratory task of speech cycling will be reviewed. In this phraserepetition task speakers quickly adopt nested periodic timing patterns that are surprisingly rigid in time. Letter-based descriptions of speech make such rhythm invisible and irrelevant to anything `linguistic’. This is further evidence that phones and phonemes are only categories of patterns in the speech of a community, and not the psychological symbol tokens employed in the realtime production and perception of speech.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Port, Robert F. (2008): "All is prosody: phones and phonemes are the ghosts of letters", In SP-2008, 7-13.