[b-hebrew] Phonemes versus phones
stoneyb at touchwoodcreative.com
Fri Jan 22 11:57:18 EST 2010
> The points you raise assume a community with linguistic knowledge of &c .
a society with sophisticated linguistic understanding and strong analytical
I think not. There's no need to posit a formal project of "implementing a
system". The origin of the alphabet is contentious, but I think everybody
would agree that it starts with the acrophonic principle: at some point
somebody got the idea of representing, say, 'father' by combining the
ox-head glyph with the tent glyph, and your farmers/nomads/traders built
from there. They stopped before getting around to representing vowels
because a)words don't begin with vowels in Semitic tongues, and b) the
system worked - it was Good Enough. And the history of the alphabet ever
since has been one of different linguistic communities adopting an existing
alphabet and tweaking it as little as possible to make it Good Enough.
None of these folks were looking to "express the basic sound units they
perceived as worth expressing". They were looking to express words, and they
stumbled on the trick of using some of the "basic sound units" of which
words are comprised. Understanding of those "basic sound units" wasn't
formalized until the 1870s - as Polanyi says, "we know more than we can
tell" - but it was at bottom the phoneme was there all along.
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