[b-hebrew] Phonemes versus phones

Stoney Breyer stoneyb at touchwoodcreative.com
Fri Jan 22 10:20:04 EST 2010

James -

I perceive two fundamental flaws in your argument. Both have been raised in
this discussion, but so elliptically that I think you have failed to
recognize their import.

1. You assert that the inventors of the alphabet were seeking to map between
units of a speech signal and the symbols of their alphabet. I suspect you
are led astray here by your own professional concern with interpreting
speech signals. The inventors of the alphabet were not seeking to map units
of a speech signal but units of a *linguistic* signal - that is, a signal
from which the phonic noise had already been stripped.

2. You assert that the inventors of the alphabet were seeking a 'one-to-one'
mapping, &c. I doubt this. The inventors of the alphabet were not
constrained by apriori theoretical principles; they were seeking a
convenient notation for linguistic signals, and they were willing to
tolerate a lot of ambiguity and inaccuracy to achieve it. They dispensed
with vowel notation not because they could not 'perceive' them but because
in their Semitic tongues the information vowels conveyed was in many,
perhaps most, cases inessential or reconstructible. In the upshot, it was a
classic "good enough" solution: "Entire markets have been transformed by
products that trade power or fidelity for low price, flexibility, and
	- Erin Biba, quoted in The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and
Simple Is Just Fine. Robert Capps. Wired 17.09.

Stoney Breyer
Writer/Touchwood Creative

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