The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

Immaturity in linguistics

Progress on the extension to Zounds is steady. The converter to transform a series of IPA characters (including diacritics) to a binary features representation and back again works. For example, it takes d̪̥ and produces a representation of +anterior, -back, +consonantal, -continuant, +coronal, etc, which when converted back becomes (properly) t̪. Marvellous! The next step is to add in the necessary preprocessing of the binary features representation so that it can be used in the existing Zounds sound change engine.

In writing the conversion code, I came across a disturbing property of the current state of linguistics as a discipline: it’s undisciplined. There’s a standard alphabet, but the Americans don’t use it, nor is it the last word in other traditions of linguistic study. There are a number of binary features models and none of them call the same features by the same name. It’s a mess! The IPA was established in 1886 and the whole field is still defining its terms (again, and again, and again). I appreciate that understandings change, and terminology may need to change in response, but don’t these people read the literature, look for commonalities, and standardise on usage? How much controversy can there be in deciding between “rounded” and “round”, to take a trivial example? Pick one, make it the standard, and roundly chastise anyone who deviates.

Posted by jamie on May 23, 2003 11:21+12:00