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[Xmca-l] Re: Vowels Are From Venus

Completely agree that the whole IPA idea is fundamentally flawed (if that's where you're pointing), in many ways.  Very handy for Brits in the field though.

The most intelligent critiques of Vygotsky I've read (non-Marxist critiques) are from SFL people.  I'm thinking mainly of Ruqaiya Hasan.


On 30/10/2017 22:24, David Kellogg wrote:
I'm enjoying the phonology of this thread a lot, but I don't want to shut
out people who don't go weak-kneed at the thought of unvoiced Japanese
vowels, so let me start with a point of larger interest to the list.

The point I was making was that Chinese phonologists didn't require vowels
to describe their own language. Systemic-functional linguists like
Halliday believe that linguistic categories don't have any extra-linguistic
or supra-linguistic status; they are simply language turned back on itself.
That means that the best descriptors tend to be found within the language
we are describing; the auto-ethnographic tradition of Boas, Sapir, and
Whorf were not simply "morally" superior to the missionary tradition, they
also came up with better descriptors, just as the Chinese anthropologists
who are doing work on, say, prestation or arranged marriages today are to
be preferred to the European travellers of the nineteenth century or to the
crap that I wrote in my twenties.

I agree with Ivan that we need sub-syllabic units to describe a phonology,
and I think that's what Chinese linguists were getting at with their
rhyming dictionaries and also what the zhuyin system provides for Taiwan
linguists. Unlike the missionary systems (e.g. Yale, Wade-Giles, etc.),
these are Chinese phonologies by Chinese phonologists, and they don't use
vowels. Of course, they have to refer to the same phenomena that we refer
to when we say "vowel", but (like a child and an adult who use the same
object reference but different meanings, or like Frege's famous example of
"the victor at Jena" and "the vanquished at Waterloo") they refer to the
same phenomena in a different way.  Both "aperture" and "vowel" are
attempts to describe a quality we might call "openness". But they do it

First of all, "aperture" is dynamic. In order to describe a Chinese
syllable, we need descriptors that are different at the beginning, in the
middle, and at the end of a sound, e.g. tone. A "vowel" is imagined to be a
constant quality, associated with a particular position in the vowel
triangle, and a specific value for the first and second formants (or, if
you prefer the Chomsky-Halle description, a specific combination of
distinctive features). Secondly, "aperture" is corporeally manifest but
"vowel" is not. We can see it on an MRI scan, and even I can discern it on
a spectrograph. But vowels are really abstractions from the physical
position of the articulators. It turns out, when we compare MRI scans with
those palatographs that poor old Daniel Jones did with chalk dust on his
tongue and a slate stuck into his mouth, that there are many ways of
producing the same vowel, and many vowels associated with a particular
position. The letter 'y' in English is sometimes a vowel ("lovely") and
sometimes a consonant ("yellow"), and it is really indistinguishable from
the sound /i/ which we find as a vowel in "feel" and "real" etc. The sound
/h/ is supposed to be a consonant in English but it is a very open sound
(and in fact it drives lip readers crazy because it always takes the lip
shape of the following vowel instead of having a lip shape of its own).
Korean, which does use vowels and consonants, has a "ghost" consonant
"nieung" because it is the opposite of English--in English we don't allow
consonants to appear on their own, but in Korean vowels are not allowed to
form syllables on their own so they have to begin with the silent consonant
"nieung" which is pronounced "ng" at the end of the syllable. Arabic has
sound ع, which is an indubitable consonant by Arabic distributional rules,
but one of the most "open" sounds that you can make (it's the sound you
would make if you tried to swallow a large date whole while keeping your
mouth wide open). So there is a reliable relationship between aperture and
some physical posture, but there is no such relationship with "vowel".

Finally, Rod. Ivan is right--I was putting together two expressions that
James used to make a kind of antithetical couplet up. The two expressions
are not actually used together, although they can be (if you are watching
an opera, and you shout out one, somebody might reply with the other). But
I was trying to make a larger point about the "favorite clauses" that we
find in Chinese. All languages have "preferred clause types", so for
example we don't very often say things like "Why is not known by me" or "A
donkey in Bremen was there in Germany long ago" in English. One of the
reasons why, say, the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch sounds so
prosaic when it is translated into English is that it ignores the kinds of
favorite clause that Chinese people use. On the desk in front of me, I have
a lamp that my wife made from the "duelling antithetical coujplets" of the
Platform Sutra.

Shen shi bo di shu
Xin ru ming jing tai
(Prosaically: "The body is a bodhi tree/the mind is like a mirror" but
literally: "Flesh is Bo Di tree/mind like clear glass stand")

I think you can see that the original is designed around antitheses: 5
syllables vs. 5 syllables, body vs. mind, living tree vs. wooden stand and
even "to be" vs. "seems like".

I thought that James' two expressions are similar, because the first
describes a material process of industrial production; I think it refers to
the smelting of bronze, which is why I translated the character "qing" as
green rather than "blue" as Ivan suggests. The second  line descibes
something magical or metaphysical (my wife, for example, thinks that "shen"
should be translated "fairy" rather than "god"). The first has color,
temperature, and sensuous qualities, while the second is more ethereal and
has only a ghostly movement in and out.

David Kellogg

On Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 11:00 PM, Ivan Uemlianin <ivan@llaisdy.com> wrote:

There's also Zhuyin (注音) of course, an indigenous transliteration system
for Mandarin (used mainly in Taiwan these days).  Doesn't use the Latin
alphabet; does have symbols for consonants and vowels. Developed around


On 30/10/2017 13:44, Ivan Uemlianin wrote:

Missionaries have been romanising Chinese since the 16th century. The
first modern indigenous Chinese romanization system was developed in 1892
#wikipedia.  In any case my point is about phonology not orthography.


On 30/10/2017 13:30, James Ma wrote:

In general there are no Chinese characters indicative of a vowel or a
consonant. Speaking orthographically, Chinese is ideograph-based, whereas
English phonograph-based. These are two different orthographical systems.
What is distinctive about Chinese language is that each character is
constructed as an idea or a concept and has its historical, literary and
aesthetic origin. This is probably why learning Chinese presents a
considerable challenge for speakers of phonograph-based languages. David
was correct, there wasn’t a romanisation system until 1950s when Pinyin
created as a romanisation system for standard Chinese, Hanyu 汉语, hence
Hanyu Pinyin 汉语拼音.


On 29 October 2017 at 22:55, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:

Halliday would describe it as a difference in aperture. "Man" is open,
while "men" is half-open. You can feel and even see your jaw moving when
you move from one to the other.

Aperture is best thought of dynamically, as a movement from one posture
another rather than as a single static posture, as when we describe
So once again it is better thought of as prosody than as articulation.

Take a look at this:


Halliday's model is not as idiosyncratic--or as language specific--as it
seems. A lot of linguists agree that phonemes are essentially
of graphemes, and that syllables are a better model for understanding
spoken phonology. In fact, when we read Vygotsky, we see that he uses
term "phoneme" in a rather strange way: he doesn't mean vowels and
consonants, because these actually DON'T have any meaning except in
comparison to other possible selections a speaker might have made but
didn't. In fact, the example he gives of "phonemes" in the Lectures on
Pedology are Russian case endings. Russian case endings are actually not
phonemes at all but morphemes.

Vygotsky went to school with Jakobson and probably studied with
So for him a "phoneme" is really what we would call a morpho-phoneme.
like a Chinese character than a vowel or a consonant!

David Kellogg

On Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 6:18 AM, Ivan Uemlianin <ivan@llaisdy.com>

Without referring to vowels, how would one describe the phonological
difference in Mandarin between 慢 and 焖?


festina lente

On 29 Oct 2017, at 20:59, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
Chinese phonologists didn't use romanization until the 1950s (and even


it was mostly . Even in old rhyming dictionaries, the main unit of


is the morpho-syllable (i.e. the written character, but spoken). The
dictionaries are conscious of an onset and a rhyme, but not a vowel or

consonant. You can see that the "rhyme" (that is, the "tail" of the
syllable) is always either a vowel or a nasal, but not a stop. Vowels

consonants don't explain this (and they don't explain tones either), so
it's hardly surprising that Chinese phonologists were not interested

Now, suppose we consider Chinese as the OPPOSITE of English. English

articulation (vowels and consonants) at the centre of its phonological
description and considers prosoday (intonation and stress) to be
peripheral, but Chinese is the other way around. We can easily descibe
every syllable in Chinese as a set of half a dozen prosodic features:
initial posture, final posture, voice onset, aperture (open or


of course tone. This is a much better description, and it doesn't use
vowels or consonants.

I think that "chengyu" doesn't really capture the literary flavor very
well, and that was what I wanted to say when I compared them to
antithetical couplets. By introducing them in pairs, James is

two important semantic features of Chinese which are lost on
non-Sinophones, and which are essential to understanding the specific
dialectics of Chinese: the four-syllable line, which is of great


and the tendency to produce couplets. I always thought that "chengyu"

more prosaic, more like proverbs. But Ivan, as usual, knows better!
David Kellogg

On Sun, Oct 29, 2017 at 7:00 PM, James Ma <jamesma320@gmail.com>
In Chinese grammatical terms, the first one 炉火纯青 is the
type, for example, 刚柔相济 masculinity and femininity are complementary
each other; the second one 出神入化 the "symmetric relation" type, for
字正腔园 (of vocal performance) clear articulation of the lyrics and
execution of the tone.

On 29 October 2017 at 09:10, Rod Parker-Rees <

Thanks David,
I am always fascinated by insights into how language is used in

ways to nuance and shade meanings.
Can you explain how these couplets are 'antithetical'? The second
clearly juxtaposes merging and emerging but I was intrigued by how

furnace burning with a pure green hue is seen as an antithesis.
All the best,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: 29 October 2017 00:28
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Vowels Are From Venus

You notice that James gives us two antithetical couplets, each of

syllables (Chinese, like child protolanguage, doesn't differentiate

and consonants).


Lú huǒ chún qīng  (the fire of the furnace burns a pure green hue)

shén rù huà (The god emerges and merges, comes out and goes in)
I haven't actually rendered the feeling that a Chinese person feels

hearing these expressions, any more than the words "consummate" or

communicate the thought.

For one thing, my translation is too labored and literal; a a
person doesn't analyze so literally and the imagery is largley
"automatized" rather than visualized.
For another, the four character line has a history that goes all the

back to the Book of Songs (11th C BCE) and all the way up to the
antithetical couplets peasants put on their doorways as Spring

the the countryside

(But James is right: the idea of antithetical couplets is a kind of
natural dialectic built into the Chinese language.
Somedays, like today, I find it that it influences the way I write

David Kellogg

On Sun, Oct 29, 2017 at 6:21 AM, James Ma <jamesma320@gmail.com>
I often find it interesting to read David’s words, good and
to me.
I’ve been working on the Peirce-Vygotsky project and Peirce’s idea

final logical interpretant which I take to be a qualitative
transformation, perhaps equivalent to “a dialectical leap”. To me,
this transformation is not only attributable to an accrued
quantitative change but also bears itself the heritage of all the
earlier qualitative changes. So, the resultant final logical
interpretant encapsulates both qualitative and quantitative

By the way, on the face of it, “a dialectical leap” is a more
congenial and customary concept to most Chinese people (from

due to historical reasons.
In a stage drama, I agree with David that an actor’s privileged

is a real problem for him. This privileged access will have to be
calibrated or attuned to a dialectical leap in such a way that the
actor needs to make a choice from the plenitude of signs that are
constantly on the move both consciously and subliminally. However,

the case of Peking opera, a dialectical leap is far more complex
there is more to it. The actor is involved in an organic combination
of vocal performance, acrobatics and dance etc. Perhaps,
leap is not quite a right word to reflect what is perceived as the
essence of Peking opera: 炉火纯青 consummate, and 出神入化


*James Ma*  *https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa
<https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa>   *

On 28 October 2017 at 00:26, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>

I've always been restless with the idea that language is a

system, or that it has a "fractal" structure in the sense of the
"self-similarity" we find in a fern leaf--the same structure at
every level. I suppose my impatience is ideological: I believe
language organization is semantically driven (and semantic

is a realization/transformation of some of the structures found in

I don't think that vowels and consonants organize themselves into


without human intentions, nor do I think that syllables will form
words unless somebody makes them do it. As for grammar, it seems
me that to expect that even the very limited grammar found in this
paragraph you are reading should somehow be "thrown up" by the

I am using and their elective affinities is a little like expecting
medieval cathedrals to be thrown up by the mutual attraction of

stones that compose them.
Yes, I know. Consonants are what happen in the absence of vowels
the ends of vowel phrases). Vowels are what happen at the ends of
As soon as you have breath, vocal cord vibration, and a beginning
and an end to it, you have the primitive structure (Optional


Vowel (Optioinal Consonant), and from this we can derive all the
possible syllable structures of any language. You can do the same
trick at any


of language: If you have a morpheme like "work" or "play" you can
add a bound morpheme to either end ("re~" and/or "~ed"),and if you
have a


like "Work!" you can add a bound clause to either end ("If you are
so willing~" and/or "so as to enrich yourselves!") and the

of xmca itself shows how this principle works on units above the
clause--Mike's last post is not really intelligible without my
preceding one, and mine


not really intelligible without James's, etc.

But I'm not talking about the various forms of language, potential
and real; these are of course the affordances of the stuff of


made, just as the limits of what you can do on a canvas has
something to


with the consistency of the paint. I'm talking about what people
actually do and not just what they may or might do. So for example
when we look at "To be or not to be" or at the speeches we find in
"Shajiabang" or even,


Mike suggests, at the language of everyday life, we find that

tend to carry the feeling of what we say (that's why they are
elongated in tonics and why they are directed in tonality).
Consonants, on the


hand, work better for the nuances of thinking. That's why we sing
the vowels, but spell with consonants; why Ophelia says "Oh what a
noble mind is here o'erthrone!" but Hamlet says "Nymph, in thy
orisons be all my


remembered!". And so once again we find that feeling and thinking


linked and distinct, to say the which is surely to say no more and


than to say that they are joined/separated by a dialectical leap.

David Kellogg


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Ymchwil a Datblygu Technoleg Lleferydd
Speech Technology Research and Development


                         festina lente

Ivan A. Uemlianin PhD

Ymchwil a Datblygu Technoleg Lleferydd
Speech Technology Research and Development


                        festina lente