Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

An Analysis of Phonology and Linguistic Interfaces as a New Case for a Biopsychological Foundation for Linguistics

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

An Analysis of Phonology and Linguistic Interfaces as a New Case for a Biopsychological Foundation for Linguistics

Article excerpt

1. The Biopsychology of Phonetics and Phonology

This section addresses phonetics, phonology, and the relation between the two. It demonstrates that phonological units and phonological grammars are both essentially rooted in human biopsychology.

Philosophers typically think of words as pairings of sounds with meanings. This can make words seem apsychological. But the correlate of a meaning is not really a sound, but rather something that only a biopsychological perspec- tive can describe. There are two biopsychological projects, neither of which is exactly about sounds. There is the articulation of sound patterns in speech a nd the per cept ion of sound patter ns in speech. S ome phil osophers of language have emphasized the importance of the actual human brain for philosophy of language. In this paper, I want to emphasize the essential importance of things like the exceptional agilities of our tongue, vocal chords, etc.

Phonetics and Speech Science

A complete understanding of human language requires an understanding of the biology of articulation and perception. To understand why speech sounds develop as they do and why human systems of speech sounds have the particular structures that they have, we must understand the science of speech (Leiberman and Blumstein, 2).

In the physiology of speech production, some anatomical elements have a specific functional role and some do not. Articulatory Phonetics seeks to understand the elements that play the specific, speech-related functional roles. Traditionally, the physiology of speech production is categorized into three anatomical subcomponents: the subglottal component, the larynx and the supralaryngea l voca l tract. In turn, the subglottal component of speech anatomy consists of the lungs and the respiratory muscles that control them. The larynx is a muscle that moves the vocal chords together or apart so as to close or open the airway from the lungs up towards the supralarngeal area. Finally, the supralarngeal vocal tract consists of further airways in the nose, the mouth a nd t he connection from the thr oat to the mout h ca lled the "pharynx." The speech-specific actions of articulatory phonetics are called "gestures" (Leiberman and Blumstein, 3-4).

The functionally relevant components of speech anatomy are "matched" with functionally relevant components of perceptual physiology in a way that composes a complete functional system. This is to say that the sounds we have gestures to produce are the same sounds we have a perceptual apparatus to interpret. Further, it is by the same mentally represented categories that both articulation and perception of human speech are made possible. The nature of these categor ies will be illuminated gradually over the course of this section (Leiberman and Blumstein, 14).

In phonetics and speech science we are interested in anatomical gestures, per ceptions a nd a coust ic patterns that are related to la ngua ge. But this language-specificity is relative to our interests, whereas in phonology, in theory, the natural categories are inherently language-specific due to their role in the language faculty. In cases where we are taking in air for a nonlinguistic reason, the relevant anatomical laws are the same, whereas phonol- ogical laws are linguistic by their very nature; they have no non-linguistic instances.

The larynx in the throat is set to openings of particular size, varying from a completely closed to a minimally obstructed airway. It holds certain openings relative t o the production of certain speech sounds. For exa mple, it holds wider during the production of a [h] than during a [f]. The principle function of the larynx relative to speech is to generate a series of air puffs by vibrating the throat. In articulatory terms this is called "phonation," in phonological terms the matched representation is called "voicing" (Leiberman and Blumstein, 97-8).

While phonation a nd voicing have an equivalent physiologica l basis, logically, they ca n be understood as distinct. …

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