Subject: Further on reification, concepts of representation, boundaries, segmentation etc FWD: from AUDITORY
From: Kevin Austin (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Sep 22 2005 - 10:03:49 EDT
Date: Wed, 21 Sept 2005 20:42:01 +0200
From: Branka ZEI <Branka.Zei@HCUGE.CH
Subject: Re: [s]concept of representation in the speech sciences (trying again)
Hello [Auditory] List,
Daniel Silva wrote:..... concepts involving representations are too
obscure in the speech sciences. ...... authors are often telling
about different things by employing the same words. >In speech
neurosciences, ...... we never know exactly what does one means by
the term "representation", and it gets even worse when it is
associated with the words "phonological" or "phonetic".
The word ¹representation¹ refers to different concepts depending on t
he field where it is used. In cognitive psychology it refers to the
mental constructs we acquire in interaction with the material world
(external and internal). It includes for example mental images, or
simply concepts. In a way all our knowledge of the world is but a
RE-presentation of the world. Each Re-presentation is a reduced model
of reality. It includes only some aspects of it to the exclusion of
others. Its strength resides precisely in the reduction of data.
Imagine a map of the world that would be as detailed as the world
itself. It would be useless.
Mental imagery (be it visual or acoustic, figurative or kinetic),
concepts, etc - all are RE-presentations of the world constructed by
our cognitive system.
Obviously our mental constructs are not accessible to observation.
Even in neuroscience, you can never observe a cognitive construct
such as a concept or a mental image. All you can observe is the
localization and sequencing of brain activities i.e. you can only
observe the hardware and not the global qualitative result of the
functioning of this hardware. The qualitative aspect is only
Linguistics is an ideal ground for demonstrating how systems of
representations function: A linguistic sign itself is a
"double-faced" mental construct (a semiotic structure). Double-faced
because it is composed of an acoustic image (of a word for example)
and its meaning (a concept).
As all representations are reduced models of material reality (that
served to their construction), they retain only the characteristics
that are relevant for the task at hand. In the world of
psycholinguistics a phonological representation of a word would
contain only those features (of the sounds) that are relevant for the
task at hand i.e. for communication in a particular language. The
voiced-voiceless distinction for the consonants S/Z is relevant for
the French phonological system but it is not relevant for Spanish.
This is why in French they constitute two phonemes. In Spanish, if
you pay attention, you can hear S and Z as two acoustically different
sounds, but they do not constitute two phonemes, as their distinction
is useless for communicating in Spanish. For structural linguistics,
phonology is concerned with phonemes as bundles of acoustic features
relevant for differentiation of meanings. Phonetics is concerned with
sounds as acoustic events produced by human organs of sound
>At the moment I am struggling with questions concerning the
>demarcation >line (or grey zone) between phonetic and phonological
These concepts are discussed by Chomsky and Halle in their book The
Sound Pattern of English (1968, p.5). They define phonetic
representation as Œ a two-dimensional matrix in which rows stand for
particular phonetic features (universal phonetic categories such as
voicing, nasality, etc) ; the columns stand for the consecutive
segments of the utterance generated. ¹For them¹ the phonetic symbols
are informal abbreviations for certain feature complexes; each such
symbol stands for a column of a matrix of the sort just described,
Chomsky and Halle have strong doubts about the existence of ¹phonemic
representations¹ or a phonemic level (Ibid p. 11 and footnote 9).
If I understand correctly, for Chomsky and Halle the term
¹representation¹ refers to the actually acoustically (materially)
realized set of simultaneous and consecutive phonetic features (of an
utterance) drawn from the Œuniversal phonetics¹. The latter would be
something like a universal set of possible phonetic features.
Chomsky and Halle define 'phonological representation¹ as the
representation given by the application of all readjustment rules (p.
11). The latter actually shape feature matrices by replacing lexical
and grammatical formatives (which can be seen as variables) by
language specific sound s (constants).
Personally, I think that Chomsky and Halle's usage of the term
¹representation¹ is very confusing.
> It seems that there is no great concern in clearing up these
>concepts in spite of the overspread use of the terms.
I agree with you. A certain vocabulary is taken for granted in some
schools of linguistics, and there is not much concern to disambiguate
the usage of such terms.
>(or maybe I am looking for answers in the wrong places)
You may be right. Indeed, you will not find answers to
epistemological questions in the sciences which study only material
¹facts¹. A ¹fact¹ in linguistics is not a material fact. A linguistic
fact is mental ¹fact¹ it is of cognitive nature. 20
>I would appreciate some commentaries and indications of interesting
>papers. Take the greatest classics in European linguistics such as
>General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure, and Troubetzkoy's
>Principles of Phonology.
Branka Zei Pollermann ________________________________________
Dr. Branka Zei Pollermann Psychologue Psychiatrie de Liaison H
F4pitaux Universitaires de Gen E8ve 51 Bvd. De la Cluse,
1205 Gen E8ve
tel. : 0041 22 382 48 81
Portable : 0041 79 203 92 17
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