14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-14)

San Francisco, CA, USA
August 1-7, 1999

Fundamental Problems in Comparative Phonetics and Phonology: Does UPSID Help to Solve Them?

Adrian P. Simpson

Institute of Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing, University of Kiel, Germany

The approach to phonological comparison adopted in UPSID as well as other studies fails to recognize the abstract nature of even the most phonetically based definition of a phonemic system. Phonemes receive a simple phonetic translation based on one allophone. Phonological comparison is therefore carried out using no more than arbitrary selections of the phonetics of the languages involved. Phonemic systems belonging to the phonological level of comparison are being compared in phonetic terms, misrepresenting the abstract relational nature of a phonological system and at the same time grossly oversimplifying the complex phonetic patterns employed in languages to bring about differences in meaning. While the appeal of many aspects of UPSID is recognized, the need for a more complex demarcation of three levels of phonetic and phonological comparison requiring different types and quantities of information is argued.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Simpson, Adrian P. (1999): "Fundamental problems in comparative phonetics and phonology: does UPSID help to solve them?", In ICPhS-14, 349-352.