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Re: buffer vowel

> I'm now leaning toward scrapping the detailed exposition in favor of a
> short caveat, something like this.
> # It is recognized that not all speakers will be able to pronounce all of
> # the consonant clusters.  If necessary, a speaker may add an ultrashort
> # vowel between the consonants, known as a buffer vowel.  Buffer vowels
> # have no specifically prescribed pronunciation and are not represented in
> # writing; listeners are intended to interpret buffered consonant clusters
> # as if they were the corresponding unbuffered ones.
> #
> # Using a buffer vowel may cause naive
> # listeners to misunderstand if they mistake the buffer vowel for one of
> # the six Lojban vowels, so speakers who use buffer vowels should make them
> # as different as possible from their pronunciation of the Lojban vowels.
> Comments, doi la .and. joi ro do?

I would like there to be a distinction made between the phonological
component of the lg design, on the one hand, and, on the other,
observations about the phonetics of actual lojban speech. Your brief
quoted remarks might fittingly go among the discussion of the latter.

From: Logical Language Group <lojbab@ACCESS.DIGEX.NET>
> >From: John Cowan <cowan@LOCKE.CCIL.ORG>
> >Reluctantly, I have to weigh in on And's side here, after much mental
> >muddling while writing the phonology paper.  The phonology is broken in
> >the area of buffer vowels.
> >The principal trouble is that buffering is done for the speaker's
> >benefit (unlike the pronunciation of "'" as [T] (theta) which is
> >supposed to be for the listener's benefit), but if the listener has
> >learned an unbuffered dialect, he will not have space in his Lojban
> >vowel map for the speaker's buffer, and will stuff it into one of the
> >other slots ("i" or "y" or whatever), causing mishearing.
> I don't agree.  If this was the case then we as native English speakers
> would not be able to adapt to hearing other dialects of English that
> have somewhat different vowel mappings, and more relevant - we could not
> adapt to foreign speakers of buffered dialects.  The fact that I can
> interpret most British English correctly in spite of what they do to
> "er" solidifies the argument for me.

This is toljbo. English sentences are generally massively ambiguous,
but that hardly ever creates comprehension problems, because
they're easily disambiguable pragmatically. Yet Lojban still eschews
mainly harmless grammatical ambiguity. But when it comes to phonology,
you take the opposite view, and think that mainly harmless phonological
ambiguity is fine.

> As long as the speaker uses a consistent buffer, which is maximally
> distinct from other vowel realizations that the speaker uses, then the
> listener has a very good chance of noting and/or filtering out the
> buffer, sometimes subconsciously (as I usually filter out my wife's
> odd-to-me vowel distinctions).
> >Where does this "for English speakers" come in?  What counts is what
> >Lojban speakers do.  Which sounds will a Lojban speaker hear as the
> >buffer vowel?  Put another way, which sounds may be used for the buffer
> >vowel?
> Speakers of dialect Y of language X have a certain set of phonemes.
> When listening to another dialect of X, they will map the realizations
> of various speakers' vowels to some of those phonemes.  Exactly what
> sounds they map will depend on the speaker's dialect, and thus will
> differ from speaker to speaker.
> Few English speakers produce a short high central lax semi-rounded vowel
> as a realization of any English or Lojban vowel.  Thus that sound is a
> likely candidate for English speakers to use as a buffer.  Russians
> might prefer something a little different, since they have a high
> central vowel that occurs in alternation to /i/ - maybe the lax rounded
> vowel of "look", which will likely to be strongly contrasted with their
> realization of Lojban u which wil probably be higher and more tense as
> is the Russian 'u'.

You seem to be saying: Lojban speakers can divide up vowel space into
seven regions whichever way they choose, and their listener will be able
to work out a map of those regions. That's probably true - one can
understand even the weirdest accent when one's heard it often enough.

> If you add relative shortness as a feature, this should become an
> "easy" task.

Do you really want to add relative shortness as a feature? So Lojban
has long v. short vowels?

> >Unfortunately, I fear that although the phonology is broken, it may be
> >too late to fix it.  Either we have to define the buffer as a definite
> >though optional vowel, or we have to revise the morphology to allow
> >buffer-hyphen equivalence (meaning that "patfymamta" and "patfmamta"
> >mean the same thing -- currently the latter is a dubious le'avla).  This
> >is scary, although it might work if it turns out that all le'avla that
> >are banned either fail the slinku'i test or involve nonstandard medial
> >consonant triples like "tfm" which is "t/f/m".
> Yuck to both.

Not yuck - the objection must be that the fixes would undo too much work
and learning and precedent, but in themselves both proposals are fine.

> And:
> >While the vowels we produce do not cover the whole space, any vowel
> >that we hear will be classed as one of the phonemes.
> I am skeptical of this.  In English, when we hear a phone that actually
> occurs in English as part of English words, we do not classify that
> phone as an allophone/realization of the other phoneme.  If I hear a
> truly odd sound, like say /eu/ diphthong, a voiceless vowel whistle,
> etc., I do NOT map it to a familiar phoneme.

Yes you do. You would if someone said "Was it [leud]?". You would if
someone said [k*tar] where * is voiceless vowel. But obviously, if you
hear a *burp*, you don't take it to be a /u/ or whatever.

> Similarly, I understand that Japanese, who make no l/r distinction, do
> NOT have trouble distinguishing the two sounds when English speakers use
> them.  I also CAN distinguish between my wife's vowels for "Mary",
> "merry", and "marry" (not to mention the verbal and tin "can"s), even
> though I cannot reliably produce the distinctions myself.

I'm surprised by that. Of course, if you're listening for the difference,
I don't doubt that you can hear it, but I'm surprised that you hear it
when not listening for it. I, for example, can of course hear the
difference between "George's" and "Georgia's" in accents that distinguish
them, but from time to time I find myself having mistaken one for the
other, when those around me (who have the distinction themselves) did

> I had no trouble recognizing o and u umlauts as distinct sounds from
> any English vowel when first I started German classes, EVEN
> when the sounds were produced improperly by other students.  They were
> still distinctly different from those students' other realizations of
> English or pseudo-German vowel phonemes, and I was prepared mentally for
> the existence of extra unfamiliar phonemes that would map to the umlaut
> vowels, so thus I heard them.

How do you know you recognized o"/u" as distinct from any English vowel?
What does that mean, even?

> The Lojbanist should be prepared for exactly one phoneme that is clearly
> distinct from all other Lojban vowel phonemes, though it might be
> realized in different ways.

Surely this description applies to exactly 7 vowel phonemes, not exactly

> Some identifiable properties include relative shortness (even shorter
> than an unstressed slack vowel),

What - you want 3 degrees of length?

> and usually some form of centrality, but contrast is also important.

How do you determine what is usual? Usual relative to what?

> >I use a front [a] for Lojban /a/, and never a back [A], so in principle
> >that would leave me free to use [A] as buffer.  But you would hear my
> >buffer as /a/.
> In principle, you can do a LOT of things.  What you actually CHOOSE to
> do should depend on your audience as well as your own speech production
> flexibility.  I am not SURE that I couldn't tell which vowel you were
> doing, provided that you were consistent as to doing one or the other in
> the proper places.

I guess you'd hear it sometimes and sometimes not.

> > What matters for our present purposes is principle, not practice.
> I disagree, because the purpose of principle in making a prescription is
> to affect practice.

I disagree that you disagree!

> >  In practice the rules are flouted left right and centre.
> If your physician issues a prescription, s/he likewise intends that it
> be followed.  And unless you are far better than I am, you will be
> unlikely to take your pills precisely 6 hours apart and at least 1 hour
> after a meal.  But the physician still writes the prescription, not
> because of principle, but because the act of specifying the times that
> you take your medicine will indeed constrain your behavior, if not
> perfectly.

But, one would expect, the physician monitors the extent to which
different the prescription's different injunctions are obeyed. If some
are flouted more often than others, then they might be less efficacious
and in need of modification to something more efficacious.

> Chris then says:
> >Why do we allow for buffering in the first place?  Certainly there are
> >other places we allow Lojban to throw difficult things at people (using
> >both L and R, J and DJ, C and TC and S, h and X...)  A language that
> >really tried for universally easy phonology would be better off
> >borrowing from Hawai'ian or something.
> It is NOT a question of "allowing" buffering.  Buffering WILL happen,
> more or less, whether or not we want it to.

It is a question of allowing buffering into the phonology. All sorts of
unprescribed stuff will happen, whether or not we want it to.

> Different people will buffer to different degrees both because
> of vocal tract differences

What sort of vocal tract differences would they be?

> The reason for DEFINING the buffer is that if we do NOT say anything,
> then we can be accused of ignoring a real phenomenon in language - that
> people don't always pronounce phoneme strings ideally, and that we had
> not dealt with the ambiguity that would result if, say, we were to use a
> schwa as a buffer vowel as well as for hyphens.  That emphatically means
> that we do NOT want schwa used as a buffer.

Why not, so long as /y/ maps to something different from the buffer?

> So by specifying SOME rules
> about the buffer, we are in effect prescribing the first line failure
> mode for the phonology, so that it degrades gracefully under pressure.

At present it is degrading gracelessly under pressure.