Americanist phonetic notation

Americanist phonetic notation, also known as the North American Phonetic Alphabet (NAPA), the Americanist Phonetic Alphabet or the American Phonetic Alphabet (APA), is a system of phonetic notation originally developed by European and American anthropologists and language scientists (many of whom were students of Neogrammarians) for the phonetic and phonemic transcription of indigenous languages of the Americas and for languages of Europe. It is still commonly used by linguists working on, among others, Slavic, Uralic, Semitic languages and for the languages of the Caucasus and of India; however, Uralists commonly use a variant known as the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet.

Despite its name, the term "Americanist phonetic alphabet" has always been widely used outside the Americas. For example, a version of it is the standard for the transcription of Arabic in articles published in the , the journal of the German Oriental Society.

Diacritics are widely used in Americanist notation. Unlike the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which seeks to use as few diacritics as possible for phonemic distinctions, restricting diacritics to phonetic detail, the Americanist notation relies on diacritics for basic consonants and vowels.

Certain symbols in NAPA were once identical to those of the International Phonetic Alphabet, but have become obsolete in the latter, such as ⟨ι⟩. Over the years, NAPA has drawn closer to the IPA. This can be seen, for example, in a comparison of Edward Sapir's earlier and later works. However, there remain significant differences. Among these are:

John Wesley Powell used an early set of phonetic symbols in his publications (particularly Powell 1880) on American language families, although he chose symbols which had their origins in work by other phoneticians and American writers (e.g., Pickering 1820; Cass 1821a, 1821b; Hale 1846; Lepsius 1855, 1863; Gibbs 1861; and Powell 1877). The influential anthropologist Franz Boas used a somewhat different set of symbols (Boas 1911). In 1916, a publication by the American Anthropological Society greatly expanded upon Boas's alphabet. This same alphabet was discussed and modified in articles by Bloomfield & Bolling (1927) and Herzog et al. (1934). The Americanist notation may be seen in the journals American Anthropologist, International Journal of American Linguistics, and Language. Useful sources explaining the symbols – some with comparisons of the alphabets used at different times – are Campbell (1997:xii-xiii), Goddard (1996:10–16), Langacker (1972:xiii-vi), Mithun (1999:xiii-xv), and Odden (2005).

It is often useful to compare the Americanist tradition with another widespread tradition, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Americanist phonetic notation does not require a strict harmony among character styles: letters from the Greek and Latin alphabets are used side-by-side. Another contrasting feature is that, to represent some of the same sounds, the Americanist tradition relies heavily on letters modified with diacritics; whereas the IPA, which reserves diacritics for other specific uses, gave Greek and Latin letters new shapes. These differing approaches reflect the traditions' differing philosophies. The Americanist linguists were interested in a phonetic notation that could be easily created from typefaces of existing orthographies. This was seen as more practical and more cost-efficient, as many of the characters chosen already existed in Greek and East European orthographies.

Abercrombie (1991:44–45) recounts the following concerning the Americanist tradition:

In America phonetic notation has had a curious history. Bloomfield used IPA notation in his early book An Introduction to the Study of Language, 1914, and in the English edition of his more famous Language, 1935. But since then, a strange hostility has been shown by many American linguists to IPA notation, especially to certain of its symbols.

An interesting and significant story was once told by Carl Voegelin during a symposium held in New York in 1952 on the present state of anthropology. He told how, at the beginning of the 1930s, he was being taught phonetics by, as he put it, a "pleasant Dane", who made him use the IPA symbol for sh in ship, among others. Some while later he used those symbols in some work on an American Indian language he had done for Sapir. When Sapir saw the work he "simply blew up", Voegelin said, and demanded that in future Voegelin should use 's wedge' (as š was called), instead of the IPA symbol.

I have no doubt that the "pleasant Dane" was H. J. Uldall, one of Jones's most brilliant students, who was later to become one of the founders of glossematics, with Louis Hjelmslev. Uldall did a great deal of research into Californian languages, especially into Maidu or Nisenan. Most of the texts he collected were not published during his lifetime. It is ironic that when they were published, posthumously, by the University of California Press, the texts were "reorthographized", as the editor's introduction put it: the IPA symbols Uldall had used were removed and replaced by others.

What is strange is that the IPA symbols seem so obviously preferable to the Americanist alternatives, the 'long s' to the 's wedge', for example. As Jones often pointed out, in connected texts, for the sake of legibility diacritics should be avoided as far as possible. Many Americanist texts give the impression of being overloaded with diacritics.

One may wonder why there should be such a hostility in America to IPA notation. I venture to suggest a reason for this apparently irrational attitude. The hostility derives ultimately from the existence, in most American universities, of Speech Departments, which we do not have in Britain. Speech Departments tend to be well-endowed, large, and powerful. In linguistic and phonetic matters they have a reputation for being predominantly prescriptive, and tend to be considered by some therefore to be not very scholarly. In their publications and periodicals the notation they use, when writing of pronunciation, is that of the IPA. My belief is that the last thing a member of an American Linguistics Department wants is to be mistaken for a member of a Speech Department; but if he were to use IPA notation in his writings he would certainly lay himself open to the suspicion that he was.

There is no central authority. The (WIELD) recommends the following conventions:[1]

Advanced is ⟨⟩ and retracted is ⟨⟩. Geminate is ⟨C꞉⟩ or ⟨CC⟩. Glottalization is e.g. ⟨č̓⟩ or ⟨⟩ (ejectives are not distinguished from other types of glottalization). Palatalization is written ⟨⟩. Labialization, velarization, aspiration, voicelessness and prenasalization are as in the IPA. Pharyngeals, epiglottals and glottals are as in the IPA, as are implosives and clicks.

Most languages only have one phonemic rhotic consonant (only about 18% of the world's languages have more than one rhotic).[citation needed] As a result, rhotic consonants are generally transcribed with the ⟨r⟩ character. This usage is common practice in Americanist and also other notational traditions (such as the IPA). This lack of detail, although economical and phonologically sound, requires a more careful reading of a given language's phonological description to determine the precise phonetics. A list of rhotics is given below.

There are many alternate symbols seen in Americanist transcription. Below are some equivalent symbols matched with the symbols shown in the consonant chart above.

The use of the standard IPA belted l (ɬ) for the voiceless lateral fricative is becoming increasingly common.

According to Pullum & Ladusaw (1996),[3] typical Americanist usage at the time was more-or-less as follows. There was, however, little standardization of rhotics, and ⟨ṛ⟩ may be either retroflex or uvular, though as noted above ⟨ṛ⟩ or ⟨ṛ̌⟩ may be a retroflex flap vs ⟨ṛ̃⟩ as a uvular trill. Apart from the ambiguity of the rhotics below, and minor graphic variants (ȼ g γ for c ɡ ɣ and the placement of the diacritic in g̑ γ̑), this is compatible with the WIELD recommendations. Only precomposed affricates are shown below; others may be indicated by digraphs (e.g. ⟨dz⟩).

Ejectives and implosives follow the same conventions as in the IPA, apart from the ejective apostrophe being placed above the base letter.

Voiceless, voiced and syllabic consonants may also be C̥, C̬ and C̩, as in IPA. Aspirated consonants are Cʻ or C̥ʰ / C̬ʱ. Non-audible release is indicated with superscripting, VC.

Fortis is C͈ and lenis C᷂. Labialization is C̮ or Cʷ; palatalization is Ꞔ, C⁽ⁱ⁾ or Cʸ; velarization is C⁽ᵘ⁾, and pharyngealization is C̴.

Other airstream mechanisms are pulmonic ingressive C, ejective Cˀ, implosive Cˤ, click C˂, and lingual ejective (spurt) C˃.

The journal Anthropos published the alphabet to be used in their articles in 1907.[4] Although European, it is the same basic system that Sapir and Boas introduced to the United States. Transcription is italic, without other delimiters.

Palatalized consonants are written with an acute – t́ d́ ć j́ ś ź ľ ń etc. Semivowels are i̯ u̯ ü̯ o̯ e̯ etc.

WIELD recommends the following conventions. It doesn't provide characters for distinctions that aren't attested in the literature:[1]

No distinction is made between front and central for the lowest unrounded vowels. Diphthongs are e.g. ⟨ai⟩ or ⟨ay⟩, depending on phonological analysis. Nasal vowels are e.g. ⟨ą⟩. Long vowels are e.g. ⟨a꞉⟩. A three-way length distinction may be ⟨a a꞉ a꞉꞉⟩ or ⟨a aꞏ a꞉⟩. Primary and secondary stress are e.g. ⟨á⟩ and ⟨à⟩. Voicelessness is e.g. ⟨⟩, as in the IPA. Creak, murmur, rhoticity et al. are as in the IPA.

According to Pullum & Ladusaw (1996), typical Americanist usage at the time was more-or-less as follows:

Nasalization is V̨ or Vⁿ. A long vowel is V꞉ or Vꞏ; half-long is V‧ (raised dot). Positional variants are fronted V˂, backed V˃, raised V˄ and lowered V˅.

Vowels are inconsistent between languages. ï ë etc. may be used for unrounded central vowels,[7] and the ⟨a⟩-based letters are poorly defined, with height and rounding confounded.

There are actually three heights of low front and back vowels. ā is also seen for a low back vowel.

Reduced (obscure) vowels are i̥ e̥ ḁ etc. There are also extra-high vowels ị ụ etc.

Bloch & Trager (1942)[citation needed] proposed the following schema, which was never used. They use a single dot for central vowels and a dieresis to reverse backness. The only central vowels with their own letters are ⟨ɨ⟩, which already has a dot, and ⟨ᵻ⟩, which would not be distinct if formed with a dot.

Kurath (1939) is as follows.[8] Enclosed in parentheses are rounded vowels. Apart from ⟨ʚ, ꭤ⟩ and some differences in alignment, it is essentially the IPA.

Chomsky & Halle (1968) proposed the following schema, which was hardly ever used. In addition to the table, there was ⟨ə⟩ for an unstressed reduced vowel.

Short or intermediate and long or final 'pauses' are |, ||, as in IPA.

Syllable division is CV.CV, as in IPA, and morpheme boundaries are CV-CV.

The following charts were agreed by committee of the American Anthropological Association in 1916.[9]

The vowel chart is based on the classification of H. Sweet. The high central vowels are differentiated by moving the centralizing dot to the left rather than with a cross stroke. IPA equivalents are given in a few cases that may not be clear.

Following are symbols that differ among well-known Americanist sources.[13][14]