yet more phon fun

Tomorrow I’m flying to Germany for another conference with a phonology flavour – my slides are still under construction, suggesting my panic levels should be higher than they are, and I still need to decide what to read on the plane and train. And pack. Should be back online at the end of the week – so to indulge in some obligatory cheesy IPA, [si jʉ ðɛn]!

swept off my feet

You know, some time roughly around the end of 2007, I realised that I needed to make two important changes in my life. I needed to stop spending money, and stop eating so much.

And then I thought: ‘Heeyyyyy!’

Or sort of. Anyway, the weight loss programme has not been measurably successful so far, in part because I have no scales on which to do the measuring, although it is also proving difficult to break the habit of using tea and chocolate biscuits as simultaneously a procrastination method and a source of inspiration.

But these past few days the weather has been amazingly wild and stormy. And today I decided that there are advantages to having a few more pounds on you than strictly necessary. Basically, I was standing on a traffic island with cars sweeping past on every side, and was terrified to realise the wind was so strong I could barely stand my ground. In fact, it’s a good thing it was quite a large traffic island. Friends have been blown along the road by bike today and blown uncontrollably into the middle of a main road. You might expect this kind of treatment in the Outer Hebrides, but down here things are meant to be more civilised.

I ballasted myself with my clunky laptop for the walk home at tea time, just to be on the safe side.

preachers, be impressed

John Kennedy lists five great facts:

1. That the author of the gospel is God – that the grace and the message are “of God.” 2. That it is “concerning his Son Jesus Christ.” 3. That the death of Christ appears prominently in the light of the gospel. 4. That it is about salvation that God deals with men by the gospel. And 5. That it is preached to sinners as such.

And continues:

“It would be well if preachers of the gospel were more impressed with these great facts. If they preached as men who realised that they carried a message from Jehovah; that the Saviour was the Christ and the Son of God; that his death was the only atonement for sin; that the salvation which is by Jesus Christ is full, free, and everlasting; and that their hearers are sinners ready to perish: how impossible would they then find it to hesitate about requiring faith from all who hear the gospel! No difficulty arising from the sovereignty of God’s love, and from the restricted reference of Christ’s atonement, could hamper their minds or straiten their feelings in preaching Christ to sinners. All the more free and urgent would they be, as they realised a love whose purposes must take effect, and a death that shall not be in vain. And how the light of these great facts would clear men’s views of faith, if only they would admit it into their minds! It can be nought else than the reception of the gospel, as true, because divine, and trust in the Christ of God, whom it reveals as a gracious Saviour from sin.”

Dr Kennedy – a calvinist but not a hypercalvinist, and someone who was committed to the free offer of the gospel, contrary to what some people say – was minister in the Free Church in Dingwall in the nineteenth century. This excerpt comes from his short work, Man’s Relations to God, first published 1869 (and chapter 3, ‘Man, as evangelised, in relation to God’).

If the responsibility of preachers is to proclaim Christ as the Saviour for sinners, the responsibility of their hearers is to be obedient to the gospel call – to acknowledge that as sinners they must have this Saviour as their very own, and believe in him. But how shall they believe in someone they’ve never heard of? and how shall they hear without a preacher? People are responsible for their own souls, but preachers are sadly failing in their duty if their message, week in and week out, is not the gospel, plainly stated, freely offered.

extraordinary apology

So David Milliband has been telling the Commons that the Americans did use British territory in the process of extraordinary renditions. (Report here, eg.)

Everything about extraordinary renditions stinks, and it is hugely disturbing to think that the UK could be involved in any way. (Even if our only role was that our permission didn’t need to be asked before they went ahead and made use of us.)

Claims have also been made that CIA planes have refuelled at UK airports on extraordinary rendition flights – seemingly there’s still “no evidence” that our authorities are aware of to substantiate these allegations, but it remains to be seen whether further US “record errors” are yet to be discovered which will provide the kinds of evidence that people such as Jack Straw and Tony Blair seem to have no access to, or interest in establishing, when they make statements, in parliament, dismissing the very possibility. Either we’re complicit in this barbaric practice, or we’re helplessly incapable of stopping the Americans walk all over us and our laws and international law in the pursuit of – what, brutally extracted information that they can’t even treat as reliable.

Anyway, I’m currently sitting feebly at home with a cold, feeling sorry for myself, and being irked by spam emails offering me “A prosperous future, money earning power, and the Admiration of all” in a fast-track degree programme. My graduation is only a phonecall away!

salvation is within

People keep ending up here via the search term ‘salvation is within’ – where does it come from? I did use the phrase (here) – in the context of discussing one of several negative features of a particular school of thought.

People, inwards is the last direction to look for salvation. Nothing inside us but sin, that keeps seeping out into sinful behaviour and actions. Nothing that’s inside us can provide us with salvation or indeed even help us on the way to salvation.

Instead the place to look to is the Saviour, set up by God as the one to fix our attention on. Christ Jesus is exhibited in the scriptures as a Saviour for sinners, who is both able to save and willing to save, and willing and able to save in exactly the way that a sinner needs. Look for him in the scriptures – at the throne of grace – in the preaching of the gospel – in the covenant of grace – but never look inwards, always outwards and to another.

feel-good phonology

Dan Silverman’s Critical Introduction to Phonology is full of things that I wish I’d seen explicitly stated all in one place long ago. He puts down informally and with the greatest of ease concepts and positions which you find little sustained support for elsewhere in the phonology literature. It’s a critical introduction, which means a lot, but it presents ‘real phonology’ that’s recognisable to serious phonologists in a way that is sensitive to real concerns and problems which otherwise don’t inform how phonology is taught.

Here’s his critique of introspection as a guide to what matters in the phonological system of a language. He’s started off with the example of how the nonword ‘blick’ somehow “sounds better” than the nonword ‘bnick.’ He says,

“Many phonologists – though not I – think that ‘blick’ is a possible word because it doesn’t violate any sound-sequencing constraints of English, except that it just happens to be missing, and so it feels okay. These phonologists propose that ‘bnick,’ by contrast, involves a genuine violation of an unconscious sound-sequencing constraint, and so it sounds awful to English ears. Such a constraint might strictly prohibit English words starting with the sound sequence ‘bn.'”

But, he says, this is a flawed approach to take.

“When I speak English, every sound substitution is always one word or another. [I’m not sure if this might mean ‘results in’ one word or another?] There are no relevant feelings on my part about whether the sound substitution is good or not. They are all good, because they are all English. So if ‘blick’ feels good, and ‘bnick’ doesn’t, parallel sorts of feelings are nowhere to be found when we compare real words. Does it even make sense to ask whether the word ‘brick’ feels better than the word ‘trick’? Even if some people have an intuition on the matter, would their feelings somehow teach us anything about linguistic sound structure? I maintain that we can’t determine the structural properties of linguistic sound systems based on how people feel about the sounds they use. This has been stated quite emphatically by the scholars Bernard Bloch and George L Trager. Writing in 1942, they assert that, ‘The ordinary speaker of English, we are told, … “feels” or “conceives of” the two [l]s in “little” as “the same sound.” This may or may not be true; if true, it is an interesting fact, but it can never be used by the linguist as a criterion for his classifications, or even as a proof that he has classified correctly. … The linguist is concerned solely with the facts of speech. The psychological correlates of these facts are undoubtedly important; but the linguist has no means – as a linguist – of analysing them.'”

I did discover recently, incidentally, that blick is a real word, thus spelling doom for innumerably many introductory phonology texts, but the main point still stands: people’s metalinguistic reflection on language is not a good guide to their actual linguistic behaviour or whatever implicit ‘mental representations’ of language they might have. Reports of introspection can be useful in some contexts, but at the end of the day, they are “opinions. They are high-level meta linguistic performances that are highly malleable. They do not represent any kind of direct tap into competence, but are rather prone to many types of artefacts, such as social expectations, experimenter bias, response bias, and undersampling” (Pierrehumbert et al 2000: 189-190).

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* Silverman, D (2006), A Critical Introduction to Phonology. London: Continuum
* Pierrehumbert, JB, Beckman, M, and Ladd, DR (2000), ‘Conceptual foundations of phonology as a laboratory science.’ In N Burton-Roberts, P Carr, and G Docherty (eds), Phonological Knowledge: Conceptual and Empirical Issues. Oxford; OUP