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Marklen E. Konurbayev


report at the 4th International LATEUM Conference

published in the Proceedings of the Conference, Moscow, 1998


Phonetics has long been considered to be a purely experimental science, whose task was to give as full and as precise a picture of the oral speech acoustics and its articulatory mechanisms as possible. The main tools of experimental phonetics included the sound analysing machines and X-Ray equipment for filming the articulatory tract in the process of speaking. Phonetics did its work perfectly well and provided us with multi-page reports, taxonomies and classifications of thousands of modulation of a human voice, the sounds, produced by man in the course of speech. Comparatively little attention, however, was given to the explanation of the communicative role of these modulations in the living human speech.

Perceptory phonetics, using the method of semantic differentiation, has introduced minimal pairs of perceptual concepts, distinguished on the basis of this or that phonatory device. Thus, for example, it has long been quite primitively believed that statement vs. question  pair rested on the falling vs. rising contours, respectively. Examples of other oppositions are: angerа -а joy; expressiveа -а expressionless; melodiousа -а monotonous; spiritlessа -а vivacious; colourlessа -а sonorous; sprightlyа -а whining; stereotypedа -а varied; uglyа -а beautiful; pleasantа -а unpleasant, etc. Again, as in articulatory and acoustic phonetics, here the number of classifications and taxonomies was naturally infinite, since this discipline tried to cover amply and copiously the whole range of ways oral speech can be perceived in the course of interpersonal communication. From this point of view, the three mentioned branches of phonetics have always been descriptive and classificatory.

In the middle of the century a principally new trend of the oral speech study appearedа -а philological (or as it is sometimes called functional) phonetics. It focuses on the relationship between oral and written speech, seeking to reveal the sense of texts. Generally speaking, philological phonetics could also become a descriptive discipline (sometimes it did) when scholars, misled by the term phonetics, applied to it the method of a purely experimental discipline and diligently recorded and described in perceptory (often impressionistic) terms multiple interpretations of one and the same text by different readers. Whereas all that was required of themа -а was to carry out a detailed  linguistic and literary critical analysis of the text and seek how the implicitly contained in it oral side, can bring the understanding of it to the utmost clarity. Histrionics is out of the question of course, for too often it is associated with the deeply personal interpretation of a text. The emotional attitude of the performer may blur the sense contained in the text. The choice of  words and their syntactic arrangement may be very lucid and sufficient for the adequate understanding of the text. In this case the use of any special means of intonation will be absolutely redundant. However, when a word or a phrase becomes "polyphonic" and many senses can be applied,а -а the task of a commentator, of a philologist is to explain how intonation can clarify the meaning, which is revealed in the course of the linguostylistic analysis.

Philological phonetics, then, as distinct from the previously mentioned  trends of the oral speech study, is prescriptive and categorial. Its aim is to reduce  hundreds of oral speech means to a limited and very well defined set of parameters which could be applied in the philological analysis of texts without going to histrionic extremes. It is categorial because, standing in close cooperation with stylistics, it works out certain intonational oppositions (which are invariably associated with a certain meaning, or should I rather say modality) which can be applied to all texts (like lyrical, dramatic, elegiac, etc. intonations (M.V.Davydov)).
The achievements of philological phonetics are of special importance in the analysis of fiction, for here intonation often turns out to be the only means of materialisation for connotations, shades of meaning, which are  understood meta- or metametasemiotically.



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