Test for control of contrast

[From Rick Marken (931006.1600)]

Bruce Nevin (Wed 93106 14:26:15 EDT) --

The gain on control of a given phonemic
element at a given time is a function of the means that it serves: the
contrast of the given word with other words that it might be mistaken
for.

It would be a LOT easier (to say nothing of being just plain feasible)
to simply control for the perception of the word which, when success-
fully produced (controlled), "contrasts" as a side effect with the
words that it might be mistaken for (how in the world does the person
know which words a word might be mistaken for anyway?). For example,
by controlling for the perception "pin", the person is implicitly
contrasting "pin" with "bin" and every other word for which "pin"
might be mistaken.

What is fundamental is contrast, and the phonemic elements
are perceptual means for controlling that more fundamental
perception of contrast.

This claim is testable. You are saying that "contrast" is a controlled
perception (notice it up there; you said "the phonemic elements
are...means for controlling that... perception of contrast"). I
presume you mean, then, that it is not just perception of "pin" that
is controlled but the contrast between "pin" and words for which
it might be mistaken. Is this correct? If so, I can think of
ways to test this; that is, I can think of ways to test whether
a person is controlling for "pin" or the contrast between "pin"
and some other word, like "bin". Before proposing such tests, I would
like to know if my understanding of "controlling for contrast" is
the same as yours. Is my description of controlling for contrast
correct? That is, does a person control for contrast by controlling
for a perception of a word as being categorically different than
all other words with which it might be mistaken?

Best

Rick

[Martin Taylor 931006 20:00]
(Rick Marken 931006.1600)

It would be a LOT easier (to say nothing of being just plain feasible)
to simply control for the perception of the word which, when success-
fully produced (controlled), "contrasts" as a side effect with the
words that it might be mistaken for (how in the world does the person
know which words a word might be mistaken for anyway?). For example,
by controlling for the perception "pin", the person is implicitly
contrasting "pin" with "bin" and every other word for which "pin"
might be mistaken.

It's hard to know what might usefully help to show you how wrong this
paragraph is, other than to ask you to listen critically to (preferably
to tape) conversations. At best, you should be one of the conversants.
What words are likely to be confused with the one you want to be heard
will depend largely on the conversational context--who you are with,
what you both think is the topic, what content words are presently in
the foreground of attention, and so forth. If you have been talking about
"donkey" and you want to say "flunky" it is highly likely that you will
move the "u" away from the sound of the "o" in "donkey", as compared to
the way you would have said it in the context of a discussion on servants.

It is true that if a word is recognized as belonging to a particular
category, it thereby is contrasted to all other words. But as I have
been trying to point out, the category boundaries are mobile and
context dependent, so the sounds one must produce to arrive within
a particular category have to change. How they change is in a manner
to maintain the appropriate contrast--being on the intended side of
the category boundary when the context has shifted it in a particular
direction.

How does a person know which word a word might be mistaken for? That's
a good question, and it might not be answerable if "know" is taken in
the sense of "model." If we take "know" in a looser sense, so that
"to perceive in imagination" is a reasonable paraphrase, the person
may perceive a wrong category being produced if the sound is close
to the category boundary, and may therefore control of the sound perception
to be further from the category boundary that separates the intended
word from one with which it might (in context) be confused. (I know
this isn't an explanation in the normal sense, and I wouldn't be able
to model it, but I think it could be a reasonable description of what
happens).

As I tried to suggest in earlier postings, I see "contrast" as a useful
word only when dealing with categories (or above). Below that,
"difference" is good enough.

Martin