• 2005-02-07

Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman refers to Nicola/maeveenroute, a linguistic blogger from Canada, to tell us that “in French, an allophone is a kind of person, whereas in English, it’s a kind of sound”. What “kind of person”? Precisely the kind who we’ve just heard turns children into dangerous potential criminals: those whose native or preferred language is not an official language of the country where they live.

This doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Indeed, the Introduction à la linguistique contemporaine by Jacques Moeschler and Antoine Auchlin (a standard introductory text I happen to have acquired recently) defines allophone as follows:

Deux sons phonétiquement distincts peuvent servir à réaliser le même phonème, i.e. ne pas apporter de différence de signification. On nomme allophones les différentes réalisations possibles d’un phonème.

The authors then deal with the difference between “free” (libres) and “conditioned” (conditionnés) allophones and give examples. I don’t think English-speaking linguists will find much to object to this.

Nicola, however, refers to the definition given by the Grand dictionnaire terminologique of the Office québecois de la langue française. Québecois French is different, in particular in matters of lexical usage and technical terms, from French spoken in France. Indeed, TLF, doesn’t include the “speakers of other languages than the official one(s) of a country” meaning at all. The Petit Robert does have it, marked as “didact.“, though, not “linguist.“. (It also has a rather to imprecise definition of the “kind of sound” sense. I really like the ‘ti Bob, it’s an excellent dictionary, but where do you complain about questionable definitions?)

I’d therefore speculate that the “kind of person” meaning cited by Nicola as perfectly understandable among Canadian linguists is mainly used in Canada. Which is no wonder, because among language professionals, language-political considerations, like those about non-French speakers in Québec, have rather more weight over there than they have over here, outside of language didactics. (Well, and wing-nut politicians.)

2 comment(s) for 'Allophones'

  1. (Comment, 2005-02-08 00:44 )

    We use “allophone” here as “non-native speaker”. At least, a couple of teachers at uni did, and I do.

  2. (Comment, 2005-02-08 00:59 )

    Interesting. (Steph will forgive me if I add that she is in French-speaking Switzerland.) A google search for “allophones apprendre français” shows that it is, indeed, a technical term in FLE (français langue étrangère) in France as well, but the sites that show up still are mostly Canadian and Swiss.

    My ignorance also shows how separated the fields of linguistics, mainstream foreign language didactics, and didactics of French as a foreign/second language for non-French speaking residents are from each other.