An Example of Differing Thingspace Delineation

To further illustrate the concept of thingspace delineation, consider the following story concerning a difference in how I cut up a certain section of thingspace for a couple years vs. how most people cut up that section:

While studying Japanese, I used the term “pronunciation” in my own head to refer to a particular range of actions, namely those which relate to the physical mechanics of speech production. When thinking about “pronunciation”, I would think about things like how you don’t round your lips as much with the Japanese /sh/ as you do with its English version. But later I looked into a couple resources which sought to teach “pronunciation”, and I found something that originally struck me as quite strange. For example, in one of the resources the pronunciation of え was mentioned, which of course seemed perfectly on topic; it was about the physical mechanics of how to produce that sound. It was also mentioned that there exist double-length vowels, e.g. where is doubled to いい. But then in a subsequent section the creator of the series explained that えい is often said as ええ (that is, although え and い are normally just two different vowels, when put together they often result in just the first of those two vowels produced double-length). The point itself was simple enough, but its mention confused me for a moment. Why is this in a “pronunciation” course? We were already shown how to say え, and how to double the length of a vowel. ええ has therefore already been indirectly covered. There’s no need to bring it up because we already know how to say it; merely say the え we learned and then double it how we learned to double vowels. But then it struck me: Most people learn in a way different than I did, and thus what falls under the term “pronunciation” is different; in short, their thingspace demarcation differs, as I’ll elucidate over the course of the next few paragraphs.

I learned the fundamentals of Japanese without ever having touched the writing system. I learned through audio first and foremost, and only later did I pay attention to the written forms of any of the words. Interestingly, I had already recognized the pattern of [spelled like えい] -> [said like ええ] point in words where the えい sound comes at the end, such as with 綺麗, which while spelled in Latin characters as kirei actually sounds like kiree in a lot of cases; however, when it was pointed out to me that eigo is often pronounced like eego, I was genuinely surprised. I realized that often ei turned into ee at the end of words, but I didn’t realize that it also happened at the beginning of words. In fact, I hadn’t realized that basic fact about the Japanese language even though I had been readily saying eigo as eego in the proper situations for 3+ years. Like most other vocabulary, I learned this word in speech, and only later did I see it in writing and thus find out that the spelling (by contrast with the pronunciation) is “eigo”. If I thought about it consciously, I would have just assumed that true to its realization in written language it’s indeed spoken as eigo, but when I ran into the idea that /ei/ often becomes /ee/ I realized that I was ignorant even about my own speech.

Most people who study a foreign language memorize a lot of words in written form even toward the beginning of the process when their listening skill is low. If the term “pronunciation” has a core meaning of the process by which one takes known words and produces them in speech, then for such individuals they’d need to know the rules governing how to ‘transliterate’ a written word to a spoken one, like eigo (英語) -> [the spoken version of the word, which often sounds more like eego]. They need to know both the physical mechanics of the vowels, consonants, and so forth (as I do as well), but also the rules by which written words convert into spoken ones (which is something I’ve rarely had to deal with). For me, the spoken word has always been more fundamental, and thus I’ve thought of “pronunciation” only as including the mechanics of saying the vowels and so forth.

In other words, given the same goal (taking known words and producing them as natural-sounding speech) but different positions (either having memorized a lot of words originally in writing from the beginning of the acquisition process and thus having to ‘transliterate’ them into their speech form, like most people; or having learned most vocabulary originally in spoken form and therefore only having to physically pronounce what’s already burned into one’s memory naturally, like for me) led to a difference in the cutting up of thingspace. I had in my mind a thingspace demarcation called “pronunciation” that only included the mechanics of pronouncing words, whereas most people in the language-learning community due to using a different method have a thingspace delineation they also refer to as “pronunciation” but which is a bit different, as it includes not only the physical mechanics of pronouncing the words but also a set of consciously devised rules designed to allow an individual to reliably convert written words to the correct patterns of phonemes, intonations, and so forth. That is, a difference in past actions (in this case memorization of words originally in speech vs. in writing) results in a difference in the means required for the end; the end is the same (producing the words in speech in a way that sounds native), but the means differ (just knowing the physical mechanics of producing sounds in my case vs. also knowing the rules by which spoken patterns can be predicted from the written patterns). The average individual wouldn’t be be aware that they’re essentially bundling two ‘different’ things under the same label (“pronunciation”), since for them they actually wouldn’t be two different things. And thus their thingspace delineation differs from mine, with the difference in language usage being a surface-level indication of a much deeper difference in thought and action.