Is the Portuguese version of the passage ‘The North Wind and the Sun’ phonetically balanced?

IPA May 2015Blog post written by Luís Jesus based on an article in Journal of the International Phonetic Association

Those who have worked over the years on Portuguese have often wondered if there was a standard phonetically balanced text that could be used for research. There is no easy answer to this, and one is not able to find any consensus.

We had been wondering for a while if (perhaps with some luck) the Portuguese version of “The North Wind and the Sun” passage would be phonetically balanced (sometimes the solution is just around the corner…).

The same concerns about other languages, not least English, have also been raised and discussed for a long time. This discussion has recently been revitalised by Martin Ball at wordpress.com (2012/2013).

A phonetically balanced text covers all phones in a target language (with a frequency as close as possible to the natural language), presentsexamples of all phonotactic rules, based on a small number of words in current use. Portuguese is spoken by over 244 million people in nine countries, but there is no standard phonetically balanced passage for research and clinical practice.

This paper aims to determine if the short text “The North Wind and the Sun” (NWS passage – a text used as part of the illustrations of the International Phonetic Alphabet, over the last 100 years) is phonetically balanced for European Portuguese (EP) and Brazilian Portuguese (BP).

Two phonetic transcriptions of the text based on specific grapheme-phone transcription algorithms for EP and BP are presented. The frequency of phonemes in the NWS phonetic transcriptions are compared with the phoneme frequency information contained in the most recent and largest EP and BP databases. Statistical analysis revealed that there were significant differences between the frequency of phonemes in the BP NWS transcription and the frequency of phonemes in the BP databases. Additionally, the BP version of the NWS does not cover all BP phonemes. So, the NWS cannot be considered as a phonetically balanced text for BP. Only in terms of manner of articulation, the BP NWS transcription could be viewed as phonetically balanced.

For EP, statistical analysis revealed that there was no difference between the number of phonemes in the EP NWS transcription and the frequency of phonemes in the databases. Moreover, the NWS passage covers all phonemes and all phonotactic rules of EP. The NWS passage can therefore be used for EP speech and hearing research, and clinical assessment of patients with fluency or voice disorders.

Read the full article ‘ Is the Portuguese version of the passage ‘The North Wind and the Sun’ phonetically balanced?’ here.

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