LINGUIST List 10.170

Thu Feb 4 1999

Review: Silverman: Phasing & Recoverability (2nd rev.)

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  1. Kimary Shahin, Review of Daniel Silverman; Phasing and Recoverability

Message 1: Review of Daniel Silverman; Phasing and Recoverability

Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 19:18:28 PST
From: Kimary Shahin <>
Subject: Review of Daniel Silverman; Phasing and Recoverability

Daniel Silverman (1997), Phasing and Recoverability. In the series 
Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics. Garland Publishing, New 
York. Pp. xiv, 242.

Reviewed by Kimary Shahin, Birzeit University/University of British 

1. Introduction

This book, Silverman's 1995 UCLA dissertation, examines the role of 
articulatory timing ('phasing') in the maintenance of contrasts in sound 
systems. The author's main claim is that articulatory gestures are 
sequenced in specific ways so cues to the segment's distinctiveness are 
recoverable by the listener. He argues that languages use optimal 
phasing relationships except where prohibited and suboptimal 
relationships only if they use optimal ones. Data from several 
languages are discussed. Supporting spectrograms are 

This review briefly summarizes the book, then critiques it from a 
narrow and a broad perspective. From a narrow perspective, I find 
Silverman's phasing observations enlightening and his arguments with 
respect to auditory representations convincing. From a broad 
perspective, the book is not entirely clear because the author's 
assumptions with respect to the relation between phonetics and 
phonology are not spelled out. However, it is through less 
constrained approaches such as Silverman's that new insights into 
phonetics vs. phonology will likely emerge. Discussion of this 
book is timely, given 1999's four phonetics-phonology meetings: HIL 
(Leiden, January), GLOW (Potsdam, April), ChiPhon (Chicago, 
April), ICPhS (San Fransisco, July). 

2. Summary of the book

Chapter 1, "Introduction" (3-25), introduces the phasing relationships 
gestural sequencing, expansion, and truncation and illustrates how 
each can effect auditory salience, hence recoverability. Chapter 2, 
"Previous work" (27-49), summarizes and criticizes previous approaches 
to phasing. Silverman uses a version of Browman & Goldstein's (e.g., 
1986) Articulatory Phonology. Chapter 3, "Obstruents and laryngeal 
gestures" (51-82), explains the phasing relationships that optimally 
cue aspiration and glottalization for obstruents. Silverman argues 
that in Chong the morphology forces suboptimal phasing for 
glottalization. Chapter 4, "Sonorants and laryngeal gestures" 
(83-107), explains the phasing relationships that optimally cue place 
of articulation and glottalization for nasals and breathy and creaky 
voice for glides. Liquids are argued to have relatively free phasing. 
Chapter 5, "Vowels and laryngeal gestures" (109-211), discusses how 
breathy voice, creaky voice, and tone are optimally recoverable for 
vowels. Contrastive phonation is claimed to be implemented serially 
with modal phonation for vowels that also contrast for tone, based on 
data from Otomanguean languages. Chapter 6, "Concluding remarks" 
(213), reiterates the main claim of the book. It is followed by a 
list of references and an index.

3. Critique
3.1. Data analysis and generalizations

This book presents enlightening explanations of the auditory, and 
articulatory, aerodynamic, and acoustic bases of several timing 
relationships between laryngeal, supralaryngeal, and even respiratory 
gestures. For example, in the Hebrew hitpa?el pattern, a tsV sequence 
is metathesized to stV (p.11). Silverman argues that this is 
motivated by the more optimal release of the stop into a vowel; 
fricatives, by contrast, are less dependent on such a release. This 
suggests to me a phasing basis for the unique license of English /s/ 
as first C in a CCC onset cluster. Also fascinating is the analysis 
of Comaltepec Chinantec 'ballistic accent' (p.157ff). The accent was 
previously analyzed as a complex of pitch, amplitude, duration, and 
aspiration properties but Silverman reduces it to an aspiration 
contrast. Further interesting discussions concern why non-high front 
vowels are more likely to spread rounding than high front vowels, why 
preaspirated stops are rare, and why postaspirated stops and breathy 
vowels don't contrastively co-occur. (See p.14, 55, and 55/64, for 
the respective explanations.) Silverman's arguments with respect to 
auditory representations, which are based on straightforward claims 
about auditory nerve response to various acoustic inputs, are general 
in nature and convincing. (Johnson 1997:49-62 on auditory phonetics 
is a good background read here.) His diagrams of phasing 
relationships and auditory response are effective. 

This book has two potential weaknesses. First, the arguments 
regarding phasing and recoverability are apparently not always based 
on observations from instrumental data. This gives the book a 
sometimes speculative feel (e.g., p.142: "For breathiness, vocal fold 
tension should be decreased... Similarly, glottal aperture might be 
reduced for pitch increases... breathiness may be accompanied by 
larynx lowering"). More instrumentation is needed to confirm some of 
the claims and generalizations. Second, Silverman frequently equates 
breathy voice with aspiration with h, and creaky voice with glottal 
stop. He does not outline his assumptions with respect to the 
phonological status - segment, or secondary articulation - of glottal 
frication or constriction in various contexts, nor does he discuss 
whether, and why or why not, that status is important. As 
phonologists usually crucially distinguish segment vs. secondary 
articulation, it seems there's an important issue left unaddressed 

Finally, 'perceptual salience' is described (p.4) as "not necessarily 
quantifiable". However, it seems that if it is defined in terms of 
rate auditory nerve firing as the author suggests (p.5), it should be 
straightforwardly quantifiable. Exciting instrumentation no doubt 
awaits us.

3.2. The broader picture

There is a growing literature on the role of auditory salience in 
phonology. Silverman's book is a very important foundational work in 
this new field (see also, e.g., Steriade 1995, 1997 and Hume 

One fairly standard approach says that where there is an auditory 
basis for a phonological contrast, that basis is the phonetic 
grounding (Archangeli & Pulleyblank 1994), in this case auditory, for 
the phonological patterning; for more grounding examples, see, e.g., 
Archangeli & Pulleyblank (1994), Hume (forthcoming), Jiang-King 
(1996), and Shahin (1997). The discrete cognitive units of phonology 
are distinguished from phonetic tokens, which are the physical 
implementations of phonological constructs. Phonological analysis is 
distinguished from phonetics excursus on the physical support for 
phonological claims. See Shahin (1997) for extensive discussion of 
these important issues, including criteria for determining the 
phonetic or phonological status for a given sound property, based on 
several previous works (e.g., Flemming 1995, Henke 1966, Kiparsky 
1985, Liberman 1983, Liberman & Pierrehumbert 1982, Mohanan 1982, 
hman 1966, Pulleyblank 1986, Steriade 1995, 1997).

Silverman describes his book (p.xi) as a phonological study. However, 
it is largely concerned with physical details: the movement of 
articulatory structures, and aerodynamic, acoustic, and auditory 
properties. In fact, he states (p.46): "I have not found patterns 
that require a segmental analysis." By the phonetics vs. phonology 
distinction described in the preceding paragraph, the book would be 
classified as a phonetic study, albeit one concerned with the physical 
properties of speech sounds from a cognitive perspective, with the 
goal of determining how linguistic information is organized (Rischel 
1991). However, it is hard to know for sure, because Silverman does 
not clarify his assumptions with respect to the nature of phonological 
units, and the phonetics vs. phonology distinction. Consider Flemming 
(1995), which provides extensive evidence for the acoustic bases of 
several sound patternings. Flemming claims that the phonology 
contains, i.e., the mind stores, acoustic representations. Does 
Silverman assume we store phasing details? The big question here is: 
Is there still a general economy assumption in phonological theory? 
Do we assume phonetic enrichment only where there is no tenable 
segmental analysis (Steriade 1995, 1997)? (See Flemming 1995 for a 
convincing case involving retroflection.) 

Despite Silverman's unclarity, it is clear that studies such as 
Silverman's explore relationships that might be ignored under a more 
standard approach. Because of this, it is through such studies that 
our understanding of phonology and the role of phonetics in phonology 
will likely advance, towards the answers to the big epistemological 
questions that remain (see Rischel 1991): Are the phonology and 
phonetics separate units? If so, where is their interface - before 
the phrasal (postlexical) phonology or after? Or are they one unit? 
If so, do they overlap, is there a continuum, or are they 
non-distinct? What is the nature of the cognitive constructs 


Archangeli, D. & D. Pulleyblank (1994), Grounded Phonology. 
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Browman, C. P. & L. Goldstein (1986), "Towards an articulatory 
phonology. Phonology Yearbook 3:219-252.

Flemming, E. (1995), Auditory Representations in Phonology. Ph.d. 
dissertation, USC.

Henke, W. (1966), Dynamic Articulatory Model of Speech Production 
Using Computer Simulation. Ph.d. dissertation, MIT.

Hume, E. (forthcoming), "The Role of Perceptibility in 
Consonant/Consonant Metathesis". In S. J. Blake, E.-S. Kim, & K. 
Shahin, eds., Proceedings of the West Coast Conference on Formal 
Linguistics 17. Stanford: CSLI. 

Jiang-King, P. (1996). Tone-Vowel Interaction in Optimality Theory. 
Ph.d. dissertation, UBC. (ROA-266-0698 re-entitled An Optimality 
Account of Tone-Vowel Interaction in Northern Min) 

Johnson, K. (1997), Acoustic & Auditory Phonetics. Cambridge, MA: 
Blackwell Publishers.

Kiparsky, P. (1985), "Some consequences of lexical phonology". 
Phonology Yearbook 2:85-138 

Liberman, M. (1983), "Phonetic representations". Paper presented at 
the Stanford Workshop on Lexical Phonology and Morphology.

Liberman, M. & J. Pierrehumbert (1982), "Intonational invariance 
under changes in pitch range and length". Bell Labs ms.

Mohanan, K. P. (1982), Lexical Phonology. Indiana University 
Linguistics Club.

hman, S. (1966), "Coarticulation in VCV utterances: spectrographic 
measurements". JASA 39:151-168.

Pulleyblank, D. (1986), Tone in Lexical Phonology. Dordrecht: D. 
Reidel Publishing Co.

Rischel, J. (1991), "The relevance of phonetics for phonology: a 
commentary". Phonetica 48:233-262.

Shahin, K. (1997), Postvelar Harmony: An Examination of its Bases 
and Crosslinguistic Variation. Ph.d. dissertation, UBC. 

Steriade, D. (1995), "Laryngeal neutralisation and laryngeal features". 
Talk at the U Arizona Conference on Featural Relations.

_____ (1997), "Phonetics in phonology". UBC talk.

Kimary Shahin is Assistant Professor at Birzeit University Dept. of 
English and Researcher with UBC Linguistics. Her interests include 
phonology, phonetics, and phonological acquisition.

Reviewer's address:

Dept. of English
Birzeit University
P.O. Box 14, Birzeit
West Bank, via Israel
Dept. of Linguistics
University of British Columbia
Buch. E270, 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC 
Canada V6T 1Z1

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