LINGUIST List 11.2677

Sun Dec 10 2000

Review: Rowicka: On Ghost Vowels

Editor for this issue: Andrew Carnie <>

What follows is another discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect these discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for discussion." (This means that the publisher has sent us a review copy.) Then contact Andrew Carnie at


  1. Dorota Glowacka, review: Rowicka "Ghost Vowels"

Message 1: review: Rowicka "Ghost Vowels"

Date: Wed, 6 Dec 2000 16:13:15 -0000
From: Dorota Glowacka <>
Subject: review: Rowicka "Ghost Vowels"

Grazyna Rowicka. On Ghost Vowels: A Strict CV Approach. The Hague: Holland
Academic Graphics (LOT dissertations 16). 1999. 367pp.

Dorota Glowacka, School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan,


The book offers an analysis of ghost vowels (vowel-zero alternations), using
the Strict CV approach of Government Phonology (GP) supplemented with some
insights from Optimality Theory as the theoretical framework for the
analysis. The book also considers such issues as prosody, phonotactic
constraints and morphology and the role they play in determining the
behaviour of ghost vowels. The analysis is applied to Hungarian, Turkish,
Yawelmani, Cairene Arabic, Mohawk and Polish.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I: General (pp. 1-157) comprises
Chapters 1 to 4. Chapter 1 (pp. 3-36) presents the basic concepts of
Government Phonology, both of the standard version of Government Phonology
as well as the Strict CV framework of GP. Section 1.4.3. (pp. 31-33)
introduces also some concepts of Optimality Theory. Chapter 2 (pp. 37-93)
deals with the issue of head orientation in Proper Government. The author
compares the standard right-headed (iambic) Proper Government with an
alternative account, adopting left-headed (trochaic) Proper Government, and
points out the advantages of the latter. The discussion is illustrated with
examples from a wide array of languages: Morrocan Arabic, Yawelmani,
Turkish, Hungarian, Cairene Arabic, Tigrinya. Chapter 3 (pp. 95-157)
discusses the behaviour of empty nuclei in Mohawk within the framework
developed by the author in Chapter 2. Chapter 4 (pp. 155-157) presents a
brief overview of Part I of the book.
Part II (pp. 159-301) is devoted entirely to Polish. Chapter 5 (pp.
161-187) presents the vocalic and consonantal inventories of Polish. It also
introduces some basic facts concerning Polish consonantal clusters as well
as vowel-zero alternations in Polish. Chapter 6 (pp. 189-230) discusses the
behaviour of ghost vowels in suffixed words. Chapter 7 (pp. 231-265) deals
with complex consonantal clusters in roots. Chapter 8 (267-298) is devoted
to the analysis of ghost vowels in prefixes. Chapter 9 (pp. 299-301)
summarises Part II of the book.
Appendix 1 (303-307) contains the list of consonantal clusters in Mohawk.
Appendices 2, 3, 4 (pp. 309-344) provide lists of Polish consonantal
clusters in word-initial, word-medial and word-final position.


The book is written clearly, with issues concerning the GP representation of
syllable structure and the behaviour of ghost vowels in a wide range of
languages examined exhaustively. The book not only presents a comprehensive
analysis of these complex issues, but it also provides an overview of GP and
a critical evaluation of previous approaches to the analysis of vowel-zero

Although most issues are carefully presented, there are a few that deserve a
bit more thorough treatment. For example, on pp. 162-163 the author
introduces the vocalic inventory of Polish and explains the realisation of
nasal vowels in Polish in the environment of obstruents. We are told that
"nasal vowels are realised phonetically as oral mid vowels [e] and [o]
followed by a nasal consonant homorganic to the following stop consonant, or
by the front nasal glide when the following consonant is a palatal fricative
and otherwise by the back nasal glide". What about the realisation of nasal
vowels before affricates? Well, here nasal vowels behave in the same way as
before stops, i.e. they are realised as an oral vowel followed by a nasal
consonant homorganic to the following affricate. The status of nasal vowels
in present-day Polish is a complex issue and it definitely merits much more
attention than only the two-sentence comment devoted to it in the
presentation of the vocalic inventory of Polish. Polish is in the process of
losing its nasal vowels. They are realised asynchronically as an oral vowel
followed by a nasal segment in the vicinity of consonants, while in
word-final position the nasality is frequently lost altogether, which
sometimes gives rise to new pairs of homophones in Polish. We must consider
the issue of whether what we are dealing with are nasal vowels or simply
different realisation of the two orthographic symbols: e-hook, a-hook, which
used to represent nasal vowels.

One more remark concerning the realisation of the letter <i> following a
consonant. According to Note 1 on p. 162, "prevocalic [i], as in niesc (to
carry), denotes the palatalisation of the preceding consonant, not the vowel
[i]". It is true as long as the letter <i> is preceded by the letters <s, z,
c, n> and is not followed by another letter denoting a vowel. Thus, <i>
denotes only palatalisation in words such as niesc (carry), siano (hay),
ziemia (soil), ciemno (dark). However, when the letter <i> is between "s, z,
c, n" and another consonant, it denotes both palatalisation of the preceding
consonant and the vowel [i], e.g. nisko (low), zimno (cold), siwy (grey),
cichy (quiet). The author does not specify how she interprets the letter <i>
when between a stop and a vowel, which is, again, another unresolved issues
in Polish phonology. Does <i> in such contexts represent the glide [j] or
does it denote palatalistion of the preceding stop? If <i> denotes
palatalisation of the preceding stop, then palatalised stops should be added
to the inventory of Polish consonants proposed by Rowicka (p. 165). The
analysis of <i> in the above mentioned context as the glide [j] leads to the
augmentation of initial consonants clusters in Polish (cf. [p'es] or [pjes]
pies (dog)), which, in turn, may have further consequences for the analysis
of ghost vowels in Polish, especially within the Strict CV approach (cf. pp.
Considering the fact that the author does not always transcribe the examples
given in Polish and the reader is forced to work out the phonetic/phonemic
representation from the orthographic form, the rules of Polish orthography
should be explained in more detail. A similar comment applies to Appendices
2 to 4 that are supposed to give the lists of possible consonant clusters in
Polish. Here, again not all examples are provided with phonetic
transcription. Moreover, the transcription found in the appendices is not
very reliable as phonetic symbols or diacritics are missing in the
transcription of a number of examples.

One comment concerning the consonantal inventory or rather inventories
suggested by Rowicka. The author actually provides two different inventories
of Polish consonants: a surface inventory of Polish consonants (p.163) and
an underlying inventory of Polish consonants (p. 165), which is a bit
misleading. Furthermore, it is not specified which set of consonants was
taken as the point of departure when providing the lists of Polish consonant
clusters in Appendices 2 to 4.

Certain issues are introduced a bit too abruptly. For example, Chapter 3
that, as one might expect from the title, should be devoted to the analysis
of ghost vowels in Mohawk, contains two sections (Section 3.4.1, pp. 108-109
and Section, pp. 128-129) introducing briefly the Inter-Onset
Government in Polish and weak vowels in Polish, respectively. Similar issues
are dealt with in far great detail in Part II of the book devoted to Polish.
Consequently, the reader is referred to Part II of the book for further
details and discussion. Wouldn't it be more convenient to discuss fully the
Polish data in Part II of the book devoted entirely to Polish?

In spite of these minor omissions, the book offers an interesting proposal
for the analysis of vowel-zero alternations. It can be recommended to anyone
interested in phonological theory and the interface between phonology and

[About the reviewer: Dorota Glowacka teaches phonetics and Polish-English
contrastive linguistics at the School of English, Adam Mickiewicz
University, Poznan, Poland.]

Dorota Glowacka
School of English
Adam Mickiewicz University
al. Niepodleglosci 4
61-874 Poznan, Poland

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue