LINGUIST List 12.1299

Fri May 11 2001

Review: Hulst & Ewen, Phonological Structure of Words

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  1. Bettina Braun, review: The phonological structure of words (Hulst and Ewen)

Message 1: review: The phonological structure of words (Hulst and Ewen)

Date: Fri, 11 May 2001 13:43:36 +0200 (MET DST)
From: Bettina Braun <bebrCoLi.Uni-SB.DE>
Subject: review: The phonological structure of words (Hulst and Ewen)

Hulst, H. G. van der and C. J. Ewen (2001). The Phonological
Structure of Words. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 274pp.
ISBN: 0 521 350190 (Hardback), 0 521 359147 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Bettina Braun, Saarland University


Overview
This textbook is intended as an introduction "to some
of the issues in the representation of the structure of
the basic units of phonology" (Hulst and Ewen, p. 1).
After the first chapter, which introduces the basic notion
of features, the subsequent chapters proceed through
elements of increasing size in the prosodic hierarchy within
the word: chapter 2 discusses the specific nature of features
within various theories, chapter 3 argues for the existence
of syllables and presents different formalisations (onset-
rhyme, mora). Chapter 4 deals with foot structure and is
concerned with stress assignment within the word domain.
The restriction on the word domain and the concentration on
representations (rather than on derivations) allow the
authors to discuss various representational theories in
more detail.

The book is aimed at students with some background
in phonetics and phonology. Interesting discussions in
footnotes and coreferences between apparently independent
theories or representations make it valuable for advanced/
graduate students (of e.g. phonetics or linguistics). Since
the level of required previous knowledge is not precisely
stated in the preface ("to the student who is approaching
it with little previous knowledge", pp. xii) some basic
explanations in footnotes (e.g. obligatory contour
principle) or references to basic literature would have been
helpful.

The book is divided into four sections which can be read
more or less independently. While chapter 1 can be seen as
a basic discussion the following three chapters are more
challenging. The next paragraphs will summarise the contents
of the chapters in more detail and at the same time indicate
the reviewer's view of their benefits and shortcomings. This
evaluation is undertaken from an advanced student´┐Żs point of
view.

Content
Chapter 1: Segments
The first chapter argues in a didactically excellent way for
the introduction of features as basic units. Different
features (of various feature systems) are introduced step
by step from major class features to vowel and consonantal
features. In this context, all features are explained on
the basis of examples which emphasise their distinctive
(phonemic) function and make the claim for natural classes
explicit. Only a few phonological processes are discussed and
are easy for the student to remember. This chapter provides
the basics of feature theory and emphasises their
contribution to the formulation of phonological processes.
The presentation of individual features is followed by a
grouping of features into hierarchical structures. This
finally leads into an introduction to autosegmental phonology
with place assimilation of nasals asan example of feature
spreading of the place node. The first chapter finishes with
two extended examples, namely vowel harmony in Turkish and
Old English i-umlaut.
Although the selection of certain features certainly helps
the student to get through the jungle of different feature
specifications (e.g. Jacobson et al. 1951, Chomsky and Halle
1968), it would be useful if the different feature
specifications had been listed, at least in an appendix.

Chapter 2: Features
Chapter 2 is mainly concerned with the theoretical framework
of features. First, the nature of features is examined, i.e.,
whether they show a binary opposition or represent single-
valued properties. Here, different representations of feature
asymmetry are discussed for vowels, i.e. underspecification,
redundancy, Contrastive Specification Theory and Radical
Underspecification Theory. These comparisons reveal the
benefits of each of the theories and their philosophical
underpinnings. Then three examples are given which contrast
the descriptive power of the presented formalisations. While
old English i-umlaut shows an advantage for Single-valued
Feature Theory, two harmony processes (in Yawelmani and
Yoruba) show the primacy of Radical Underspecification
Theory. Here, one example would be sufficient, especially,
because the second harmony example is quite complicated.
Starting from single-valued features, dependency within
the segment is presented to extend the number of vowels
which can be formalised in this way. In addition, the benefit
of dependency is highlighted, showing the elegance in
formulating monophthongisation processes. The end of this
chapter is concerned with the application of single-valued
features to consonants and laryngeal properties.
This chapter gives a thorough introduction to the fundamental
properties of feature asymmetry and the nature of
specification. The benefits of each approach are clearly
stressed.

Chapter 3: Syllables
In chapter 3 the reader is led to the next higher unit in the
prosodic hierarchy, namely the syllable. Starting from the
intuitive feeling of syllabic structure, phonological
processes are presented which rely on this domain (e.g.
phonotactic constraints). After this phonological
legitimation, the authors refer to onset-rhyme theory and
mora theory, which are concerned with the internal structure
of syllables. Onset-rhyme theory is presented in great
detail, with discussion of syllabification algorithms and
extrasyllabicity. Mora theory is treated more compactly, but
the basic concepts are clearly explained. The representation
of segmental length is visualized for both formalisations,
introducing a skeletal tier. To show the independence of
syllabic positions (assignment of onset or coda position),
the authors leave the strict domain of the word. This
phenomenon, however, is only presented in examples. An
important part of this chapter is devoted to government
phonology, which argues for a strict binary branching of
constituents and defines parameters which are able to ensure
only valid syllables. While government phonology is of great
interest for the authors, some notions of syllabification
(e.g ambisyllabicity) are not even mentioned.

Chapter 4: Feet and words
This chapter starts with the differentiation between stress
and accent, making brief reference to their different
functions, corresponding to prominence in different domains
(word level vs phrasal level). (I will refer here to the
terminological distinction by Sluijter 1995 to avoid further
confusion and will use "stress" for prominence on the word
level. The authors use "accent" in order to have a generic
term for stress-accent and pitch-accent). Next, the notion
of secondary stress is introduced which serves as
introduction to the prosodic level of the foot within the
word. Different foot structures (iambic, trochaic) are
illustrated using metrical grids. Here the notion of stress-
timed and syllable-timed languages is discussed. On the
basis of stress assignment in different languages the
authors show, that the distinction between fixed-stress
languages and free-stress languages is not as strightforward
as sometimes believed. Rather, these two notions are shown
to be just the extreme poles of a continuum. Even a
free-stress language like English reveals some regularities
in stress assignment. Eurythmic principles are briefly
introduced with reference to compound formation in English,
which exhibits stress shifts in some cases.Finally,
different parameters (position of the head, direction of
assignment, weight sensitivity) which govern the assignment
of foot structures and stress positions are examined, and
their universal character is emphasized. The remaning
languages, where stress can be placed on syllables at an
unlimited distance from boundaries (in opposition to stress
assignment to maximally the ante-penultimate syllable) are
dealt with by means of unbounded feet. This chapter finishes
with the comparison of the stress systems of English and
Dutch with respect to the parameters introduce. This
slightlyimplies that stress assignment can be handled in a
straightforward way for these languages, which is actually
not the case.

General Evaluation:
This book supplies students with a comprehensive and detailed
introduction to all levels of representation at or below the
word level. Even theories like government phonology which are
missing in other introductory works on phonology (e.g.
Gussenhoven and Jacobs 1998) are treated in great detail
here. This thoroughness is achieved at the expense of
derivational aspects which the authors, however, explicitly
exclude from the scope of the book.
The argumentation in many passages of the book, above all in
the introductory section of each chapter, is brillant
and mostly suitable even for real beginners in the field of
phonology. In contrast, the use of abbreviations without
further reference to the explanatory text passages is an
unfortunate blemish, especially since the abbreviations are
absent from the index.
It is striking that the authors attach great importance to
phonemic transcriptions in the various examples.
Unfortunately this practice was not sustained throughout
their work (cf Polish examples on page 198, 209).
Each chapter is finished by a section of further readings
which provide a variety of valuable literature links for the
matters discussed in the respective chapters. Together with
interesting discussion and stimulations in footnotes, this
opens the textbook for a broad readership.

Bibliography
Gussenhoven, C. and H. Jacobs. 1998. Understanding
Phonology. Understanding Language Series. London: Arnold
Publishers.
Sluijter, A.M.C. 1995. Phonetic Correlates of Stress and
Accent. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Leiden.

Bibliographical Sketch
Bettina Braun is a PhD student within the European post-
graduate college "Language Technology and Cognitive Systems"
at Saarland University (Germany). Her research focusses on
the analysis of the acoustic properties of speech during
error resolution in human-computer interaction with the aim
to derive mechanisms to improve automatic speech recognition.
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