LINGUIST List 12.2353

Sun Sep 23 2001

Review: Ewen & van der Hulst, Phonological Structure

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  1. Manuela Noske, Review of Ewen & van der Hulst, Phonological Structure of Words

Message 1: Review of Ewen & van der Hulst, Phonological Structure of Words

Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2001 14:11:07 -0700
From: Manuela Noske <>
Subject: Review of Ewen & van der Hulst, Phonological Structure of Words

Ewen, Colin J., and Harry van der Hulst (2001) The Phonological Structure
of Words, Cambridge University Press, hardback ISBN: 0-521-35019-9,
xiii+274 pp, $64.95, Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.

Reviewed by Manuela Noske, Microsoft Corporation

[Another review of this book can be found at: --Eds.]

"The Phonological Structure of Words" introduces the reader to
non-linear models of phonological representation and is intended for
readers with some knowledge of linguistics. Given the detailed analyses
the ideal reader would be a graduate student in linguistics with little
previous knowledge of phonology or scholars of other disciplines. The
book is entirely dedicated to issues of representation. Starting with
features and segments in the first two chapters of the book, the authors
address the representation of syllables and feet in chapters three and
four. The authors largely ignore the role and function of levels in
phonological theory and postpone a discussion of derivations to the

The first chapter introduces the reader to natural classes of segments
and the idea that segments are not indivisible wholes, but should be
understood as consisting of smaller units or features. These features,
they say, correspond to the properties that are familiar from
traditional phonetic descriptions. Their starting point here is the
feature system in the Sound Pattern of English (Chomsky and Halle 1968),
although the earlier seminal work "Preliminaries to Speech Analysis" by
Jakobson, Fant and Halle (1951) is mentioned as well. Given that the
focus of this book is on non-linear models of phonology, one has to
wonder why SPE is used as a reference point at all. After introducing
the major class features, as well as consonant and vowel features, they
introduce the notion of "feature grouping" and briefly talk about
feature geometry. Following that, the model of autosegmental phonology
is discussed whose superiority over previous models is illustrated with
the examples of Old English Umlaut and vowel harmony in Turkish.

The second chapter is dedicated to the "nature of features",
specifically the question whether features are unary, binary or
multi-valued and the issue of underspecification. They introduce this
topic with the well-known observation that while there are many
languages in which nasality spreads, there are no languages in which
orality seems to spread. Having made this observation they introduce
various ways of accounting for "feature asymmetries": They discuss
different underspecification theories, comparing radical
underspecification with contrastive underspecification and with the use
of single-valued features. They also mention Chomsky's and Halle's
(1968) marking convention in this part of the chapter. While the notion
of markedness is important to discuss in connection with the question of
feature valency, the paragraphs on the marking convention are prone to
confuse the reader, since no time is spent on explaining how the marking
convention fits into the larger phonological model that is presented in
SPE. Also, while the discussion of the various models of
underspecification is concise, I wonder how much a novice to phonology
will get out of a discussion that depends heavily on the step-wise
application of phonological rules, as is the case in radical

The third chapter is dedicated to the syllable as the smallest element
in the prosodic hierarchy. Starting with the assumption that speakers
intuitively know what constitutes a syllable in their native language,
they set out to show what phenomena find a more straightforward account
if the syllable is assumed as an element of phonological analysis. They
then contrast the "onset-rhyme" theory of the syllable with a moraic
representation of the syllable. The section on the "onset-rhyme" theory
pays special attention to what goes on at the edges of words; they
introduce the notion of "appendix", "prependix" and "extrasyllabicity"
as well. They also walk the reader through a few examples of
syllabification which they assume to start with nucleus formation and
which is governed by the Maximal Onset Principle. The case for a moraic
representation of the syllable is made on the basis of compensatory
lengthening in the early history of English and other Germanic dialects.
In this part of the book they introduce the skeletal tier (having
mentioned only root nodes up to this point) and they spend a fair amount
of time discussing whether moras can be assumed to associate directly
with the root node or whether it must be assumed that moras are
associated with the skeletal tier. They ultimately decide in favor of a
representation that includes the skeleton. Chapter 3 also contains a
fairly extensive summary of syllable structure in Government Phonology.

The fourth chapter, finally, introduces the notion of stress and accent,
reserving the term "accent" to refer to the "prominence". They
introduce the prosodic foot and differentiate between trochaic and
iambic feet. They also discuss the difference between fixed and free
accent systems, observing that these are ideals that are not encountered
in any language. Lastly they introduce a set of parameters (headedness,
directionality and weight-sensitivity) which govern foot assignment.
They conclude with a comparison of accent in English and Dutch.

General Evaluation
One of the most noteworthy features of this book is that it covers a
wider range of phonological models than is usually found in introductory
books, and so includes not only an overview of autosegmental phonology
(Goldsmith 1976) and feature geometry (Clements 1985; Sagey 1986), but
also discusses the basic claims of dependency phonology (Anderson and
Ewen 1987) and government phonology (Kaye et al. 1985, 1990; Charette
1991; Harris 1994) with respect to the representation of features and
syllable structure. Despite the fact that not all models receive the
same amount of attention, the reader thus gets exposed to developments
on the continent and in the US, which makes this book valuable to
students on both sides of the Atlantic. Another noteworthy aspect is
the number of Dutch examples that the two authors use in their
expositions. This is a refreshing departure from other books of this
kind which tend to use English examples whenever an English example can
be found for illustration. Also noteworthy are the suggested further
readings at the end of each chapter which offer an extensive list of
references. The arguments for and against certain positions are
presented clearly; the discussions are succinct and easy to follow.

The book could have been improved in a couple of ways. First, I think
it would have been good to include some discussion of the "phonetic
reality" of features. While the major class, vowel and consonant
features are briefly defined in articulatory terms, the authors seem to
assume a somewhat loose connection between the phonological features
they use to represent a segment on the one hand, and the phonetic
realization of that segment on the other. This becomes clear from their
reanalysis of Yoruba vowel harmony on pp. 99 of the book. The authors
contrast Archangeli's and Pulleyblank's (1989) well-known analysis of
Yoruba vowel harmony with an approach that uses single-valued features.
Their successful analysis depends on the assumption that the Yoruba
vowels /e/ and /o/ are not the [+ATR] counterparts of the [-ATR] vowels
/E/ and /O/, but the [-ATR] counterparts of Yoruba /i/ and /u/.
(Capital letters mark [-ATR] vowels.) According to the authors there
are "good phonetic grounds for this claim: high [-ATR] vowels and mid
[+ATR] vowels are very similar, and are notoriously hard to distinguish"
(p. 99). If there is indeed phonetic evidence for the assumption that /e/
and /o/ in Yoruba are truly [-ATR] high vowels [I] and [U], then this
evidence needs to get presented. Psycholinguistic evidence could also be
brought to bear on this issue. However, in the absence of either kind of
supporting evidence their reanalysis must be taken with a grain of salt.

Second, the authors decided to focus on issues of representation only
and to ignore any discussion of derivations and levels in phonology. It
is only in the epilogue that they lay out what role "levels" play in
phonological theory. While this strategy allows them to focus on their
task, it makes some parts of the book hard to understand for a newcomer
to the field. For instance, it is doubtful that even a student with
some background in linguistics can appreciate what is being said about
the redundancy rule ordering constraint, complement rules, and lexical
versus underlying representations in chapter 2. An explanatory footnote
or possibly a brief excursion with some explanation would have been a
good addition to this chapter.

On the whole the book is very thorough in its exposition and a very
worthwhile read. I think that it is well-suited as a textbook for a
graduate course on phonological representations.

Biographical Sketch
Manuela Noske received a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1995 from the
University of Chicago with a thesis on underspecification in
phonological theory. A native speaker of German she works in the
Natural Language Group at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington.
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