LINGUIST List 14.2137

Tue Aug 12 2003

Review: Phonetics: Roach (2001)

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  1. Trudy & Kevin Agar-Mendousse, Roach (2001), Phonetics

Message 1: Roach (2001), Phonetics

Date: Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003 21:09:06 +0200
From: Trudy & Kevin Agar-Mendousse <>
Subject: Roach (2001), Phonetics


Roach, Peter (2001), Phonetics. Oxford University Press, Oxford 
Introductions to Language Study.

Kevin Mendousse, University of Auckland (New Zealand) and 
University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV, France).


Peter Roach's Phonetics forms part of a series of introductory books
to language study, all of which are organised into the following four
sections: Survey, Readings, References and Glossary.

Its stated purpose is to serve as a complement to academic
introductory texts whose degree of technicality can be quite daunting
to the novice reader. As the series editor Widdowson points out in the
preface, it is presumably ''an advantage to have a broad map of the
terrain sketched out before one considers its more specific features
on a smaller scale, a general context in reference to which the detail
makes sense'' (p. vii). In that respect, Roach's book is primarily
intended for novice students in phonetics and non-specialists alike.

The Survey section (pp. 1-69) offers a summary overview of the main
features of phonetics, laying out the discipline's general scope,
basic concerns, principles of enquiry and key concepts. The Readings
section (pp. 71-97) serves as a transition to critical reading by
quoting short selected texts from major works in phonetics and
providing the reader with insightful questions as to the how and why
of phonetics. The third section, References (pp. 99-105), offers an
annotated list of more specialised readings for a closer look at each
of the Survey chapters, while the fourth and final section, Glossary
(pp. 107-114), indexes key words along with their definitions and
simultaneously cross-references their related concepts.

The Survey is divided into ten chapters, including a paragraph-long
conclusion (Chapter 10). Chapter 1, ''The Science of Speech''
(pp. 3-10), begins with a brief account of the speech chain, reviewing
the basic mechanisms involved in the production of speech sounds by
the speaker, their movement through the air in the form of acoustic
vibrations and their reception by the listener. It also provides a
rationale for the study of phonetic transcription and sound systems
(vowels and consonants) as well as for the use of the International
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) with reference to the notions of contrast,
phoneme and allophone. A revised and updated chart of the IPA
(pp. 8-9) complements the introduction.

In Chapter 2, ''Making Speech Sounds'' (pp. 11-16), Roach goes on to
describe the breathing system and the vocal tract, covering both
laryngeal and supralaryngeal features. A detailed contextual analysis
of the articulatory processes involved in the production of the word
''sand'' supplements the presentation of the aformentioned features
while illustrating the need for their phonetic description and
classification. A diagram (p. 16) of the articulator movements for the
production of the same word summarises the discussion, allowing the
reader to see the overall unity beyond the multiplicity of
articulatory events that occur both simultaneously and successively in
speech production.

In Chapter 3, ''Classifying Speech Sounds'' (pp. 17-24), Roach
justifies the use and need for a taxonomy of sounds (phonemes and
allophones alike), which leads him to outline a general classification
of vowels and consonants. The concept of cardinal vowels and the
vocalic features of openness, frontness and rounding are introduced
here, as are the consonantal features of voicing, place of
articulation and manner of articulation along with their various
airstream mechanisms. Diagrams of both the vocalic space (p. 19) and
the place of articulation for consonants (p. 21) lend visual support
to the discussion.

Chapter 4, ''Tone and Tone Languages'' (pp. 25-29), deals with those
languages that make distinctive use, through controlled adjustment of
the vocal folds, of pitch variations such as pitch level and/or
movement. Specific characteristics and uses of pitch are surveyed here
with particular reference to lexical and grammatical tones, tone
levels and contours, contextual variations and pitch-accents.

Chapter 5, ''Suprasegmentals'' (pp. 31-38), broadens the tonal
discussion of Chapter 4 to include other prosodic features like
stress, intonation, rhythm, tempo and voice-quality, while providing a
rationale for their study by highlighting the important part they all
play in the communication and understanding of ideas, emotions, etc.

In Chapter 6, ''Acoustics of Speech Sounds'' (pp. 39-46), Roach
furthers his investigation of speech sounds to include their spectral
definition, showing how any one segment can be broken down into
waveforms of different frequencies. The reproduction of the acoustic
waveforms and spectrograms of both the word ''see'' (pp. 40-41) and
the sentence ''She bought some chairs and a table'' (p. 45)
illustrates the explanations. Acoustic notions of (a)periodicity,
amplitude, formant as well as the source-filter theory are introduced
here. In an extension of Chapter 3 and its articulatory account of
speech sounds, Chapter 6 develops the segmental classification of
vowels and consonants (fricatives, plosives, nasals, affricates,
approximants) in relation to their acoustic pattern that can be one of
four possible types: periodic, aperiodic, a mixture of both or
silent. A very brief characterization of the acoustics of the
suprasegmental feature of pitch through fundamental frequency,
intensity and duration complements the description.

Chapter 7, ''Sounds in Systems'' (pp. 47-51), links phonetics to
phonology by focusing on the contrastive function of speech sounds and
showing how languages differ in what constitutes their phonemic
repertoire and/or in the phonotactic constraints that govern their
syllable structure.

Chapter 8, ''Connected Speech and Coarticulation'' (pp. 53-62),
broadens the phonetic account of individual speech sounds to their
analysis in connected speech where they are no longer seen as discrete
and independent sound units but as a sequence of interacting segments
that have potential effects of assimilation, coarticulation and
elision on one another. Three cases of assimilation are reviewed
(assimilation being defined as what happens when one sound becomes
phonetically similar to an adjacent sound), along with a discussion of
the mechanical and biological causes of such processes: (i)
assimilation of voice, (ii) assimilation of place and (iii)
assimilation of manner. Having said that, Roach then moves away from
ideas that are traditionally associated with assimilation like phoneme
change or sounds influencing adjacent sounds, in favour of
coarticulation processes known to have anticipatory and perseverative
effects that expand much further than from just one segment to its
neighbour. Finally, with reference to laboratory findings, Roach
argues that elision is not a separate process from assimilation but
rather an extreme result of coarticulation whereby two sounds are
produced so closely in time to each other that in-between sounds are
inaudible but never completely lost nor deleted as far as production
is concerned. There is indeed strong empirical evidence supporting the
underlying presence of articulatory features pertaining to the
so-called ''missing segment''.

In Chapter 9, ''Variation'' (pp. 63-68), Roach demonstrates the degree
of variation that can occur within the phonetics and phonology of any
one language as a result of differences such as regional (dialect,
accent), social (status, context, gender), stylistic (communication
needs) and age variation.

Chapter 10, ''Conclusion'' (p. 69), ends the Survey section on a
positive note by emphasizing the living and dynamic side of speech as
well as the thriving and exciting nature of phonetics as a field of
study. Roach points to the wealth of material available, not only in
journals and books but also on the Internet, on any aspect of
phonetics, speech research, and pronunciation teaching as indicative
of the relevence of phonetics today.


Roach's Phonetics clearly and accurately lays down the basic concerns,
fundamental units and key concepts in phonetics, while presupposing no
prior knowledge of linguistics. The four clear-cut sections of the
book allow for flexibility in the reading, and the recommended
references for each of the Survey chapters present the interested
student with material for further study and investigation. The
excerpts selected from the more specialist literature and the
questions asked in the Readings section are interesting, relevant and
often thought-provoking.

Overall, the book is an insightful work that provides the reader with
a broad overview of the field of phonetics, with sporadic reference to
phonology, while stimulating thought and encouraging both
introspection and reflection through numerous and diverse examples
taken from languages across the world, with a wide range of references
to European, African, Asian and indigenous American languages and

The writing is always clear, effective and very readable; the
explanations are self-contained, accurate, simple and sometimes
humorous but never simplistic. Symbols and terminology are introduced
progressively, as they are needed, which renders them less daunting to
the novice reader and enables her to see beyond them. Having said
that, the glossary is a welcome addition to an introductory text in
phonetics that, necessarily, comprises a certain amount of jargon.

By avoiding the common pitfall, found in many introductory texts, of
confusing the novice reader at the outset with a mass of new concepts,
terms, notational practises and complex phonetic descriptions and
diagrams, Roach makes his book easily accessible to the target
readership, therefore achieving the objectives stated in the
preface. The book should thus serve as a very useful tool in the
context of an introductory class in phonetics.


Kevin Mendousse is currently teaching in the French department at the
University of Auckland (New Zealand), and has recently submitted a PhD
thesis in linguistics at the University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV,
France), where he taught English phonetics and phonology for several
years. His main research interests include articulatory and acoustic
phonetics, phonological theory and morphophonological representation,
speech perception and, more generally, psycholinguistics and cognitive
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