LINGUIST List 14.2721

Thu Oct 9 2003

Review: Phonology: Kehrein (2002)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect 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 review." Then contact Simin Karimi at


  1. Nancy Hall, Phonological Representation and Phonetic Phasing

Message 1: Phonological Representation and Phonetic Phasing

Date: Thu, 09 Oct 2003 01:03:58 +0000
From: Nancy Hall <>
Subject: Phonological Representation and Phonetic Phasing

Kehrein, Wolfgang (2002) Phonological Representation and Phonetic
Phasing, Niemeyer.

Announced at

Nancy Hall, University of Haifa

This study addresses two questions about phonological representations:
the nature of affricates and the level at which the laryngeal node is
licensed. Based on an extensive typological survey of 281 languages,
Kehrein argues that the conventional view of affricates and
laryngeality predicts many kinds of contrasts that are not attested.

The first part of the book concerns the nature of affricates (which
comprise, in this taxonomy, pre- and post-nasalized stops and
laterally released stops as well as the familiar strident
affricates). Kehrein argues that ''affricate'' is not a phonological
category: affricates themselves do not form a natural class.
Furthermore, affricates and fricatives do not together form a class
[continuant], contrary to theories which treat affricates as involving
the features [stop, continuant]. However, affricates do form a natural
class with stops, and hence are analyzed as kinds of stops.

According to this theory, the sounds described as affricates fall into
two classes. In the first group, affrication is the realization of one
of the manner features [strident], [nasal] or [lateral] on a
stop. This type of affricate can contrast with a plain stop at the
same place of articulation, since the two are featurally different. In
the second group, affrication is a phonetic strategy for maximizing
the perceptibility of small differences in place of articulation. The
segments thus distinguished are simply [stop]s, without extra manner
features. This type of affricate cannot contrast with a plain stop at
the same place of articulation: for example, it is claimed that no
language contrasts bilabial stops with bilabial affricates, although
some contrast biliabial stops with labio-dental affricates. Only the
place feature is phonologically represented; the affrication which
serves to enhance the place contrast is a purely phonetic
detail. Thus, neither type of affricate involves a phonological
stricture contour.
The second part of the book deals with the nature of the laryngeal
node. The basic claim is that laryngeal features are not licensed by
segments. The laryngeal node (which consists of the three privative
features [spread glottis], [constricted glottis], and [voice]) is
licensed directly by the subsyllabic constituents of onset, nucleus,
and coda. Within each of these constituents, laryngeal features are
temporally unordered with respect to supralaryngeal features.

The evidence for this claim comes primarily from a typological study
of contrasts. It is argued that no language has more than one
laryngeal node in a single onset, nucleus or coda, nor does any
language contrastively order laryngeal and supralaryngeal
articulations within these constituents. For example, no language
contrasts laryngealization and laryngeal segments within a
constituent: glottalized [p] cannot contrast with a sequence of [p]
and glottal stop. Conflicting laryngeal features do not occur within
a constituent, and pre- and post-laryngealized constituents cannot
contrast. Phonological processes that affect laryngeals, such as
assimilation, OCP, and neutralization effects, apply over whole
subsyllabic constituents rather than over individual root nodes.

Several apparent counter-examples to these claims are brought up and
argued against. For example, Huautla Mazatec has been claimed to
contrast pre- and post- aspiration; Kehrein argues that the consonants
transcribed as post-aspirated are actually plain consonants preceding
breathy vowels. Other counterexamples include languages, such as
Georgian, Bella Coola, and Imdlawn Tashlhiyt Berber, that apparently
allow long strings of consonants in onsets or codas. These long
strings do allow contrastive ordering of laryngeal
specifications. Kehrein argues, following other researchers such as
Dell & Elmedlaoui 1988 and Bagemihl 1991, that these strings are
actually polysyllabic, and hence do not contradict the generalization
that ordering is non-contrastive within a single subsyllabic

Other evidence for the independence of the laryngeal node from
segments comes from long-distance laryngeal movement, such as
Grassmanns Law in Sanskrit, in which laryngeal features
move about words, leaving supralaryngeal features behind.

There are a large number of phonetic strategies for realizing
laryngeal articulations, varying along the articulatory dimensions of
degree of glottal constriction, vertical larynx movement, and gestural
phasing of laryngeal constrictions with other laryngeal constrictions
or supralaryngeal constrictions. However, Kehrein argues that these
phonetic details are not relevant to systems of contrast, or natural

This attempt to distill a small number of phonological contrasts from
a wealth of phonetic realizations is essentially the unifying theme of
the book. Both affricates and laryngeals are argued to participate in
fewer contrasts than usually assumed. Just as non- strident affricates
are argued to be only a phonetic variation on plain [stop]s, many
phonetic realizations of laryngeality are argued to be featurally
identical and hence incapable of contrasting with one another.

The study does not assume any particular theoretical framework, such
as Optimality Theory or a rule-based framework. This neutrality allows
the question of representations to be kept distinct from the system of
mapping underlying forms to surface forms. In the final section,
Kehrein discusses implications of the theory for a variety of
frameworks, such as Aperture theory and Articulatory Phonology.

I found the typological claims made in this work fascinating. They are
a challenge for many linguistic theories, and if accepted, require
significant changes in thinking, not only about the place of laryngeal
and stricture features, but possibly about syllable structure. The
theory about laryngeals depends on a concrete, structural definition
of subsyllabic constituents (onset, nucleus, coda), which some
theories do not currently assume.

Kehrein makes a convincing argument that the wealth of phonetic
realizations of certain features has sometimes obscured the fact that
the possibilities for contrast are relatively limited. This reduction
of the number of possible phonological contrasts, and disentangling of
featural contrast from phonetic detail, is a desirable result. As with
any typological work, the claims will of course need to be evaluated
by linguists who are experts in the particular languages
discussed. The number of languages mentioned is enormous, and the book
could well be used as a reference for locating languages with
particular types of contrasts. The presentation of data is clear and
organized, with good use of charts.

The lack of formal demonstrations of input - output mapping systems
(whether rules or constraints) does cause unclarity at a few
points. For example, Kehrein occasionally suggests possible Optimality
Theoretic constraints, but it was not clear to me in some cases how
the constraints proposed would actually capture the pattern. Inclusion
of tableaux might help. However, since the books main goal
is to describe possible systems of contrast rather than their
implementation in a particular framework, this was not a major


Bagemihl, Bruce (1991) Syllable structure in Bella Coola. Linguistic
Inquiry 22. 589-646.

Dell, Fran´┐Żois & Mohamed Elmedlaoui (1988). Syllabic consonants
in Berber. Linguistics 34 357-395.


Nancy Hall is currently a visiting instructor at the University of
Haifa, Israel. Her research interests include Articulatory Phonology
and the phonetics / phonology interface. Her recent Ph.D. dissertation
(University of Massachusetts- Amherst) concerns the phenomenon of
intrusive vowels: non-segmental, vowel-like percepts that are heard in
consonant clusters.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue