LINGUIST List 15.994

Wed Mar 24 2004

Review: Phonology/Phonetics: Kraehenmann (2003)

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  1. Stefan Werner, Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic

Message 1: Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic

Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 10:49:21 -0500 (EST)
From: Stefan Werner <>
Subject: Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic

AUTHOR: Kraehenmann, Astrid
TITLE: Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic
SUBTITLE: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives
SERIES: Phonology & Phonetics 5
YEAR: 2003
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter

Announced at

Stefan Werner, University of Joensuu, Finland


The monograph presents a comprehensive analysis of a Swiss German
dialect which exhibits several exceptional features in its sound
system. Phonetics and phonology of the Thurgovian dialect are examined
in detail, both from a synchronic and a diachronic perspective, and
interpreted on the background of language typology and modern theories
of phonology. In particular, the rare phenomenon of word-initial
lexical geminates undergoes detailed scrutiny and is used to point out
deficiencies of moraic theory.


Thurgovian is a Swiss German dialect spoken in a small area in the
North-Western corner of Switzerland. It exhibits several rare and
extraordinary geminate consonant patterns that make it an intriguing
research object both for phonetics and phonology. Astrid Kraehenmann's
book is a revised version of her doctoral dissertation for which she
received a prize from the City of Konstanz in 2001.

The book opens with a short introduction including an overview of the
Thurgovian dialect's setting within Germanic languages and some
general information on geminates. The author also states the three
main goals she has set for her work: to show causal relationships in
the historical development of Thurgovian, to show the interplay
between phonology and phonetics in its consonant system and to justify
the analysis of its phonological quantity oppositions in terms of
length rather than weight.

In the first chapter, theoretical constructs central to the author's
analysis are presented. The main emphasis lies on the representation
of geminates, and moraic theory (Hyman 1985, Hayes 1989) in particular
is discussed at some length. Chapter 2 systematically describes the
current sound system of Thurgovian whose wealth of lexical quantity
oppositions is especially interesting: in addition to vowel quantity,
quantity contrasts for fricatives and sonorants appear word-medially
and -finally, for stops in all positions, including word-initially,
e.g. singleton [t] vs. geminate [tt] at the beginning of the two
words corresponding to German ''Dank'' ('thank') and ''Tank''
('tank'), with the geminate in the place of the German aspirated
voiceless [t] and the singleton in the place of unaspirated voiced
[d]. After the synchronic presentation, the third chapter details on
almost forty pages the diachronic development from Old High German to
present-day Thurgovian, stressing the role of Open Syllable
Lengthening in the understanding of differences between the evolution
of Standard German and that of Thurgovian which has preserved much
more of the old quantity opposition system.

Chapter 4 produces phonetic evidence in the form of the author's
recordings of elicited Modern Thurgovian speech. 213 words covering
all consonant quantity contrasts were read aloud by four male native
Thurgovian speakers in the following way: in the first part of the
production task, the subjects were primed with short written contexts
on a computer screen containing the target word and had to repeat it
as soon as it appeared on the screen on its own; in the second part
the subjects were primed with a written question on the screen and
then presented with the initial-consonant target word which they had
to insert into the empty slot of an appropriate answer sentence
provided on a sheet of paper; this setup was repeated with different
contexts and final-consonant target words in the third part. Also
position of the word in the phrase was varied (phrase-final
vs. phrase-medial). The whole task was recorded twice for each
speaker. Of the 213 stimulus words, one third were filler items, the
relevant rest of the material (after rejection of failed productions a
total of 2722 tokens) was transferred to an acoustic signal analysis
program for segmentation of the waveforms and duration measurements.

Analysis of variance results for the influence of segmental context
and underlying quantity on the measured durations together with their
phonological interpretations make up the bulk of this central
chapter. The main findings include a clear direct relationship between
phonological quantity and segmental durations, empirical verification
of the geminate distribution rules of Chapter 2, evidence
interpretable in favor of the X-slot theory (Levin 1985) and the
absence of a correlation between vowel and consonant durations. An
additional perception experiment showed that word-initial stop
quantity contrast can only be discriminated when preceding context is
included in the stimuli - which is to be expected since stop
occlusions are silent and thus their duration can only be judged (by
means other than articulography) if there is something non-silent
immediately before them.

The fifth chapter is devoted to a broad discussion of syllable weight
and stress patterns in the light of the Thurgovian data. The most
important theoretical point made is that moraic theory cannot account
for the observations because it represents weight and length by the
same unit whereas in the data weight is determined purely by position
and the geminate-singleton distinction relies solely on a length
opposition. Also, Thurgovian initial and final geminates follow
exactly the same patterning as their medial counterparts (manifesting
a clear distinction between sonorants and obstruents), thus
contradicting moraic theory's assumption of different behavior at word

In her final Conclusion section, the author summarizes her findings
and emphasizes the aspect of asymmetry in several of them. There is
the asymmetrical distribution of geminate fricatives and stops versus
geminate sonorants where the former occur both after non-branching and
branching nuclei but the latter only after non-branching nuclei, and
there is the asymmetry of geminate fricatives and sonorants which only
occur word-medially and -finally versus the geminate stops which also
occur word-initially. The third asymmetry concerns neutralization of
geminates, degemination, which in final position only takes place if
the preceding nucleus is branching, or, using the slot terminology;
the two geminate slots can be syllabified in a coda but not in an

This book is of potential interest for a rather wide selection of
language and speech researchers. Although its main focus lies on
phonology, there is also much material for phoneticians to dwell
upon. In addition, dialectologists, historical linguists and language
typologists will all find something relevant to their fields. The
amount of data analyzed is very impressive. Of course, collection of
more realistic spontaneous speech data might give us a wealth of new
insights but as a systematic approach to word-internal structure
analysis the author's method of eliciting single words is well

As a phonetician, I would have appreciated an even more explicit
account of the acoustic measuring procedures (e.g. now it is not clear
what the exact amplitude threshold criterion for the marking of a
stop's occlusion boundary is - not that this could endanger the
validity of the geminate analysis, though) as well as information
about possible access to the data. But I am at a loss for pointing out
any major flaws of this book which is also carefully edited and
includes all necessary and hoped-for appendices and indices.

Finally, one of the greatest strengths of this book lies in its
author's unveiled excitement about her object of research. Her keen
interest in the Thurgovian dialect and obvious fascination with its
peculiarities also inspire the reader to follow her thorough
examinations with a stronger involvement. Kraehenmann's book certainly
lives up to the Phonology and Phonetics series' intention of
stimulating discussion across specialty boundaries.


Hayes, Bruce (1989) Compensatory lengthening in moraic theory.
Linguistic Inquiry 20(2), pp. 253-306.

Hyman, Larry (1985) A Theory of Phonological Weight. Dordrecht:

Levin, Juliette (1985) A metrical theory of syllabicity. PhD
dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.


Stefan Werner has been teaching phonetics, linguistics and language
technology at the University of Joensuu in Finland since 1986. His
research interests include intonation modeling, production and
perception of quantity, and speech technology.
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