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Review of  Acoustic and Auditory Phonetics

Book Title: Acoustic and Auditory Phonetics
Book Author: Keith Johnson
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): New English
Issue Number: 14.1347

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Date: Fri, 9 May 2003 13:01:24 -0400 (EDT)
From: Chao-Yang Lee
Subject: Acoustic & Auditory Phonetics, 2nd ed.

Johnson, Keith (2003). Acoustic and Auditory Phonetics, 2nd ed.,
Blackwell Publishing.

Chao-Yang Lee, Speech Communication Group, Research Laboratory of
Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This book is a non-technical introduction to the acoustics of speech.
As the author notes, it covers four major topics:
(1) acoustic properties of major classes of speech sounds,
(2) the acoustic theory of speech production,
(3) the auditory representation of speech and
(4) speech perception.

The target audience is students in introductory courses in linguistic
phonetics, speech and hearing science, and in branches of electrical
engineering and cognitive psychology that deal with speech.

The nine chapters are divided into two parts. The first part presents
the theoretical foundation and signal processing tools for the study of
speech sounds. Chapter 1, basic acoustics and acoustic filters,
introduces the physics of sound: sound propagation, sound waves,
graphical representations of sound, and characteristics of acoustic
filters. Chapter 2 reviews fundamentals of digital signal processing,
explicating how the analog speech signal is converted to digital form
for various types of speech analysis. Chapter 3 discusses the basics of
audition, including the anatomy of the peripheral auditory system, the
sensation of loudness and pitch, and the difference between acoustic
and auditory representations of sound. Chapter 4 on speech perception
is new to the second edition. It illustrates how a speech perception
experiment is conducted by evaluating the perceptual distance among
speech sounds. The role of linguistic background on speech perception
is also demonstrated by a study on Mandarin tone perception.

Chapter 5, the acoustic theory of speech production, lays the
theoretical foundation for subsequent discussions on the acoustics of
major classes of speech sounds. The voice source and its acoustic
properties, such as fundamental frequency and harmonics, are first
introduced, followed by a discussion on the filtering function of the
vocal tract and its acoustic consequences. The calculation of resonant
frequencies modeled by simple tubes is discussed, so is the estimation
of vowel formant frequencies via the linear predictive coding (LPC).

Based on the acoustic theory presented in Chapter 5, the second part of
the book explicates the acoustic, auditory, and perceptual
characteristics of the major classes of speech sounds. Chapter 6
presents the acoustics of vowels modeled by tubes and by the
perturbation theory. The distribution of vowels in the acoustic vowel
space is discussed with reference to the quantal theory by Stevens and
the theory of adaptive dispersion by Lindblom. The auditory
representation of vowels is compared to the acoustic representation,
followed by a discussion on cross-linguistic vowel perception.
Subsequent chapters on fricatives (Chapter 7), stops and affricates
(Chapter 8), and nasals and laterals (Chapter 9) follow a similar
format of presentation: the acoustic properties, auditory
representations, and perception of the sounds.

Overall, this is an excellent introduction to the acoustics of speech.
In many ways it reminds me of the text by Ladefoged (1996): they are
both compact in size but manage to cover major topics in acoustic
phonetics with a unified theme in an approachable manner. For Johnson
(2003), the overarching theme is to relate the acoustics of speech to
predictions from the acoustic theory of speech production. The
presentation of the acoustic theory is distributed nicely in relevant
chapters (e.g. voicing source and tubes in the chapter on vowels, noise
source in fricatives, and bandwidth in nasals) such that each chapter
is kept concise without sacrificing the depth of discussion. The author
does an admirable job in introducing the physical basis of speech and
acoustic modeling in a non-technical way, which is particularly helpful
for readers who may not have much mathematical background. The
analogies drawn to illustrate key concepts give the book a user-
friendly feel. I also like the "semi-related stuff in boxes",
explaining in simple terms the concepts that many of us have always
wanted to know but never really understood well from more technical

The emphasis on the role of the auditory and perceptual system is
another attraction of the book. As the author notes, "the auditory
system warps the speech signal in some very interesting ways, and if we
want to understand the linguistic significance (or lack of it) of
speech acoustics, we must pay attention to the auditory system." In the
chapters on major classes of sounds, comparisons are made between
auditory and acoustic representations of speech to alert readers of the
importance of the auditory/perceptual system. Similarly, the role of
linguistic experience in shaping how speech sounds are perceived is
also highlighted with data from cross-linguistic speech perception.

In addition to be used as a supplement to a general phonetics or speech
science text as the author suggests, this book makes a good companion
for a laboratory course in acoustic phonetics. In particular, the
chapter on digital signal processing gives detailed explanations of how
various speech analysis techniques are derived. This information is
particularly useful in how to choose the appropriate analysis and how
to interpret the acoustic data for the research question. In addition,
the chapter on speech perception is a welcome addition to this new
edition. Consistent with the theme that attention should be paid to the
auditory and perceptual side of phonetics, it illustrates how a
perception experiment is designed and how the results are interpreted.

Since this book is intended as an introductory text, the scope and
depth of coverage is inevitably compromised in exchange for brevity and
readability. It might be helpful to provide a list of suggested
readings for readers wishing to further explore the topics, like what
Pickett (1999) did for example. Furthermore, although this book is
aimed to discuss the acoustic and auditory aspects of phonetics, more
discussion on the articulation of speech seems warranted given that
speech acoustics is mainly a product of speech articulation. It will
complement the theme in relating speech acoustics to modeling from the
acoustic theory of speech production, which is what makes this book

In sum, if you want to know about the articulatory-acoustic-phonetic
relationships but find Stevens (1998) a little overwhelming, I highly
recommend reading this book first.


Ladefoged, P. (1996). Elements of Acoustic Phonetics. The University of
Chicago Press.

Pickett, J. M. (1999). The Acoustics of Speech Communication. Allyn and

Stevens, K. N. (1998). Acoustic Phonetics. MIT Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Chao-Yang Lee received his graduate training in the cognitive and linguistic sciences from Brown University. His research interests include the role of lexical tone in spoken word recognition and the nature of phonetic categories. He is currently a postdoctoral associate at MIT and will join the School of Hearing, Speech and Language Sciences at Ohio University in fall 2003.

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ISBN: 1405101229
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Pages: 192
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Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1405101237
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