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Review of  Phonological Representation and Phonetic Phasing

Reviewer: Nancy Hall
Book Title: Phonological Representation and Phonetic Phasing
Book Author: Wolfgang Kehrein
Publisher: Max Niemeyer Verlag
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 14.2721

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Date: Wed, 8 Oct 2003 05:46:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: Nancy Hall
Subject: Phonological Representation and Phonetic Phasing

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

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 constituent.

Other evidence for the independence of the laryngeal node
from segments comes from long-distance laryngeal
movement, such as Grassmann’s 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 classes.

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 book’s main goal is to describe possible systems of
contrast rather than their implementation in a particular
framework, this was not a major problem.


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

Dell, François & Mohamed Elmedlaoui (1988). Syllabic
consonants in Berber. Linguistics 34 357-395.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.