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Review of  Acoustic Phonetics

Book Title: Acoustic Phonetics
Book Author: Kenneth N. Stevens
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 10.1021

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Kenneth N. Stevens, 'Acoustic Phonetics'. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT
Press, 1999. ISBN 0-262-19404-X. Price $60.00

Reviewed by MARTIN J. BALL, Professor of Phonetics & Linguistics,
School of Psychology & Communication, University of Ulster at
Jordanstown e-mail:

As one of the major researchers in the field, Kenneth Stevens is
clearly an ideal author for a major book on acoustic phonetics.
However, his 'Acoustic Phonetics' belies its title somewhat by being
even more ambitious. The book contains, apart from detailed
treatment of speech acoustics, chapters dealing with the anatomy and
physiology of speech and speech aerodynamics; aspects of auditory
phonetics and speech processing; and a basic introduction to the
phonological representation of speech. Indeed, if there had been
somewhat more in these areas, and an account of articulatory
phonetics, the book would doubtless have stood as a definitive
account of all aspects of phonetics. As it stands, however, with the
bias much more towards acoustics, the title is probably the best
that could be chosen.

The first chapter deals with the anatomy and physiology of speech
production, and Stevens divides his account into three: the system
below the larynx, the larynx itself, and the supralaryngeal system.
Detailed anatomical and physiological detail is provided, followed
by an account of aerodynamic processes in general and specifically
as applied to speech. The chapter also deals with articulator
movement (including, e.g. adjustments to vocal fold tension), and
finishes with models of airflow and pressure in the respiratory and
supraglottal systems.

Information from this first chapter feeds into the chapter dealing
with source mechanisms. The greater part of this chapter examines in
detail periodic glottal source (including various phonation types)
and turbulence noise sources, with details of aerodynamics and
acoustics for both. Covered more briefly are transient sources (e.g.
stops consonants) and suction types (e.g. ingressive airstreams).

Chapter 3 introduces the basic acoustics of the vocal tract in
considerable detail, while chapter 4 deals with auditory phonetics.
Again, there is considerable detail in this chapter on the
physiology of the hearing system (including the neurophysiological
aspects), together with details of psychoacoustic experimentation in
areas such as the perception of tones, loudness and duration.

Chapter 5 is a brief overview of phonological representation of
speech. It is restricted to a traditional binary feature approach,
and the author does not have the space (or, within the basically
phonetic approach of the text, the wish) to discuss current
arguments on the structure and status of features, or indeed to
discuss such aspects as derivation versus constraints, or the
formalism of phonological rules.

Chapters 6 to 9 deal with the acoustics of a range of speech sounds:
vowels (chapter 6), stops (chapter 7), obstruents (chapter 8), and
sonorant consonants (chapter 9). These provide a wealth of detail,
providing an encyclopedia of speech acoustics for these sound types.
These chapters examine the various sound types in fairly basic
contexts; chapter 10 on the other hand looks at sounds in context.
These include consonant clusters, and vowel coarticulation and
reduction. If there is one criticism one might level at the book, it
is that this final chapter didn't include any information on
acoustic aspects of prosody (e.g. stress and pitch changes) in
connected speech.

The publication of 'Acoustic Phonetics' is clearly a major event in
modern phonetics. It is a tour de force, that will act as the major
source book in acoustic phonetics for years to come, but equally can
be used by advanced students as a route into this fascinating area
of speech research.

Prof Martin J. Ball, PhD
Professor of Phonetics & Linguistics
School of Psychology & Communication
University of Ulster at Jordanstown
Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, BT37 0QB
Northern Ireland
Tel: +44 1232 366649
Fax: +44 1232 368251

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