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Review of  Phonological Knowledge: Conceptual and Empirical Issues

Reviewer: Daniel Recasens
Book Title: Phonological Knowledge: Conceptual and Empirical Issues
Book Author: Noel Burton-Roberts Gerard Docherty Philip Carr
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Issue Number: 12.1568

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Burton-Roberts, Noel, Philip Carr, and Gerard Docherty (2000)
Phonological Knowledge: Conceptual and Empirical Issues,
Oxford University Press, paperback ISBN: 0-19-924577-0,
x+352 pp., US$35.00.

Daniel Recasens, Departament de Filologia Catalana,
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.

This book is a collection of papers dealing with the
philosophical and linguistic foundations of phonology. A
central concern of this publication is the position of
phonology vis-�-vis morphology, syntax and semantics, on
the one hand, and phonetics, on the other hand. In
attempting to answer this question the authors tackle
fundamental issues such as language modularity and the
nature of phonological units.

The book includes a highly comprehensive
Introduction chapter by Burton-Roberts, Carr and Docherty
where the main themes of the eleven chapters are presented
and discussed.

Some chapters take a highly cognitivist, formal
view of phonology. The most radical proposal is outlined
by Hale and Reiss (chapter 7, "Phonology as Cognition")
according to whom phonological computation is grounded
in a module of the mind and operates formally without
reference to phonetic substance ("the goal of phonological
theory... is to categorize what is a computationally possible
phonology"); this operational mode disallows well-
formedness and markedness principles, as well as other
constraints on the formulation of phonological rules.
Bromberger and Halle (chapter 2, "The Ontology of
Phonology (Revised)") and van der Hulst (chapter 9,
"Modularity and Modality in Phonology") take the
standard view that phonology is an intermediate
component between syntax-semantics and phonetics.
Within the SPE (Chomsky and Halle's 'Sound Pattern of
English') framework, Bromberger and Halle concede the
existence of phonological featural derivations where
phonetic intentions are implemented articulatorily. While
assigning the UG ('Universal Grammar') phonological
component "a module-free 'parsing strategy'...for dividing
phonetic spaces into a well-defined set of categories", van
der Hulst proposes its simplification by reducing feature
specifications in syllables structures according to
principles of the Radical CV Phonology theory.

A functionalist view of phonology is advocated by
Burton-Roberts (chapter 3, "Where and What is
Phonology? A Representational Perspective") who
sketches a Representational Hypothesis stating that
phonologies are non featural representations of L
('Language') syntactico-semantic properties: "a phonology
is a conventional system for the phonetic M-representation
of the (phonology-free, unique) lexical and other
semantico-syntactic properties of L"). Carr (chapter 4,
"Scientific Realism, Sociophonetic Variation, and Innate
Endowments in Phonology") also argues against a radical
formulation of internal linguistic objects if they are meant
to be instructions to perceptual and sensorimotor systems.
A possible case for the type of representational strategies
that speaker-hearers may have at their disposal is presented
by Harris and Lindsey (chapter 8, "Vowel Patterns in Mind
and Soul"): the possibility that vowel quality may be
perceived on the basis of gestalt spectral patterns suggests
that features could be formulated accordingly; moreover,
mid vowels and schwa show composite patterns made up
of the more basic spectral patterns for the vowel categories
/i, a, u/.

A less formal, more empirical approach is
advocated by another series of papers claiming that much
about phonology is to be learnt from an experimental
analysis of phonetic regularities. Within a variationist
framework, Docherty and Foulkes (chapter 5, "Speaker,
Speech, and Knowledge of Sounds") emphasize the notion
that phonology is a theory about knowledge of speech
sounds, and suggest that underlying phonological
representations should include information about
systematic phonetic variation (e.g., about the type of
variability that allows speakers to choose different
phonetic forms of a given phoneme depending on social
and environmental factors while making different speakers
of the same linguistic community to exhibit different
phonologies). Fitzpatrick and Wheeldom (chapter 6,
"Phonology and Phonetics in Psycholinguistic Models of
Speech Perception") outline a perception model of
phonological processing based on lexical access through
direct distinctive feature extraction bypassing any type of
intermediate representation such as the syllable.

The transition from phonetics to phonology is
addressed by Myers (chapter 10, "Boundary Disputes: The
Distinction between Phonetic and Phonological Sound
Patterns") who calls the reader's attention to the gradual vs
categorical nature of the two components by reviewing
data on tone spread, vowel harmony and the like which
could be accounted for on phonological or phonetic
grounds depending on the theoretical framework selected
for analysis. Thus, for example, the finding by Boyce
(1990) that lip rounding patterns of coarticulation in VCnV
strings with high vowels may be language-dependent in
Turkish vs English may be dispensed with if we account
for the fact that the former language has a vowel harmony
rounding rule while the latter does not; therefore, the
reason why a trough during the consonantal period is found
in English vs. Turkish may follow from language-
dependent differences in the segmental assignment of the
feature [+round] (and thus from whether the two vowels
are simultaneously or separately programmed) rather than
from considerations on gestural salience. In contrast with
phonological processes, phonetic events are variable and
depend on speaker and speech rate. Illustrative examples
would be coarticulatory effects vs assimilatory processes,
and schwa deletion which may apply categorically in some
contexts but not so in others (e.g., in Catalan V##schwa
sequences, the schwa drops systematically after stressed /a/
but may stay after other vowels).

The two final chapters of the book (Pierrehumbert,
Beckman and Ladd, chapter 11, "Conceptual Foundations
of Phonology as a Laboratory Science") are deeply
concerned with the experimental verification of
phonological hypotheses. The former chapter is a
Laboratory Phonology manifesto outlining the aims and
methodology of a coalition of researchers from fields such
as Linguistics, Biology, Psychology and Physics, using
experimental methods to uncover the sound structure of
human language. The objective of this scientific enterprise
is to disentangle and quantify systematic trends in
language production and perception. In a similar vein to
Myers' chapter, reference is made to a series of
experiments addressing issues on the phonetics-phonology
interface. Vihman and Velleman (chapter 12, "Phonetics
and the Origins of Phonology") deals with the emergence
of lexically-based phonological organization (word
templates) from motor schemes developed through
babbling. Some evidence is presented from the production
of geminate and non geminate consonants in children
acquiring French, English and Finnish.

The papers in this book suggest that we have not
gone too far in characterizing the nature of the
phonological component in the speaker's grammar since
the early attempts by Trubetzkoy, Jakobson, Z. S. Harris and
others. A possible reason lies on our lack of understanding
of those mechanisms used by children in order to produce
and recognize linguistic sounds at all stages of language
acquisition. There is also much need for a formulation of
phonological units and processes reflecting real language-
dependent and cross-linguistic patterns of phonetic
behavior. Feature systems and derivational devices
proposed by formal phonologists are often too detached
from phonetic reality to be of use for building up
production and perception models. A positive aspect of this
book is that it incorporates Experimental Phonology to the
existing schools of phonology. By doing so it contributes
to frame the study of language along that of other
biological and social objects.

Boyce, S. (1990) Coarticulatory organization for lip
rounding in Turkish and English, JASA, 88, 2584-2595.

Daniel Recasens holds a PhD in Linguistics from the
University of Connecticut. He has published several papers
in international phonetics journals, a long review chapter on
lingual coarticulation in the book 'Coarticulation' (Hardcastle
and Hewlett, eds., CUP, 1999) and four books on
Catalan phonetics and phonology. He is a member of the
Organizing Committee of the International Congress of
Phonetic Sciences to be held in Barcelona in 2003.


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