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Review of  History of Linguistics 2008

Reviewer: Seetha Jayaraman
Book Title: History of Linguistics 2008
Book Author: Gerda Hassler Gesina Volkmann
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): History of Linguistics
Discipline of Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.848

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EDITORS: Gerda Hassler, Gesina Volkmann
TITLE: History of Linguistics 2008
SUBTITLE: Selected papers form the eleventh International Conference on the
History of the Language Sciences (ICHoLS XI), 28 August -- 2 September 2008, Potsdam
SERIES: Studies in the History of the Language Sciences 115
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Seetha Jayaraman, Dhofar University, Sultanate of Oman


This book contains carefully collected research articles presented at the 11th
International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences (ICHoLS) held
in Potsdam in 2008. The individual contributions, made in English, German,
French and Spanish, are based on changes from Antiquity to 20th century
linguistics, on a variety of aspects and approaches to language, based on
research studies by expert linguists and historians.

The edited volume is divided into five sections and a total of 32 articles
discuss historical events in linguistic theory from conceptual, theoretical and
methodological perspectives, with references from Indian, Greek and Latin

In the Introduction, the editor states the aim and scope of the volume, with an
explanation of the relevance of historiography of language sciences, and its
connection with current studies. Hassler stresses the need for
interdisciplinarity in research and provides the gist of each paper in the volume.

Part I, “Methodological considerations, linguistics and philology”, is comprised
of four articles devoted to methodologies and studies on linguistics and
philology of language. Out of the four papers, two are in English, one is in
German and one is in French.

The first article, “Du Corpus representatif des grammaires et des traditions
linguistiques au Corpus de textes linguistiques fondamentaux” (‘From Corpus
representative of traditional grammars and linguistics to Corpus of fundamental
linguistics’), by Bernard Colombat, discusses the usefulness of electronic
corpora in studies on linguistics. He presents the linguistic library, Corpus
Representatif des Grammaires et des Traditions Linguistiques (CRGTL), which
enables access to digital texts on linguistics. The program accesses
bibliographies of the distant past and allows for the viewing of texts as images
or texts and gets the etymology of linguistic terms, authors and their works. It
also helps with the study of typographical characters of the terms by placing
them in a certain period in history. Through the Table of Contents, the texts
can be compared across languages. The site is still developing and new data are
being added. It was eventually published in English as “Corpus des Textes
Linguistiques Fondamentaux” (CTLF) on the website, http//

The second article, “The ‘floating’ linguistic sign”, by Craig Christy, relates
the arbitrariness of sound and thought in the description of language as
theorized by Michael Breal, Ferdinand de Saussure, Antoine Meillet and Kennette
Pike. Saussure’s theory uses the term ‘linguistic sign’, Meillet’s theory
discusses grammaticalization, and Breal’s theory utilizes ‘inner language forms’
and mythology, while Strauss employs the concept of the ‘floating signifier’ and
Pike uses the metaphor of ‘waves and swells’. Meillet coined the term
‘grammaticalization’, a process in which words with specific expressive force
lose their expressivity. Breal refers to one’s native language memory as ‘inner
language form’ and Strauss compares language and thought relationships to the
undulations of water waves in contact with air, where the image of a waveform
characterizes the linguistic sign. Craig explains the concept by metaphorically
employing the term ‘floating’ to refer to the fluid-like or wave-like quality of
the sound and thought relationship in the grammaticalization, internalization
and description of key concepts of language.

The third article, “A term of opprobrium: Twentieth century linguistics and
English philology”, by John Walmsley, accounts for the gradual decline in the
popularity and status of philology as a language science, due to changing
traditions and philosophies. Walmsley explains that the loss of interest in
philology stemmed from the system of teaching Old English in British
universities as philology, thus associating it with archeology and anthropology,
largely due to a separation between philology and the development of different
views of structuralists, grammarians and philologists on teaching English as a
foreign language in Britain.

“Methode als Grenze? Zur Spaltung von Philologie und Sprachwissenschaft im 19.
Jahrhundert” (‘Method as a boundary? On the split of philology and linguistics
in the 19th century’) deals with the issue of dissociating philology from
linguistics. In this article, Johanna Wolf and Christine Blauth-Henke attempt to
look at the connection between the two disciplines in terms of the objectives
and methodology involved, based on developments in the 19th century. Wolf and
Blauth-Henke opine that an orientation toward the methods of natural sciences
led to a new field of historical comparative linguistics, while philology still
focused on language as being closely related to society.

Part II, “Antiquity”, consists of three articles, two written in English and one
in German. The first, “Grammatical doxography in Antiquity: The (hi)stories of
the parts-of- speech system”, by Pierre Swiggers and Alfons Wouters, explores
the parts-of-speech system and the developments that occurred in the Greek and
Latin grammars. Swiggers and Wouters define doxography as “the doctrine and the
viewpoints with regard to the number and nature of parts of speech” (p. 69). The
study interprets the approaches used by doxographers, for instance, Dionysius’
doxography represented by the Stoics, Quintilian’s doxography and Aristotle’s
use of Roman grammar to describe Latin grammar, and Priscian’s doxography, which
adopted Greek grammar. The authors also emphasize the need for studying these texts.

The second article in this section, “Über die Bezeichnung des Indikativs bei den
römischen Grammatikern des 1. und 2. Jh.” (‘On the designation of the indicative
by Roman grammarians of the 1st and 2nd centuries’), by Vladimir I. Mazhuga,
traces the history of the study of grammar in the first and second centuries.
Mazhunga discusses the definitions given for verb forms and verb qualities, as
in the case of ‘indicative’, which is a prevalent form in contemporary grammars.
Another example is ‘modal verbs’, which refer to a category of verbs, analyzed
in the context of Latin and Greek. The study observes that philosophical
doctrines greatly influenced theories on the evolution of grammar.

In the last article in this section, “Rewriting the history of the language
sciences in classical antiquity”, Daniel J. Taylor presents the rich history of
classical historiography over the past 50 years and draws examples from Greek
and Latin linguistics to support the successful path tread by the
historiographers in this field, which has helped recreate classical linguistics.
He demonstrates that Marcus Trentius Varro (116-27 BC), with his “De Lingua
Latina” (‘From the Latin Language’), remains the most successful in classical
history, from both etymological and morphological standpoints. Varro was the
most authoritative language scientist of ancient Rome, as he was a prolific
linguist and grammarian. He proposed the idiosyncratic classification of four
parts of speech based on morphological criteria. The extensive study of word
formation and philosophical principles in language sciences shows that history
has been rewritten by re-editing linguistic texts, while keeping all key
concepts intact. The studies of Greek and Roman linguists had a tremendous
impact on contemporary grammar and morphology, which proves that the history of
languages is being rewritten in its theoretical and conceptual perspectives till

Part III is on “Renaissance Linguistics” and has three articles on different
elements of language study. The first article, “Elements of a philosophy of
language in Claudio Tolomei’s “Il Cesano de la lingua Toscana” (‘The Cesano of
Tuscan language’)”, by Stefano Gensini, presents a philosophical linguistic
point of view of Tolomei’s “Il Cesano de la lingua Toscana”. The study
investigates Tolomei’s treatment of spatial and temporal aspects of language
change and believes that major evolution in languages is a natural process and
can be the impact of changes in space and time. The need to communicate extends
gradually from an individual to include the family, and the community at large.
This explains the changes that occur in language(s) with space and time, and
this makes the multiplicity along these two dimensions grow. The two factors are

“La conception de l’ordre des mots dans la ‘Grammatica Latina’ de Caspar Finck
et Christoph Helwig” (‘The concept of word order in the ''Grammatica Latina'' of
Caspar and Christoph Helwig Finck’), by Claire Lecointre, investigates word
order in Latin grammar as presented by two German authors, who discuss the
syntactic pattern and anomalies which exist with respect to word order. For
example, the grammatical order can be ‘sentential adverb-relative-conjunction or
interjection’, ‘vocative’ or ‘impersonal verb with case’. In case this order
does not occur, the sentences could be of the type, ‘nominative words
(adjective, genitive or ablative)’ or would include ‘(personal) finite verb’.
They present a clear distinction of these types of sentences, as ordered by the
natural phenomenon of mental language, but which is subjected to change through
constant usage.

The third article, entitled “The earliest stages of Persian-German language
comparison”, by Toon van Hal, studies the similarities between Persian-German in
the early stages of the discovery of Persia and during the period of the
Renaissance. The aim of the article is to study vocabulary in the two languages
as investigated by Dutch scholars. Hal concludes that what was believed by many
historiographers to be a relationship between Persians and Germans resulted in
the hypothesis of a common Scythian origin.

Part IV has ten articles on different theories proposed during the seventeenth
and eighteen centuries. The selections in this section are in German, French and
English. The first, “European conceptions of writing from the Renaissance to the
eighteenth century”, by Cordula Neiss, discusses writing as a social form of
expression. The study focuses on the history of writing, from hieroglyphs to
alphabetic writing, and also the relevance of writing to document sound-grapheme
relationships, to history, and to civilization. The author discusses the
advantages of using an alphabet and infers that it is the most efficient,
permanent and advanced system of writing.

In the second article of this section, “Lessons from literary theory: Applying
the notion of transtextuality (Genette 1982) to early modern German grammars”,
Nicola McLelland refers to contemporary German grammar and relates it to the
concept of “transtextuality” while talking about the usefulness of this concept
in the history of linguistics. Lelland also refers to other concepts like
‘hypertextuality’, archtextuality, ‘intertextuality’, ‘paratextuality’ and
‘transtextuality’, and establishes an inter-relationship among these notions in
grammar: Hypertextuality refers to translations of re-works of texts for the
benefit of audiences; archtextuality refers to the awareness and expectations of
a genre; intertextuality refers to the implicit and explicit references to
sources and authors; and paratextuality refers to the interpretation of both
text and pictorial representation.

The next article, by Boris Djubo, entitled, “Nachahmung und Schöpfung in der
Barock grammatik: Ch. Gueintz liest W. Ratke” (‘Imitation and creation in
Baroque grammar: Ch. Gueintz reads W. Ratke’), analyzes German grammar with
special reference to Gueintz’s views. The speciality of Gueitz’s grammar lies in
his approach to describing it using analogy of different forms, as used by a
group of speakers (e.g. language forms used by the common people compared with
the cultivated language used by the elite). This approach differs markedly from
earlier works based on a rationalist approach to grammar studies. Gueintz’s
theory uses Ratke’s grammar (1619) and similar theories to account for the
anomalies which existed in their description.

“Leibniz as Lexicographer?”, by John Considine, studies Leibniz’s contribution
to lexicography through his philological ideas and making of a German dictionary
through the etymological collection of lexis. Leibniz’s work, hitherto unknown,
was brought to the limelight through his 4-volume collection of manuscripts and
served immensely in publishing the German historical and etymological dictionary
(which remained an unfinished project, later completed as a diachronic dictionary).

The fifth article, “Du verbe actif au verbe transitif: Transitivité et
complémentation dans les grammaires françaises 1660-1863” (‘From active verbs to
transitive verbs: Transitivity in grammar and complementation in French,
1660-1863’), by Berengère Bouard, explores French grammar in the backdrop of
Latin grammar. Bouard looks at transitive verbs and the connotation of the term
“active verb” in terms of the presence or absence of an object, with or without
a preposition, and depending on the semantic value of the action and the
interpretation of the utterance. Eventually, the term was reformulated from
‘active verb’ to ‘transitive verb’ with changes in the interpretation of the
term. An active verb is understood as a verb whose subject performs an action
or, alternatively, the verb which takes a ‘complement’.

The sixth article, “Metaphors in metalinguistic texts: The case of observations
and remarks on the French language”, by Wendy Ayres-Bennett, deals with
effective use of metaphorical phrases to enrich the comprehensibility of texts,
particularly where they involve references to names of rules and their
inter-relationships. Bennett presents different views on functions of metaphors
underlining key elements in technical texts, which give structural unity and
create intertextual references with Latin and French traditions. The work
emanates from the French rule of authoritarianism and absolutism. Bennett points
out that the use of metaphorical expressions declined significantly during the
17th century, but they were not uncommon in the texts of law, war, religion and
medicine, especially those written in French.

The seventh article, “Les Méthodes au XIIe siècle: Un outil composite. Irson,
Lancelot, Nicole” (‘The twelfth century Grammar Textbooks: A composite tool.
Irson, Lancelot, Nicole’), by Simone Delesalle and Francine Mazière, is
concerned with pedagogical issues in the 17th century. The grammar books
(méthodes) used in the Port-Royal school, the controversy between French and
Latin didactics in vernacular language, and the influence of religious and
political problems on language teaching and language policy form the focus of
the study. The criticism was against using French language grammar books with
more poetry rather than grammar in 17th century.

The eighth article, “À propos des règles dans les grammaires françaises de l’âge
classique: Forme, fonction, status (le cas de l’accord du participe passé)”
(‘The rules of French grammar in the classical age: Form, function, status (the
case of agreement of past participles)’), by Jean-Marie Fournier, discusses the
history of French grammar, and the rule of agreement of past participles with
the auxiliary verb ‘avoir’ when used with different objectives. The congruence
rule was first formed to facilitate pronunciation and to streamline the length
of vowels used in the plural form. In Middle French, the congruence of past
participles with auxiliary verbs was considered with the object placed in any
position in the syntactic structure. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the
rule was modified to apply to cases where the object preceded the auxiliary verb
‘avoir’. This aspect was also compared with other languages to re-emphasize the
validity of the rule.

The ninth article, “La phrase expliquée aux sourds-muets: Remarques sur la
syntaxe chiffrée de l’abbé Sicard” (‘The sentence as explained to deaf-mutes:
Commentary on encrypted Syntax of Abbe Sicard’), by Valérie Raby, is a study of
the problem of teaching deaf-mute learners, which received the attention of
pedagogues in the 18th and 19th centuries. The objective is to study sentence
structure and the role of copula in sentence structure, as opposed to the
absence of similar elements in the variety of languages used by deaf and dumb
learners. These views later lead to improvements in theories and practices
employed in the context of teaching-learning of deaf-mute learners.

In the last article in this section, “The place of spatial case forms in early
Estonian, Latvian and Finnish grammars”, Annika Kilgi treats three grammars and
‘case’ in terms of space in three languages which do not conform to Latin
grammar. The similarities among these languages with regard to ‘locative case’
are related to the cultural and political situations that prevailed in the 17th
century. Each of these languages interpreted case assignment differently.
Latvian and Estonian grammarians related them to prepositions and particles,
whereas Finnish explained it as a case with locative meaning. It was not until
later in the century that the vernacular language grammars were described
independently of Latin grammar. The issues at hand are the method of assigning a
numerical analysis of proposition, as introduced by Abbe Sicard, and general
criticisms associated with his theory in teaching deaf-mute learners.

The final section of the volume, “Nineteenth and twentieth centuries”, has
twelve articles. The first article, “Aproximaciones a la enseñanza del análisis:
Los principios del análisis lójico de Ramón Merino (1848)” (‘Approaches to the
teaching of analysis: Principles of logical analysis by Ramón Merino (1848)’),
by Maria José García Folgado and Esteban T. Montoro del Arco, discusses
different schools and developments in the interpretations of linguistic
theories. The authors present the results of the study of logical grammar in
Spain and its effects on language teaching in secondary schools in the 20th
century. Based on the views of French encyclopedia makers, Spanish grammarians
elaborate the theoretical analysis of sentence structures, divided into subject,
verb and predicate. This distinction of the basic components of sentence grammar
is in line with the studies of authors of the Port-Royal.

Second, “A difficult case: A sketch of the different interpretations of the
concept of ‘case’ in the early Chinese grammatical studies”, by Tommaso Pellin,
studies the notion of ‘case’ in Chinese based on the views of Zittoli and Cao
Xiang. Pellin describes the views of Chinese linguists during the 19th and 20th
centuries, who found the demarcation between syntactic function and ‘case’ to be
challenging. Chinese linguists determined ‘case’ based on the position of
constituents in the sentence and used word order to determine sentence
functions. There was a marked grammatical case signified in Indo-European
languages and grammarians attempted to employ this concept to analyze the
Chinese system of grammar.

The next article, entitled “Relecture jakobsonienne de la distinction
saussurienne ‘langue/parole’: De la constitution d’un concept à l’acceptation
d’un objet donné” (‘Jakobson’s revisiting of saussurian ‘langue /parole’
distinction: From constituting a concept to accepting an object’), by Anne Gaële
Tautain, investigates Jakobson’s views on Saussure’s langue/parole distinction
as a shift of interpretation of the concept. Saussurian ideas relate to
individual speakers on the one hand, and groups of speakers, or communities, on
the other. Jakobson believed language to be confined to a ‘field of study’, thus
serving as a model of language output. The study infers that Jakobson’s
explanation of language consists of the opposition of virtual/actual,
social/individual or conventional/variant dimensions.

“Ernst Cassirer’s and Benedetto Croce’s theories of language in comparison”, by
Sarah Dessi Schmid, is an analysis of criticisms of two theories on the
philosophy of language and the conflicting ideas of the two linguists, Ernst
Cassirer and Benedetto Croce. From the point of view of dependence on
spirituality, they present two distinctly different views. Croce’s opinion is
that language and spirituality are closely associated with each other, thus
making linguistics a part of aesthetics. On the other hand, according to
Cassirer, language study and empirical study are interwoven. Croce criticizes
this view as being confined to the practical applicability to language study,
without a spiritual basis.

The fifth article of this section, “Tradition versus grammatical traditions:
Considerations on the representation of the Russian language”, by Sylvie
Archiambault, is based on the study of Russian grammar. Archiambault presents a
comparison of phonological characteristics, as put forth by traditional
linguists, as well as by linguists of 18th century and after. Supported by the
example of distribution of consonantal features, the author justifies her
viewpoint that the traditional approach was narrow and inflexible, as opposed to
later interpretations, where linguistic theories were based on theoretical
considerations in relation with practical findings.

The sixth article, “An early sociolinguistic approach towards standardization
and dialect variation: G.G. Kloeke’s theory of Hollandish expansion”, by Camiel
Hamans, focuses on the sociological aspects of language change and the principal
factor which brings about dialectal variation. One example used to make this
point is ‘diphthongization’ in Dutch. The study supports Kloeke’s (1887-1963)
view that social and structural factors contribute equally to explaining
variation and standardization theories in dialectology, rather than just
taxonomies of languages.

The seventh paper, “Gender and the language scholarship of the Summer Institute
of Linguistics in the context of mid twentieth-century American linguistics”, by
Margaret Thomas, shifts the attention to the contribution of women in the study
of languages and the challenges they faced in their academic work. During the
20th century, women linguists in the U.S produced a significant amount of work
in the field of linguistics. The authorship of published articles was as high as
33% in the popular journal, “Language” between the years 1944-1970, which is a
significant figure. This shows a downward trend in gender-bias.

In the eighth article, “When categories go back to parts of speech”, Béatrice
Godart-Wending and Pierre Joray deal with the issue of categorization of grammar
into parts of speech. Their study infers that the system of division into
different parts of speech was based on advanced algebraic calculations, which
are very scientific and logical in their approach.

The ninth article, “‘Cultural morphology’: A success story in German
linguistics”, by Clemens Knobloch, is an analysis of the link between sociology
and linguistics. It is an investigation of German grammar in the light of
culture and dialectology in German Volks forschung. The term “Cultural
morphology” was more relevant for dialectology in 20th century Germany because
it helped in funding their research based on sounds and forms in view of German
academic policy. The study concludes that cultural morphology emerged as, and
remains, one of the most successful branches of applied sciences.

The subject of the tenth article in this part, by Ekaterina Velmezova, is
“Interjections: An insurmountable problem of structural linguistics? The case of
early Soviet structuralism”. It uses structuralism to describe all elements of
all language uses. Interjections proved to be an obstacle in the description of
the language dichotomy along the ‘langue, parole and langage’ distinction.
Nevertheless, they continued to be used fluently, easily and naturally, and
Velmezova accounts for this by discussing the arbitrariness of language and the
use of linguistic signs, as well as the use of interjections as natural and

The eleventh paper, “L’espace linguistique en voie de (dé)multiplication”
(‘Linguistic space in the process of (de)multiplication’), by Carita Klippi, is
a study of a connection between space and dialects in French in the 19th and
20th centuries, depending on extralinguistic factors like geography and
ethnicity. Klippi relates this relationship to verticalization of community
structures and standardization policies adopted by the state, with the objective
of setting a standard language common to all members of a community.
Consequently, there was a distinction between language as centralized and
standardized varieties of language and this led to vertical and horizontal
levels of language analysis in relation to society. The study concludes that
language is a natural phenomenon which diversifies with time and space, and
speakers using a language tend to modify it, incorporating their own forms,
which results in dialect formation.

The last article in this volume is, “Z.S.Harris and the semantic turn of
mathematical information theory”, by Jacqueline Léon. The article explains
mathematical concepts implicit in the description of languages and describes a
different approach to the study in linguistics. The study reflects the process
of adopting mathematical concepts for language analysis like the interpretation
of linguistic and semantic elements, linguistic information, and distributional
analysis (viz. pattern and structure of discourse).


The volume presents an impressive collection of 32 articles exploring an array
of themes in linguistics theoretically, conceptually, and empirically. It is
very informative and provides details of the social and political events which
influenced language policies and regulations with exemplary ease and clarity.
The editor has done an excellent job of selecting and compiling the most
significant contributions on lesser known facts and views in terms of the
themes, approaches, and theories in history, and highlights interdependencies
among related fields in linguistics. The contributions focus on a variety of
aspects, from linguistic studies in the Middle Ages, to contemporary
linguistics. Many of the articles investigate regional issues and explore
diverse approaches to the history of linguistics, ranging from etymology to the
philosophy of language, with a wide scope for further research.

The volume stands out from other books in that the articles cover themes from
the classification of parts of speech (Part (Pt.) II.1; Pt. IV.8) to those
involving grammatical changes, as well as the impact of social and political
influences on language use and language change in different periods in history,
from Antiquity to contemporary linguistics (Pt III.1; Pt.IV.7) from different
schools, and projects the commonalities and divergences critically, while also
linking them together. The value of the contributions is enhanced by their
philosophical accounts of different traditions of language sciences (e.g. India,
ancient Rome and Greek). The studies on the history of grammar and verb forms
(Pt. II.2; Pt. IV.5, 8; Pt. V.2) raise a few research questions on comparable
trends in modern languages. The volume is cohesive chronologically, but one
article (Pt. IV.7), on “Méthodes” and the critique of the content in language
teaching in the 17th century, does not fit in the sequence and with the problems
addressed in Part IV. Among other issues discussed extensively are grammar
traditions (Pt. III.2; Pt. IV.2, 3, 8, 11; Pt. V.1, 2, 5, 8) and the
standardization of language dialects (Pt. II.1; Pt. II.2; Pt. IV.5). The study
by Bernard Colombat (Pt. I.1) is an innovative approach to bibliographic studies
through a data base (CTLF), which is a convenient tool for linguists. The
article on agreement in past participles (Pt. IV.8) is interesting, with changes
in the rules associated with vowel length in the plural form, and position of
the ‘object’ in the sentence.

The volume is of interest to historians and advanced researchers working on the
history of language and linguistics. One needs to be familiar with the key
changes in the history of linguistics to follow the reflections and the micro
details discussed. The contributions are helpful to researchers with specific
interest in developing the inter-relationship between language, culture and
politics. The articles illustrate different views, as evidenced by examples from
dominant languages, viz., French, German, Spanish, Russian, and so on. The
extensive list of references provided at the end of each article makes a
complete bibliography by itself and deserves a special mention. The only
shortcoming of the book is that out of a collection of 32 contributions, as many
as 12 are written in languages other than English, and neither a parallel nor an
online English version is available for readers for reference. Thus, the volume
has effectively 20 articles which can be of interest to readers, especially to
those who are not familiar with the other languages.


Ratke, Wolfgang. 1959 [1619]. “Allgemeine Sprachlehr: Nach der Lehrart Ratichii.
Zu Cothen Im Furstenthumb Anhalt” (‘General treatise on language: After the
teaching method of Ratichii, at Cothen in the principality of Anhalt’). Wolfgang
Rakes Schriften zur deutschen Grammatik (1612-1630). Hrsg. Von Erika Ising. Teil
II. Textausgabe: 23-37+38-48 Anhang. Die Sonderbaren Eigenschaften. Berlin:

Dr. Seetha Jayaraman is a faculty member at Dhofar University, Sultanate of Oman, where she teaches English language to undergraduates. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, musicology, comparative linguistics, and articulatory and acoustic phonetics.