"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more
To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.
This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.
Date: Mon, 02 May 2005 13:04:36 -0600 From: Geoff Morrison <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Phonetically Based Phonology
EDITORS: Hayes, Bruce; Kirchner, Robert; Steriade, Donca TITLE: Phonetically Based Phonology PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2004
Geoffrey Stewart Morrison, University of Alberta
Phonetically Based Phonology is a collection of papers which could be taken as representative of the state of the art at the turn of the century. A number of the authors completed their doctorates in the 1990s and therefore can be viewed as the new generation of scholars working in this field. The influence of 1990s mainstream phonology is apparent in that most of the papers are couched in Optimality Theory (OT) frameworks, but most of the papers are non-mainstream in that their approach to phonology could be classified as functionalist.
Ch. 1 Introduction: the phonetic bases of phonological markedness, Bruce Hayes & Donca Steriade Hayes & Steriade present an introduction to the book as a whole. They state: "The hypothesis shared by many writers in this volume is that phonological constraints can be rooted in phonetic knowledge..., the speaker's partial understanding of the physical conditions under which speech is produced and perceived." [p1] Hayes & Steriade go on to discuss the usefulness of this hypothesis, a key factor in their opinion being that "the OT search for the right constraint can be speeded up by the view that markedness is phonetically based". After some general discussion of OT markedness and previous approaches to phonetically-based markedness, they discuss the specific example of stop voicing, relating this to the work of other contributors to the volume where appropriate. They go on to briefly discuss the other papers in the volume, in terms of markedness scales of perceptibility, markedness scales of articulatory effort, ideas of segment licencing, and contrast-based constraints.
Ch. 2 A review of perceptual cues and cue robustness, Richard Wright Wright reviews literature on the perceptibility of acoustic cues, including the behaviour of the peripheral auditory system. This leads to an explanation of why, for example, consonant place cues in CV transitions are more perceptually robust than place cues in VC transitions, and thus why CV syllables are common. The traditional sonority hierarchy (based more on distributional observations than inherent properties, and thus descriptive rather than predictive) can be replaced by a theory based on the intrinsic perceptibility of different types of segments, considering both internal and transitional cues to segment identity.
Ch. 3 Place assimilation, Jongho Jun Jun picks up on the acoustic-cue perceptibility theories presented by Wright and combines them with theories of articulatory gestural overlap. Place assimilation targets segments that have weak perceptible cues in the target context, e.g., nasals preceding stops. If inherently slow gestures (e.g., velar and labial compared to coronal) are the target then gestural overlap with the trigger is less, and perceptual cues are more likely to be preserved. If the trigger is an inherently slow gesture then gestural overlap with the target will be greater and perceptual cues for the target are less likely to be preserved.
Ch. 4 The topology of rounding harmony, Abigail R. Kaun Whereas Jun discussed cases in which perceptual difficulty resulted in the neutralisation of contrast, Kaun examines cases in which perceptual difficulty leads speakers to find other ways of enhancing and thereby maintaining contrast. The triggers in rounding harmony are vowels for which the rounding contrast is difficult to perceive (non- high, front, and short vowels), and the targets are vowels for which the rounding contrast is easy to perceive (high and back vowels). Uniformity of lip posture across intervening segments leads to harmony for vowels of the same height.
Ch. 5 The evolution of metathesis, Juliette Blevins & Andrew Garrett Blevins & Garrett specifically address the question of whether phonetically natural phonological patterns are the result of phonetic optimisation in individual speakers' grammars, or whether they emerge as a result of diachronic change -- a kind of evolutionary phonology. They contrast four approaches: synchronic + non-functionalist (traditional mainstream phonology), synchronic + functionalist (the approach implied in most other contributions to the volume), diachronic + functionalist, and diachronic + non-functionalist (the approach in favour of which Blevins & Garrett argue). They argue that metathesis can be the result of diachronic reinterpretation of perceptual cues to segments, as a result of articulatory gesture overlap and perceptual factors; but that metathesis is not teleological. It is not an attempt by speakers to rearrange segments so that the perceptual cues to the segments are more easily perceived.
Ch. 6 The role of contrast-specific and language-specific phonetics in contour tone, Jie Zhang Zhang examines the contexts in which contour tomes can occur, and concludes that contour tones are not licenced by abstract phonological structures. Rather, in order to be produced and perceived, contour tones require a minimum duration and degree of sonority in the rhyme. It is a physical measure of duration and maintenance of formant structure that determines whether the rhyme is able to carry a contour tone.
Ch. 7 Vowel reduction, Catherine M. Crosswhite /a/ can be reduced to a schwa, or other vowels can be reduced to /a/. Crosswhite argues that there are two types of vowel reduction: In a language such as Belarussian, mid vowels /e/ and /o/ reduce to /a/ in an unstressed context. Contrasts which exist in stressed context are neutralised, but the perceptual difference between the set of unstressed vowels /i/, /u/, and /a/ is large, larger than if the non-high vowels had reduced to schwa. Crosswhite calls this "contrast- enhancing reduction". In a language like Bulgarian, /a/ reduces to schwa (neutralising with a phonemic schwa which does not undergo reduction by raising) and /e/ and /o/ reduce to /i/ and /u/ respectively. Crosswhite argues that this is due to a "desire to avoid particularly long or otherwise perceptually salient vowel qualities in unstressed position." [p204] She calls this "prominence reduction". Russian and other languages have both contrast-enhancing reduction and prominence reduction associated with different contexts.
Ch 8. Contrast and perceptual distinctiveness, Edward Flemming Flemming presents a theory in which perceptual markedness is a property of contrasts rather than of individual sounds. Whether the identity of a speech sound is easy or hard to perceive does not depend on the isolated acoustic cues available for that sound, but on the degree of perceptual difference between those cues and cues for other speech sounds. Flemming's Dispersion Theory of contrast is based on three functional goals: i. Maximise the distinctiveness of contrasts. ii. Minimise articulatory effort. iii. Maximise the number of contrasts. This requires a combination of syntagmatic and paradigmatic constraints, and a different approach to assessing well-formedness to that of standard OT.
Ch. 9 Syllable weight, Matthew Gordon Gordon argues "that the divergent weight criteria observed in stress and tone systems largely follow from differences in the phonetic implementation of stress and tone. ... [However] languages employ weight distinctions that operate over phonologically symmetrical classes of syllables, even if this means not exploiting the phonetically most efficient weight distinction(s)." [p277] The fundamental frequency of a sound is easier to perceive in sounds that have a harmonic structure (see also Zhang above), thus vowels are good carriers for tonal information, resonations are moderately good carriers, and voiced obstruents are poor carriers. A tonal weight ranking for voiced segments is therefore V > R > O > zero. Stress was measured in terms of duration and amplitude, and the phonetic effectiveness of the weight distinction was assessed as the difference in duration and amplitude between light and heavy syllables. Combination of phonetic effectiveness and phonological simplicity resulted in different constraint rankings for different weight-sensitive phenomena.
Ch. 10 Consonant lenition, Robert Kirchner Kirchner presents a model of articulatory effort which leads to a unified theory of consonant lenition phenomena. Certain gestures are inherently more effortful than other gestures; e.g., making a stop between two vowels requires greater movement of the articulators and therefore greater effort than making a non-sibilant fricative between two vowels. The effort minimisation constraints therefore have an immutable ranking, and different patterns of lenition emerge by the ranking of faithfulness constraints relative to the effort constraint hierarchy. For example, in a formal speaking style the faithfulness constraints would be more highly ranked relative to the effort constraints than in an informal speaking style, resulting in less lenition in the formal style. The inherent effort-based ranking motivates typological predictions of possible lenition patterns.
Ch. 11 Language processing and the segmental OCP, Stefan A. Frisch Frisch presents a functional language processing model that accounts for why languages avoid sequences of similar segments. In neural network activation/competition models of language processing, repetitive patterns result in a conflict: "For a segment that has already been encoded, the node in the network corresponding to that segment has fired, and that node must be inhibited so that it does not continue to fire. Simultaneously, for a segment that is soon to be encoded, the node corresponding to that segment must be excited so that it is ready to fire at the proper time." [p347]
I will shirk the task of a critical evaluation of each paper in the volume and restrict myself to more general comments. The book is mechanically well produced with few typos, etc.
One of the strengths of the volume is that it provides a survey of recent approaches to phonetically-based phonology. It is not, however, a historical survey of phonetically-based phonology. Whilst earlier work on phonetically-based phonology by researchers such as Lindblom and Ohala is referenced, this work is not discussed in great detail. It is also incomplete as a survey of recent approaches since it lacks a contribution from Paul Boersma, a researcher whose work one would expect to find in such a survey. In fairness the volume does not claim to be a comprehensive survey of the field, but it is probably the closest there is so far.
Both a strength and a weakness is that the volume is a collection of papers. This means that any individual paper can be read independently without the need to be aware of the contents of the remaining papers. However, if one does try to read the volume from cover to cover, one encounters a certain amount of exasperating repetition: chapter 3 covers a lot of the same ground as covered in chapter 2, and chapter 4 covers a lot of the same ground as covered in chapter 3.
Several of the contributions are complementary and the authors themselves point out links with one anothers' work. At the same time there are a variety of approaches taken, Blevins & Garrett standing out for taking an explicitly different diachronic non-functionalist position with respect to how phonetics influences phonology. The majority of authors appear to take a synchronic functionalist approach but this is assumed rather than explicitly argued. Apart from Blevins & Garrett's paper and Hayes & Steriade's introduction, the book does not debate the underlying philosophy of phonetically-based phonology. The paper by Frisch stand out as not in fact being a paper on phonetically-based phonology! It is a paper on functionalist phonology, but it is psycholinguistic language-processing based rather than phonetically based.
I come to the volume with a stronger background in phonetics than in phonology, and I believe the book will be of interest to phoneticians; however, the intended audience appears to be phonologists. The questions addressed are often new approaches to established problems in phonology, and relevant data are often secondary data from a range of different languages. Whilst the theories are well argued, a phonetician might be hoping for more empirically testable hypotheses with reports of experiments conducted. Several papers present detailed arguments with respect to how the phonology is based on articulatory or perceptual factors, then follow this up with an implementation couched in OT mechanics. I felt that the latter was generally unnecessary. The important arguments had been made and the OT tableaux added nothing to my understanding. They seemed to be an abstraction which actually took me further away from the phonetically-based reality that the authors espoused.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Geoff Morrison is a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at
the University of Alberta. His primary research areas are perception of
English and Spanish, and modelling cross-language speech
perception. He is also interested in phonetic and functional
approaches to phonology.