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Review of  Headhood, Elements, Specification and Contrastivity

Reviewer: Jason Brown
Book Title: Headhood, Elements, Specification and Contrastivity
Book Author: Jacques Durand Colin Ewen Philip Carr
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): English
English, Old
Issue Number: 16.1726

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Date: Tue, 31 May 2005 19:49:42 -0700 (PDT)
From: Jason Brown
Subject: Headhood, Elements, Specification and Contrastivity: Phonological
papers in honour of John Anderson

EDITORS: Carr, Philip; Durand, Jacques; Ewen, Colin J.
TITLE: Headhood, Elements, Specification and Contrastivity
SUBTITLE: Phonological papers in honour of John Anderson
SERIES: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 259
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Jason Brown, Department of Linguistics, University of British Columbia


This book is a collection of papers in honor of John Anderson, and can be
considered the state of the art in terms of non-OT phonological theory.
The book discusses various theoretical frameworks, many of which have
their roots in the work of Anderson (especially Dependency Phonology; cf.
Anderson & Jones 1974, Anderson & Ewen 1987).

The issues addressed in the book are linked to many of the claims made
within Dependency Phonology (henceforth DP) regarding things such as
phonological primitives: "This model claims that phonological systems are
based on perceptual primitives or atoms which are organised into
asymmetrical structures, containing heads and their dependents" (xii), and
structural analogy, "the idea that all levels of linguistic representation
have essentially the same structure" (xiii).

While DP is a central focus for many of the chapters, the different
frameworks discussed in the book also include Government Phonology
(henceforth GP), Particle Phonology, Radical CV Phonology, Head-Driven
Phonology, Optimality Theory, Declarative Phonology, etc.

In addition to the contributed articles, the contents include Jacques
Durand's "John M. Anderson: A Brief Profile of the Man and his Career in
Linguistics" and a list of John Anderson's publications from 1968 to 2004.

Philip Carr, Jacques Durand, Colin J. Ewen, "Introduction: The Structure
of Phonological Representations"
The editors provide an overview of some of the issues and problems facing
phonological theory today, and demonstrate how each of the articles in the
volume contributes toward solving these problems. The introduction also
illustrates how each of the articles is interconnected with the rest.

Philip Carr, "Salience, Headhood and Analogies"
Much of Carr's article relates back to John Anderson's work on structural
analogy and focuses on heads in phonology and syntax, along with some
other possible analogous structures. Carr accepts the analogy of heads in
both phonology and syntax, noting that in both areas they are grounded in
phonetic and semantic facts. Carr also evaluates other possible
analogies, such as head/complement, head/adjunct, and specifier/head
relations, but finds these less convincing than the notion of head. Carr
attributes this to the shared property of saliency: phonological heads are
perceptually salient, while syntactic heads are cognitively salient.

Fran Colman, "Old English I-Umlaut: A Unitary Sound Change? Dependency,
Contrast and Non-Specification"
Colman tackles the problem of Old English umlaut. Colman notes that
previous accounts of OE umlaut give the impression of several processes,
and not a unitary sound change. Further problems in this regard are that
the context of sound change is uncertain, and that dialect differentiation
also complicates matters. Colman goes on to discuss in great detail each
formulation of OE umlaut, the role of diphthongization, breaking, and
diphthong height harmony. Colman claims that in order to solve the
problem, the analysis must first start with different inputs. Once this
is established, OE Umlaut can be upheld as a unitary sound change.

Mike Davenport, "Old English Breaking and Syllable Structure"
Davenport discusses the phenomenon of Old English breaking, whereby front
vowels become diphthongs before l, r, or x. The result of this process is
that a back vowel is added to the front vowel to form a diphthong. As
Davenport notes, l, r, and x can all be considered [+back] consonants,
which would explain why they trigger breaking; however, there is an added
complication: in order to trigger breaking, l and r must precede another
consonant, but x does not. Davenport hypothesizes that the coda position
is important in this process, then goes to show that r and l are [back] in
coda position, and that x is back in every position. This correctly
captures the distribution of these consonants with respect to OE breaking.

Jacques Durand, "Tense/Lax, the Vowel System of English and Phonological
Durand claims that although tense/lax is a meaningful contrast in other
languages, it is not one that is exploited in English. Durand provides an
extensive review of the different approaches to this problem in English.
Citing evidence from stress facts, allophony, and alternations which treat
long vowels, diphthongs, and vowel + consonant sequences the same, Durand
proposes that the contrast is based on length (which is interpretable in
terms of weight).

Edmund Gussmann, "Headedness and Defective Distributions in Polish"
Gussmann investigates the relationship between velars, palato-velars and
front vowels in Polish. Gussmann shows how adopting the IAU model of
DP/GP, along with notions of heads and empty, non-specified heads can
account for seemingly unrelated phenomena. In the spirit of the DP/GP
tradition, Gussmann argues for "an inherent link between vocalic and
consonantal mechanisms and for their basic inseparability" (117).

John Harris, "Vowel Reduction as Information Loss"
Harris provides phonetic support for the IAU system of elements employed
by Dependency Phonology. Harris discusses vowel reduction, and treats it
as a unitary phenomenon. After a discussion of the functional OT
approach to vowel reduction, and the problems with that approach, Harris
steps back to pose the question of what makes corner and central vowels
suitable places for reduction. Harris' claim is that centripetal (whereby
vowels reduce into the centralized region of the vowel space) and
centrifugal (whereby vowels reduce into the corners of the vowel space)
reduction diminishes the amount of phonetic information that is carried by
vowels (in terms of spectral profile). While the cardinal and central
vowels have a spectral profile which can be analyzed as simple, the mid
vowels have a profile which can be characterized as complex. Thus, the
reduction of vowels is the loss of phonetic information.

Phil Harrison, "Tone and Dependency in Yoruba"
Harrison adopts a Government Phonology approach to analyze the tonal
asymmetry in Yoruba, whereby H >> L >> M (and >> is to be read as "is more
robust than"). While most standard approaches to Yoruba tonology regard H
and L tones as marked [H] and [L], and the mid tone as inert, Harrison
argues that the primary distinction is between H and non-H. Building on
instrumental evidence that suggests that Yoruba speakers only make a
perceptual distinction between H and non-H (Harrison 2000), the author
provides a prosodic analysis of the language, showing how the asymmetric
nature of tonal behaviors can be accounted for.

Patrick Honeybone, "Sharing Makes Us Stronger: Process Inhibition and
Segmental Structure"
Honeybone investigates process inhibition: "phonologically conditioned
exceptions to phonological processes, for the most part ignoring the
precise nature of the processes themselves" (168). Adopting the DP/GP
approach to melodic representation and drawing on cases from High German,
Spanish, Southern English, and Liverpool English, Honeybone finds that the
sharing of elements (like place of articulation) makes things stronger;
that is, sharing provides the strength to inhibit phonological processes.

Harry van der Hulst, "The Molecular Structure of Phonological Segments"
van der Hulst provides an investigation into the "basic structures" of
phonology; that is, those structures that represent simplex segments. van
der Hulst's work is based in Radical CV Phonology, which is tied closely
to DP/GP and is "radical" for the reason that it adopts only 2 structural
elements: C and V. van der Hulst discusses at great length the role of
various elements in the model, and shows how the various elements needed
in GP can be reduced once a gestural organization is adopted.

Ken Lodge, "Representation and the Role of Underspecification in
Declarative Phonology"
Lodge deals with the issue of underspecification from a Declarative point
of view. After providing an in-depth overview of Declarative Phonology,
Lodge goes on to show how underspecification can be handled in a non-
derivational fashion by employing unary features, as well as the notions
of attributes and values. Lodge gives examples of assimilation, accent
variation, and language acquisition to show how this system works.

April McMahon, "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose"
Following up on previous work (McMahon 2003), McMahon criticizes
Optimality Theory, citing its failures in the realm of melody and the
recent proliferation of constraint types. McMahon makes the case for
separating prosody from melody. McMahon cites evidence from evolution,
language impairment, brain lateralization, and language acquisition that
suggests that prosody is an older structure, and that melody is a
different, newer structure. Although they are different, McMahon stresses
that there is a shared phonetic signal, and that there are occasions of
interaction between the two. From this, McMahon conjectures that prosody
is governed by innate constraints, and melody by learned constraints. The
final product advocated by McMahon is a UG approach that is combined with
an evolutionary approach.

Nancy A. Ritter, "How a Phonological Theory of Headedness can Account for
Strong vs. Weak Phonetic Alternants"
Ritter investigates strong vs. weak phonological alternants, in
particular, cases where a segment displays ambiguity between sonorancy and
obstruency. In exploring this, Ritter poses the larger question as to
whether reference to syllabic positions is useful, or even necessary.
Ritter adopts the framework of Head-Driven Phonology to account for the
ambivalent behavior of /v/ in several languages, and determines that
certain distributions can be accounted for if empty nucleus positions are
adopted. Ritter dispenses with notions of syllabic positions such as
onset and coda in explaining processes such as lenition and fortition,
rather opting for notions of heads and dependents. She claims that the
difference between obstruent and sonorant is epiphenomenal, and simply due
to the structure of head-dependent relations. Ritter also relates these
issues to a larger view of phonetics and phonology, and concludes that "it
is clearly phonology that drives phonetic realisations and not phonetics
that drives phonology" (312).

Sanford Schane, "The Aperture Particle |a|: Its Role and Functions
Working in the framework of Particle Phonology, Schane explores the
particle |a| and the different functions that it plays in different vowel
inventories. The |a| particle represents aperture, or height, and more
specifically, lowered height, laxness, or retracted tongue root. Schane
outlines the particles necessary in several vowel inventories. Schane
also cites the vowel length collapse from Latin to Romance and Old to
Middle English, the Early Middle English vowel shift, and West Frisian
breaking as evidence that |a| characterizes all of the above properties.
Schane then draws phonetic parallels, claiming that "aperture becomes
characterised as elevated F1, palatality as elevated F2 and labiality as
lowered F2" (337).

Jørgen Staun, "Towards a taw-Based Phonological Representation of Place"
Staun proposes that there are 3 unary components which can be used to
describe place for both vowels and consonants. Departing slightly from
the IAU model, Staun proposes that the phonological primes for place
features are 't', 'a', and 'w'. Staun further claims that in the
categorical gesture, t,a,w are compressed into 'a' and 'C'. Staun then
provides evidence from many possible places of articulation to show how
these primitives enter into head-dependent relations and produce place


This book is well written and well produced, and the content of the
articles is well structured. The contents of the volume reflect the
cutting-edge of phonological theory.

The papers all come from a generally non-OT viewpoint, which can be taken
to be more of a strength here than a weakness. While many of the
theoretical mechanics may not be directly accessible to an OT audience,
there is great value in simply becoming familiar with these alternative
approaches. For instance, many of the phonetic discussions surrounding
primitive vowel features (as discussed by Harris and Schane) are relevant
for individuals working in feature theory, regardless of the framework.
As for the DP/GP oriented-audience, this book will prove to be an absolute
must, as it highlights new developments in the field. Finally, the way
the articles complemented each other, and how they oftentimes brought
fresh ideas to very old problems (for example the papers by Colman,
Davenport, Durand, Gussmann, Harrison, Lodge) was a highlight of the book.

The content of most papers brings up many serious questions. One question
concerning the OT perspective is what kind of impact the papers in this
volume will have on the theory. Another question is, how will we come to
view representations? The papers by van der Hulst, Ritter, Honeybone,
Lodge, Schane, Staun provide interesting arguments and problems that are
handled elegantly by their respective frameworks. Can there be a
convergence of these theories with OT? (I'm reminded of Krisztina
Polgárdi's work here; see Polgárdi 1998). There seems to be so much cross-
pollination within the frameworks discussed in this book; is it possible
to cross into OT? Finally, if we are to take McMahon's paper as a cue,
this could signal a change in the basic way we think about phonology.

This volume is an amazing collection of papers written in a wide range of
theoretical frameworks. Most papers provide an excellent overview of the
theoretical framework being explored, which makes the book accessible to
someone not familiar with DP, GP, etc. And despite the numerous
approaches discussed in the book, the papers never get lost in the details
of any particular formalism. The authors treat problems that are not
necessarily theory-specific, and provide discussion that is accessible
(and valuable) to a wider theoretical audience. Each of the papers in
this collection tackles an interesting issue, and many papers (for
instance those by Carr, Harris, van der Hulst, and McMahon) are sure to
become instant classics. This collection is suitable to be one in honor
of a great linguist.


Anderson, John M. & Charles Jones (1974) Three theses concerning
phonological representations. Journal of Linguistics 10:1-26.

Anderson, John M. & Colin J. Ewen (1987) Principles of Dependency
Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harrison, Phil (2000) Acquiring the phonology of lexical tone in infancy.
Lingua 110:581-616.

McMahon, April (2003) Phonology and the Holy Grail. Lingua 113:103-115.

Polgárdi, Krisztina (1998) Vowel Harmony: An Account in Terms of
Government and Optimality. Holland Academic Graphics, The Hague.


Jason Brown is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of British
Columbia. His research focus is on phonology and phonological theory,
with special interests in the phonetics-phonology interface, phonological
representations, and feature theory.