This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2005 12:48:06 +0100 (BST) From: Katalin Balogné Bérces Subject: Understanding Phonology, 2nd ed.
AUTHORS: Gussenhoven, Carlos; Jacobs, Haike TITLE: Understanding Phonology SUBTITLE: Second edition SERIES: The Understanding Language Series PUBLISHER: Hodder Arnold YEAR: 2005
Katalin Balogné Bérces, Department of English Language and Literature, Pázmány Péter Catholic University (PPKE), Piliscsaba, Hungary
The book reviewed here was published in The Understanding Language Series, which aims to present the basics of major topics in linguistics to students with little or no previous knowledge. After introducing the fundamentals of speech production and the IPA notational system (Chapter 1), the book turns to the discussion of phonological theory. We are provided with the necessary background gradually, from the unavoidable morphological and syntactic terminology, through universals and (parametric) variation (how "phonologies of different languages are variations on the same theme" -- p.32) (Chapter 2), to phonological adjustments as seen in the light of loanword adaptation (Chapter 3). Meanwhile, the basics of Optimality Theory (henceforth OT) are also introduced. Then, in Chapter 4 the need for the recognition of an underlying phonological representation is argued for, with allophonic, phonemic, and stylistic differences clearly distinguished. Other key terms like neutralization are also explained. Chapter 5 motivates the existence of distinctive features and presents a slightly modified version of the SPE set of binary features. The discussion of the transformational rule format and rule ordering (Chapter 6) is followed by a case study of the diminutive suffix in Dutch (Chapter 7) and the introduction of Lexical Phonology (Chapter 8). In the rest of the book, nonlinear solutions are offered for the representation of tone (Chapter 9), syllable- and skeleton- based processes (Chapter 10), subsegmental structure (Chapters 11 and 12), and stress (Chapters 13 and 14). Finally, the hierarchy of prosodic constituents is described (Chapter 15). Each chapter (except Chapter 1) contains questions and exercises embedded in the running text, the key to which is found at the back of the book. The key is followed by a comprehensive References section, a detailed language index (providing information on the language family to which each language referred to in the book belongs, as well as on the geographical area where the language is spoken), and a subject index.
This second edition is a moderately re-structured version of the first, with a few of the original sections fused, others split, and a number of new themes added, among which are opacity (Chapter 6.7), the feature analysis of affricates (Chapters 5 and 11), and various topics in prosodic phonology including the Strict Layer Hypothesis (Chapters 15.2-4). Also, a number of new exercises supplement the old text.
On the whole, the book introduces the basic terminology properly, treats all the fundamental issues of phonetics and (generative) phonology in detail, although it is silent about a few topics (e.g., acoustic phonetics, phonological evolution) which might have received some attention, but at the same time it elaborates upon others (e.g., loanword adaptation and prosodic phonology) not usually covered at such length in coursebooks. Obviously, selecting subjects from a manifold area like phonology is not easy, and to be able to treat previously neglected issues one needs to sacrifice some of the canon, and make forced choices as to the linguistic data analysed (biassed a little bit toward Dutch this time). As an unfortunate result, the book fails to be fully self- contained, it is hardly sufficient for the self-study student, and needs complementing from other sources for a full picture. Nevertheless, the style is quite successfully kept throughout the whole book to the main objective outlined at the very beginning, therefore it is quite capable of informing readers with little or no background in linguistics. It uses illuminating examples and argumentation, and among the particularly well- written and comprehensive chapters are the ones on feature geometry (Chapters 11 and 12) and stress (Chapters 13 and 14). Unlike many other textbooks, it contains questions and exercises accompanying the topics -- thought-provoking, to-the-point exercises, each of which is supplied with a key. Another innovation compared to other textbooks lies in the usage of phonetic symbols: the authors decide to use IPA consistently, being ready to adapt the non-IPA transcriptions of their sources to the IPA notation (however, already on p.8 in Chapter 1 they admit that "deviating from IPA conventions, authors normally use the symbol [a] to represent a central or central to back open unrounded vowel", and they seem to repeat this deviation from IPA there and elsewhere, e.g. p.12, p.70). Also, the detail of the language index described above is worth another mention.
Unfortunately, the book suffers from a few minor defects. Besides the ones already pointed out, the reader looks in vain for questions or exercises in Chapter 1 ("The production of speech") -- there are none, because, as the authors explain, it is "a background introductory chapter". In my view, since phonetics serves as the very background without which most of the rest of the book is hard to digest (especially, subsegmental structure and phonetically motivated processes), it is of utmost significance to make sure the student has mastered its basics. (In addition, quite sadly, other branches of phonetics (esp. acoustics) are not even mentioned in the chapter.)
Chapter 3 ("Making the form fit"), on loanword adaptation, uses the discussion of adjustment processes to introduce phonological rules and constraints. Although I find this a particularly enlightening and revealing way to illustrate phonology at work and pave the way for the introduction of two levels of representation within one and the same language, ultimately the text is too theoretical, bringing in terms like "the Perceptual Level" and "the Operative Level", before even mentioning more fundamental concepts like phonemes or allophones. It also discusses the difference between rule-based models and OT's constraint- based approach, which I judge to be too early, considering the fact that the detailed explanation of rules and rule ordering is postponed to as late as Chapter 6. In general, I find the use of OT tableaux at such an early point to be premature, even before dealing with underlying vs. surface representations. Perhaps the authors themselves suspect this, too: in the Epilogue, they make an attempt at justifying their choice "to deviate from a strict chronological treatment of theories" (p.233), and they sketch out the main developments in the history of Generative Phonology -- fitting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle at the very end of the book only.
A few minor remarks are in order here. Chapter 10 ("Between the segment and the syllable") argues for the existence of the skeleton in phonological representations, and while both the CV-tier and morae are introduced, the X-tier goes unspoken of. Throughout the book, when giving data or examples, the spelt forms of words are frequently omitted even for languages (like Dutch, French, or German) with traditional orthographies, which is an unusual practice and leaves readers without a good command of these languages having doubts. Finally, I think the book may be made more effective in its objectives by adding follow-up questions and/or exercises at the end of the chapters, and by providing the subject index with page numbers besides, or instead of, the present edition's section numbers to facilitate finding definitions and/or first mentions in the text.
On the whole, the book succeeds in serving as another introductory coursebook in phonology, properly introducing what needs to be introduced, containing no revolutionary innovations to the genre, causing no real surprise to the instructor (or the student) using it. Although it is characterized by a strong theoretical bias towards OT, with even some of the latest developments (e.g. sympathy theory) briefly sketched out, other (not outdated) approaches and proposals are also mentioned (e.g., unary feature models for subsegmental structure in Chapter 5.3, implicit hints at the Principles and Parameters model of language acquisition in, e.g., Chapter 2.6). This book qualifies as a progressive coursebook on phonological theory as required by the standards of the early 2000s.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Katalin Balogné Bérces took her M.A. in English Language and Literature from the Faculty of Humanities, Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest in 1998, and started her research as a doctoral student in the English Linguistics PhD Programme of ELTE in the same year. Her field of research is the phonology, more specifically the syllable structure, of English. She completed her PhD dissertation (entitled "Strict CV Phonology and the English Cross-word Puzzle") in February 2005, and is expecting to defend it in September 2005. She works as a full-time assistant lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature, PPKE, and teaches various courses on English linguistics, phonology, syntax, and dialectology.