LINGUIST List 10.989

Fri Jun 25 1999

Review: Davenport and Hannahs: Phonetics & Phonology

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  • DETERDING David Henry (SOA), Review of Davenport & Hannahs: Introducing Phonetics and Phonolog y

    Message 1: Review of Davenport & Hannahs: Introducing Phonetics and Phonolog y

    Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 10:53:39 +0800
    From: DETERDING David Henry (SOA) <>
    Subject: Review of Davenport & Hannahs: Introducing Phonetics and Phonolog y

    Mike Davenport and S.J.Hannahs. Introducing Phonetics and Phonology. Arnold (UK), Oxford University Press (USA). 1998. 196pp.

    Reviewed by David Deterding


    This book begins with a fairly traditional overview of phonetics, with one chapter each on articulation, consonants and vowels. Next there is a chapter on acoustic phonetics. Finally, the bulk of the book (pages 73 to 187) is devoted to phonology, covering a wide range of different approaches, including: phonemes and allophones, feature-based derivational phonology, and autosegmental phonology. The aim of the chapters on phonology is to present an overview of the major approaches to the field rather than pursue a single theoretical framework in depth, and the book always tries to outline weaknesses in different approaches and suggest criteria for selecting between them.

    Critical Evaluation

    As this book is intended partly as a general introduction to phonetics, the simple list of topics given above reveals a rather startling omission: there is nothing, not even one mention, of intonation! Surely intonation is sufficiently important to merit a few pages, even if these were only to acknowledge the existence of the topic and explain why it is not covered in greater depth.

    The book might therefore be regarded as an introduction to segmental phonetics and phonology. Some of the discussion of phonology does make reference to suprasegmental topics such as syllable structure and metrical feet, but this is done to provide an explanation of segmental phenomena, such as the possibility of using an alveolar nasal in the first syllable of 'incline' while only a velar nasal is possible in the first syllable of 'inclination' (p.150).

    As an introduction to segmental phonetics, there is (to my mind) one rather serious flaw. The first, absolutely fundamental lesson in phonetics is surely to distinguish orthography from transcription, but this book does not achieve this very well. For example, we find a reference to the 'c' sound in 'cat' (p.5), which is rather unfortunate in a phonetics book. Indeed the bracketing convention for transcription is not introduced till page 18, and then only for consonants, so even after that, we continue to find a rather confusing mixture of orthography and transcription, such as 'sa[b m]an' (as a result of assimilation) (p.26) and '[lj]ute' and 'pi[l]ow' (p.32).

    As consonants are presented before vowels, use of phonetic vowel symbols is mostly avoided in the discussion of consonants; but even this is not achieved consistently, as quite a few vowel symbols manage to slip in before they have been introduced, for example when discussing the distribution of word final linking 'r' (p.33) and the occurrence of [j] (p.34). Moreover, there is mention of [o] as a 'high mid back vowel' (p.32) and discussion of 'high vowels' and 'low vowels' (p.35) in the chapter on consonants, before the concepts of vowel height and backness are introduced (p.39) in the following chapter.

    In the chapter on vowels, there is an extraordinary amount of detail describing regional variation. Although the base accent for exemplification is RP, we are typically given information about pronunciation of vowels in a wide range of places, so for example reference is made to the pronunciation of mid back vowels in London, North England, Minnesota, Glasgow, Northern Ireland, Geordie, East Anglia, the East Midlands and the South West of England (p.48-49). While dedicated students with a finely-tuned sensitivity to accent variation might find this fascinating, it seems likely that others would find it somewhat tedious, and those who are not familiar with the geography of Britain and have never met a Geordie are likely to be left totally bewildered.

    The chapter on acoustic phonetics is a fairly clear introduction, though the discussion of formant transitions is a bit confusing. For example, we are told (p.68) that "an alveolar consonant causes the F2 of the following vowel to rise (compared with the vowel alone without a preceding alveolar)", but this does not tally with the diagrams on the following page which show that F2 after [d] rises with a following [i] but falls with a following [u]. Perhaps the concept of a 'locus' would have been helpful, but this term is not explained or used within the text even though it appears three times in Table 5.2 (p.70).

    In the chapters on phonology, there is a real danger when so many approaches are presented that the material will get totally confusing. Surprisingly, this never happens, and chapters 6 to 11 of this book are a model of clarity and a delight to read. The reason for this is that there are just a few well-selected examples explained carefully and methodically, so that even when completely different analyses are presented side-by-side, they appear to complement each other and deepen our understanding of the issues rather than conflict. The clarity of the presentation in these chapters on phonology is really impressive.

    Indeed, the tone of the second half of this book is very different from that of the first few chapters on phonetics. Unfortunately, it is not just the tone that differs, as some of the material is inconsistent between the two parts. For example, the vowel in 'go' is presented as [U] (I am using here to represent a schwa) on pages 49, 51, and 52, but as [oU] on pages 79, 99, 147 and 155, even though RP is supposedly adopted as the base model throughout. And in Exercise 1 on page 173, there are no less than 9 instances where the vowel symbol differs from the system suggested for RP on page 52.

    In fact, the vowel in 'go' causes an even more severe problem in chapter 6 on Features. In the tables, it is shown as [o:] and is analysed as [+tense] (p.89), and this serves to distinguish it from Cardinal Vowel 6 (the backward 'c') which is shown as [-tense]. In the text on page 86 and again on page 88, the vowel in 'horse' is shown with a length marker [:], but in the tables on the same pages, this long vowel is not listed, and instead CV6 without [:] is shown. Unfortunately, this is not just a simple typo -- if the vowel in 'horse' is a long vowel and thus [+tense], the analysis provides no way to differentiate it from [o:], and this means that the feature analysis breaks down as it fails to differentiate all the vowels listed.

    Despite the existence of a few other such problems (such as 'supralaryngeal' appearing twice in Fig 9.1 on p.136 -- presumably the second instance is an error for 'place'), the meticulous presentation in the second half make it a real candidate to serve as a highly accessible and delightfully clear introductory textbook on phonological theory.

    [About the reviewer: David Deterding is an Assoc. Prof. at NIE/NTU, Singapore, where he teaches phonetics, syntax, and translation. He has published on the intonation of Singapore English (JIPA, 24:2, 61-72) and the formants of British English (JIPA, 27, 47-55), and he is the co-author with G. Poedjosoedarmo of The Sounds of English: Phonetics and Phonology for English Teachers in Southeast Asia, Singapore: Prentice Hall, 1998. His webpage is:]