LINGUIST List 15.1233

Sat Apr 17 2004

Review: Phonetics/Phonology: Kreidler (2004)

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  • Mark Van Dam, The Pronunciation of English, 2nd edition

    Message 1: The Pronunciation of English, 2nd edition

    Date: Sat, 17 Apr 2004 00:11:25 -0400 (EDT)
    From: Mark Van Dam <>
    Subject: The Pronunciation of English, 2nd edition

    AUTHOR: Kreidler, Charles W. TITLE: The Pronunciation of English, Second Edition SUBTITLE: A Course Book PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing YEAR: 2004 Announced at

    Mark VanDam, Dept of Linguistics, Indiana University.


    OVERVIEW. Kreidler's book is an introductory textbook devoted to the description of English sound structure. It is a classically generative phonological account including some descriptions, where appropriate, of the interplay between phonology and other areas of linguistic interest such as morphology, prosody, syntax, and rhythm. The book is stocked with plentiful examples, exercises, and easy access to basic linguistic concepts such as 'phoneme', 'allophone', 'assimilation', and the like.

    Chapter 1 offers an short history of the English language followed by a discussion of some basic concepts for talking about the sound structure of language as linguists do as well as the conventions used in the book. The basics of a phonological analysis are described.

    Chapter 2 discusses some basic articulatory and physical facts and methods of analysis usually considered part of phonetics (rather than phonology). Topics include human hearing, vibration, frequency, amplitude, resonance chambers, anatomy for language science, phonation, and voicing. Various major distinctions of speech sounds are discussed with respect to phonetic observations: sonority, syllables, continuance, consonantal versus vocalic, voicing.

    Chapter 3 is about English consonants. Manners and places of articulation are described as instantiations of distinctive features that differentiate various consonant classes such as stop, fricative, nasal, liquid, labial, apical, laminal, and dorsal. A concise section is devoted to each of the classes mentioned. Additionally, this chapter contains a plethora of examples, exercises, and discussion questions to be maintained throughout the rest of the book.

    Chapter 4 is concerned primarily with vowels. It is noted that vowels, including English vowels, are generally more difficult to describe than consonants because (1) dialects vary, (2) incidences of occurrence are different, (3) phonetic realizations vary (such as in stressed versus in unstressed positions), and (4) descriptive differences are employed by different linguists. Distinctive vowel features are given as (1) quality, (2) length, (3) complexity (mono- and diphthongal), and (4) tenseness. Kreidler describes environmentally conditioned occurrences of English vowels into categories of ''checked'' and ''free''. Interspersed in the text are references to vocalic variation as a result of rhoticization, place assimilation with adjacent consonants, conditioned length variations, nasalization, and on- and off-gliding. 24 different vowels are given concise phonetic and dialectal descriptions along with a host of helpful example words.

    Chapter 5 is about syllables and stress. Syllable constituents (peak, onset, rhyme, coda) are described as well as possible and canonical English syllable structure. Metrical stress, tone, accent, prominence, and morphophonology are introduced as they are associated with syllables and syllable structure. Kreidler strongly claims that ''the fact is that, in speech, a single consonant between a strong vowel-any strong vowel-and a weak vowel is AMBISYLLABIC'', (p 77, emphasis in the original) and offers subsequent 'rules for dividing English words into syllables' that is relied on later in the book.

    Chapter 6 is about phonotactics. This chapter is concerned with what consonants can occur together initially and finally between vowels and what sequences of vowels and consonants are possible. The description is given in terms of phonotactic constraints on environmental/positional permissibility in English. Many examples are given.

    Chapter 7 is concerned with segmental variation typically falling under the notion of allophonic variation. Assimilation, aspiration, and length are described as well as dialects that are likely to exhibit particular processes resulting in allophony.

    Chapter 8 points out surface consequences of phonological and morphological processes as well as some deeper linguistic concepts such as 'underlying form', 'rule ordering' (opacity), and morphological influence in sound structures and processes of English.

    Chapter 9 is concerned with sound and production facts that are generally larger than the segment or syllable, in particular the larger-than-syllable parsing of 'chunks' which Kreidler prefers to call 'tonal', and the phrasal position of accent and focus which Kreidler prefers to call 'accent'. Tone units are defined as phrasal elements that can bear some sort of prominence via syllable timing or stress timing controlled by the speaker. Paradigmatic and syntagmatic accents are compared and contrasted as well as special accent methods such as deaccenting, lexical and anaphoric reference accent, and accent on operators (or non-content units).

    Chapter 10 deals with larger-than-syllable units generally captured under intonation and melody. Intonation is given an articulatory basis (falling frequency of vocal cord vibration; intonation as variation at the accented syllable) and perceptual-functional basis as to how the speaker's intentions are passed along to the hearer. Tones are identified and described as short rise, short fall, rise-fall, and fall-rise. Combinations of tones are also discussed. The author clearly (and certainly correctly) states that there is not a consensus among language scholars about absolute identification, classification, or understanding of issues raised in Chapters 9 and 10, and, at the very least, more work is needed in these areas.

    Chapter 11 discusses the predictability of English word stress. Kreidler points out that stress in English, contrary to some languages of the world, is not entirely predictable. However, the author demonstrates that the use of syntactic, morphological, and phonological information can provide some clues to the placement of word stresses. Stress application processes are discussed in terms of morphological processes (eg., affixation), syntactic categories (eg., nouns and verbs), loanwords and borrowings, and multiple applications (and potential contradictions) of stress rules.

    Chapter 12 is concerned with stress in compounds and phrases that behave like compounds (due to their idiomaticity, regularity, or compositionality). Stress in compounds composed of nouns, verbs, syntactic units (such as phrase), adjectives, prefixes, and 'Greek-type' compounds (eg., ''phonograph'', ''telephone'', etc.) are each individually considered and compared.

    Chapter 13 revisits some phonological processes such as segment reduction, segment elision, assimilation, and palatalization. Specific reduced forms are investigated such as auxiliaries (e.g., ''can'', ''could'', ''does'', etc.), pronouns (e.g., ''he'', ''you''), prepositions (eg., ''to''), determiners (eg., ''some''), conjunctions (e.g., ''and''), and miscellaneous words such as ''there'' and ''not''. A brief word about supposed homophones interestingly suggests that most citations of homophones holds only for isolated pronunciations but those same citations are not homophonic in context because of reductions and stress assignments. For example, Kreidler suggests ''I have two'' is nearly impossibly homophonous with ''I have to''. Progressive, regressive, and mutual assimilation are discussed with examples. Palatalization is presented as a kind of assimilation with examples such as ''won't you'' = [wounCu] (not [wountju]).

    Chapter 14 revisits some themes from Chapters 8 and 13 in more detail. Phonologically conditioned alternations are compared with morphologically conditioned alternations with consideration paid to historical influences, specific morphology, and lexical (syntactic) processes. Specific processes such as vowel reduction, palatalization, zero alternation, spirantization, and velar softening are considered. Additionally, underlying forms, rule sequencing and rule ordering are considered with respect to the vowel shifts (eg., ''wise'' -> ''wisdom'') and augmenting morphology (eg., ''inscribe'' -> ''inscription'', ''expose'' -> ''expository'').

    The Appendix contains a list of word-endings and their effects on stress including neutral suffixes, tonic endings and suffixes, heavy endings, light endings, posttonic suffixes, and some special suffixes such as two different ''-age'' suffixes in the words ''bondage'' versus ''massage''.

    A Glossary, Bibliography, and Index conclude the book.


    POSITIVE POINTS. Kreidler delivers with the promises in the title and the introduction by offering an introductory course book about the sounds and sound structure of English. There are copious examples and exercises throughout the book that would nicely facilitate using this book for an introductory class on phonology or English phonology, or for a not overly-technical phonological reference. The book is delimited in obvious ways (with numbers, bold, italic, etc. headings and sections) that make the material quite accessible for beginners-clearly the audience for this book-and the glossary and index appear to be user-friendly.

    The book's content does not appear to have any glaring omissions or patently wrong facts. The usual suspects of a phonological description are present: phonetic (articulatory) grounding of phonology, distinctive features, segments, consonants, vowels, syllables, stress, constraints and variation on surface forms, phonotactics, prosody, tone, accent, rhythm, and morphological influence on sound structure (morphophonology). The text is not overly technical and examples are frequent enough to allow a reader easy access to the concepts. Additionally, the 'Notes' section at the end of each chapter offers a brief but dense and useful resource for further research into the major academic works that deal with the topics of that chapter.

    NEGATIVE POINTS. Unfortunately, the nature of an introductory text is such that many points are presented in a way that supposes there is no debate about the issue at hand or offers very little suggestion that more research is needed for a sensible response to the issues raised.

    Here a few examples. First, Kreidler suggests that during acquisition, at about the one-word-utterance stage ''in two respects the child is quite accurate [imitating adults]. The child recognizes syllables and it has some appreciation of prosody'' (p 23) by producing closures (i.e., consonants) and by producing oral openings (i.e., vowels). Without the benefit of references or citations in the text, it is not clear exactly what is meant by this. How could a child produce a one-word utterance without it being a syllable? Could there be such a thing as a one-word utterance without syllable structure? On the other hand, how could a child project definite prosody on a single (presumably V, CV, or VC) syllable? It seems that a child at the one-word stage has so little control over his/her speech producing mechanism to make the projection of prosody very difficult to determine. Supposing all these facts are established in ways not described by the author, why would such an example be included in the book when presumably others would be better or clearer?

    Second, the text is overtly generative in the Chomsky and Halle ''Sound Pattern of English'' (SPE) sense and does not, as far as I can determine, attempt to consider any other approach in any way throughout the book. Functionalist approaches, connectionism, emergent/embodied phonological systems are not even mentioned in the text. Why not include some alternative at least in the 'Notes' section at the end of the chapter? Recent works such as Cho and Ladefoged (1999) claim in no uncertain terms that ''it has been known for many years that the SPE view is not correct'' (p 209), but Kreidler unquestioningly (and openly) espouses just that view.

    Third, as mentioned above Kreidler strongly states that ''the fact is that'' an intervocalic consonant is ALWAYS ambisyllabic (p 77), while earlier in the same chapter he much less controversially states that ''the syllable is a unit that is hard to define with scientific rigor'' (p 68). Syllables are decidedly NOT universally defined or even appreciated to exist by all linguists (see Cote 2000 and references therein). It does not seem responsible to put forth such a strong statement.

    Next, the terminology used in the book is sometimes confusing, inconsistent, or unconventional. For example, Chapter 10 'Intonation' refers to ''tone units'' in the first pages of the chapter and suddenly, inexplicably switches reference terms to ''tunes or contours'' and ''tune units''; neither the index nor glossary in the book contain the heading ''tune'' (but ''tone'' and ''tone unit'' both appear). The familiar term 'tone' is described in detail by standard references such as Kenstowicz (1996) and Bussmann (1996), but the unfamiliar 'tune' appears in the references of neither of these works. It is unclear what, if any, difference is implied or intended. Is this a typographical error? Other apparently unmotivated unfamiliar terms include ''checked'' to indicate vowels that may not occupy an open syllable. Given that Kreidler uses terms such as ''open syllable'' freely, why not discard a term such as 'checked' since it is not commonly used in current phonological or phonetic analyses? Or is he making apparent reference to Jakobson, Fant, and Halle (1951) (see Bussmann 1996)? If so, why consult an early phonetic work whose terminology has not been widely adopted?

    On a somewhat more superficial level, the presentation of some terms and concepts in the book is inconsistent and confusing. Important terms appear variously in bold, capitals, italics, single quotes, double quotes, etc. without consistency. For example, the term 'incidence' appears in bold and italics (p 47) while example words (e.g., ''father'' v. ''lather'') also appear in italics-or in bold or plain text-on the same page. Additionally, the term 'incidence' appears in neither the glossary nor the index, so sorting out the problem becomes difficult. This is particularly troublesome because this text is clearly intended as an introductory textbook and the terminology is likely to confuse rather than clarify.


    Bussmann, Hadumod (1996). Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. London: Routledge.

    Cho, Taehong and Peter Ladefoged (1999). ''Variation and universals in VOT: evidence from 18 languages''. Journal of Phonetics 27: 207-229.

    Cote, M.-H. 2000. Consonant cluster phonotactics: a perceptual approach. Ph.D. dissertation, MIT.

    Jakobson, Roman, Gunnar Fant, Morris Halle (1951). ''Preliminaries to speech analysis''. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Kenstowicz, Michael (1996). Phonology in Generative Grammar. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.


    Mark VanDam is interested in sound structure, laboratory/experimental phonetics, phonology, the phonetics-phonology interface, language theory, cognitive linguistics, and disc golf. He is currently at Indiana University.