LINGUIST List 22.247

Sat Jan 15 2011

Review: Phonetics, Phonology, Psycholinguistics: Fuchs et al. (2010)

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        1.     Daniel Hall , Turbulent Sounds

Message 1: Turbulent Sounds
Date: 15-Jan-2011
From: Daniel Hall <>
Subject: Turbulent Sounds
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EDITORS: Susanne Fuchs, Martine Toda, and Marzena ?ygis TITLE: Turbulent Sounds SUBTITLE: An Interdisciplinary Guide SERIES TITLE: Interface Explorations 21 PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton YEAR: 2010

Daniel Currie Hall, Saint Mary's University


This is a book about obstruents, a vast and diverse class of speech sounds distinguished by the presence of obstructions that create turbulence in the flow of air through the vocal tract. In their preface, the editors suggest that the ideal set of researchers for a truly thorough investigation of obstruents would include a phonologist, a phonetician, two physicists, a speech therapist, a psychologist, a dentist, and a mathematician. (There is an excellent joke that begins with precisely those eight people walking into a bar, but it is too long to recount here.) The ten papers collected in this volume represent a commendable approximation to this multidisciplinary ideal. While the primary focus of the volume as a whole is phonetics, specific attention is also given to phonology, sociolinguistics, and speech pathology, and there is at least incidental discussion of relevant questions in psycholinguistics, physics, mathematics, and even dentistry. Individually, the chapters range from broad surveys of current knowledge to detailed studies of particular obstruents in specific languages. Collectively, they represent a snapshot of the state of the art in the methodology and results of research into the nature of turbulent sounds.

The first three chapters deal with phonology and the phonology-phonetics interface. Chapter 1, ''An overview of the phonology of obstruents,'' by T. A. Hall (no relation to the reviewer) and Marzena ?ygis, presents a cross-linguistic survey of the phonological features that characterize obstruents and of processes affecting those features, focusing primarily on [±sonorant], [±continuant], and [±strident]. While no single phenomenon is dealt with in detail, the range of different examples cited provides both a sense of the general typological trends and a glimpse of some of the more unusual processes that phonological theory must contend with. The authors also point out some of the explanatory shortcomings of the features, for example noting that the feature [±strident] fails to capture the phonetic naturalness of the affrication of stops before front vowels.

Chapter 2, ''Turbulence and phonology,'' by John J. Ohala and Maria-Josep Solé, offers a survey of the ways in which the physical properties of turbulent sounds are responsible for diachronic sound changes. The generalizations involved include both articulatory (e.g., ''Voiced fricatives are hard to make'') and acoustic/auditory ones (e.g., /p/ is diachronically less stable than other voiceless plosives because it has a weaker burst). As in the preceding chapter, the authors adduce examples from a wide range of languages. They present a compelling picture of the origins of familiar phonological patterns, in which natural phonetic phenomena give rise to misperceptions that are eventually phonologized. The chapter ends, however, with a rather less well supported (and rather flippantly worded) attack on formal phonological theorizing. Ohala and Solé's contention is that because the patterns they describe have straightforward phonetic explanations, there is no point in trying to capture them with putative psychological entities such as feature geometries or phonological constraints. While it is fair enough to say that duplication of explanation should be avoided, a phonetically natural sound pattern that has been phonologized must have some sort of representation in the synchronic mental grammar, and there is real merit in attempting to build a restrictive model of how such representations are constructed and how they operate.

Ohala and Solé's generalization that ''voiced fricatives are hard to make'' is at the heart of chapter 3, by Zsuzsanna Bárkányi and Zoltán Kiss, which is titled ''A phonetic approach to the phonology of v: A case study from Hungarian and Slovak.'' Bárkányi and Kiss argue that the different allophonic realizations of /v/ in these two languages reflect different strategies for dealing with the difficulty of producing voicing and turbulent noise simultaneously. In contexts that are particularly unfavourable to this phonetic feat, /v/ (which they treat as a ''narrow approximant,'' following Padgett's (2002) analysis of /v/ in Russian) may either cease to be voiced or cease to be turbulent (by becoming a wide approximant). Both languages make /v/ a target of regressive assimilatory devoicing, and Slovak also employs the second strategy, realizing /v/ as [w] in coda positions.

Bárkányi and Kiss's theory of /v/ is more phonetically nuanced than that of Padgett (2002), who essentially argues that Russian /v/ is phonologically ambivalent because it is phonetically intermediate between a sonorant and an obstruent. I have argued (Hall 2004) that Padgett's approach would be untenable in Czech, where /v/ is similarly ambivalent phonologically but not phonetically, as it is closer to a stop than to an approximant (Ku?era 1961). Under Bárkányi and Kiss's approach, it might be possible to say that the stoplike realization of Czech /v/ is simply another means of resolving the conflict between frication and voicing. On the other hand, it is less obvious how Bárkányi and Kiss's treatment of Slovak /v/ accords with its diachronic development from earlier /w/ (Short 1993: 536). If sonorization of /v/ is a strategy for avoiding the conflict between voicing and frication, why did this sound narrow from /w/ in the first place?

Chapter 4, by Hyunsoon Kim, Shinji Maeda, Kiyoshi Honda, and Stephane Hans, is titled ''The laryngeal characterization of Korean fricatives: Acoustic and aerodynamic data.'' As the title suggests, the authors bring phonetic measurements to bear on the question of the featural distinction between Korean /s/ and /s'/. They argue that both fricatives are [-spread glottis], and that they are distinguished by the feature [±tense], with /s/ being [-tense] and /s'/ [+tense]. Their airflow measurements and acoustic data indicate that the contrast between the two fricatives is not based on aspiration (as others have claimed), but is instead closely analogous to the contrast between fortis and lenis unaspirated stops. Phonetic measurements alone are not necessarily a sufficient basis for identifying the most appropriate phonological representation of the segments in question, but this chapter is only one part of a larger project, and the list of references includes several other works by (some of) the same authors, which provide additional phonetic and phonological context.

In contrast with Kim et al.'s description of Korean, Scottish Standard English does appear to use aspiration contrastively on fricatives, as Olga B. Gordeeva and James M. Scobbie argue in chapter 5, ''Preaspiration as a correlate of word-final voice in Scottish English fricatives.'' Gordeeva and Scobbie present novel acoustic data indicating that the contrast traditionally described as voicing can be realized as a contrast in preaspiration on fricatives in word-final position: the 'voiceless' fricatives are preceded by aperiodic glottal noise that is not found before the 'voiced' ones. The degree of variation that the authors found in their data leads them to be cautious in drawing conclusions about the prevalence of this contrast, but their results offer insight into a relatively rare form of laryngeal contrast and a previously neglected feature of Scottish English.

The next two chapters present descriptive work on consonants involving non-pulmonically generated airflow, and are of particular interest from a typological point of view as well as for their detailed phonetic descriptions. Chapter 6, by Sven Grawunder, Adrian Simpson, and Madzhid Kalilov, is titled ''Phonetic characteristics of ejectives -- samples from Caucasian languages.'' The authors analyzed recordings from Georgian, Avar, Ingush, Tsez, Bezhta, and Lezgi, and they report not only on the nature of the ejectives themselves and their contrasts with pulmonic stops, but also on their relations with other phenomena such as geminates, secondary articulations, and central and lateral affricates. The primary correlates of the contrast between ejectives and pulmonic stops appear to reside in and just after the release burst; strikingly, the closure phase, at least in Georgian, allows voicing from a preceding segment to continue.

In chapter 7, ''Tongue body and tongue root shape differences in N|uu clicks correlate with phonotactic patterns,'' Amanda L. Miller reports on the remarkable consonant system of the Khoesan language N|uu. In addition to a rich inventory of regular plosives and clicks, N|uu also has stops involving what Miller describes as a contour in airstream, in which what begins as a click is followed by a pulmonic or glottalic release of the posterior closure. Miller presents evidence from an ultrasound study that shows a phonetic difference in the position of the posterior closure -- not between plain and contour clicks, as had been suggested in earlier work, but between (central and lateral) alveolar clicks on the one hand and dental and palatal clicks on the other. Consonant-vowel interactions in a lexical database indicate that this difference may be phonologically relevant: the alveolar clicks pattern with pulmonic uvulars in occurring with back but not front vowels, and in triggering retraction of /i/. Miller proposes extending the theory of Articulatory Phonology (Browman & Goldstein 1989) to accommodate contrasts in posterior lingual articulations.

Chapter 8, by Susanne Fuchs and Martine Toda, asks the question ''Do differences in male versus female /s/ reflect biological or sociophonetic factors?'' To answer it, the authors measured the palates of male and female speakers of English and German, and made articulatory and acoustic analyses of their productions of /s/. The results do not suggest a simple answer: the acoustic centre of gravity of the fricative correlates negatively with the length of the palate for the English speakers, but corresponds to gender rather than palate length in German. The authors also note the possible influence of other factors, such as variation in incisor length and the fact that English /s/, unlike German /s/, contrasts with the dental fricative /?/.

Chapter 9, by Fiona E. Gibbon and Alice Lee, takes us into the field of speech pathology; it is titled ''Producing turbulent speech sounds in the context of cleft palate.'' The authors present an overview of the ways in which cleft palate can interfere directly or indirectly with the normal production of obstruents. Normal articulation with a cleft palate often yields aerodynamically and acoustically abnormal results: the cleft makes it harder to sustain intraoral pressure. As a consequence, many children with cleft palate develop compensatory strategies involving abnormal articulations such as doubly articulated or glottalized stops.

Chapter 10, by Martine Toda, Shinji Maeda, and Kiyoshi Honda, is titled ''Formant-cavity affiliation in sibilant fricatives.'' It investigates the relation between articulation and acoustics in sibilants, with particular attention to the contrasting Polish fricatives /?/ and /s?/. Through acoustic simulation and magnetic resonance imaging of the articulations of native Polish speakers, the authors reach the conclusion that the spectral characteristics of /?/ are largely due to resonances in the front oral cavity and palatal channel, and those of /s?/ to resonances in the front oral cavity and lip cavity. They reject Halle and Stevens's (1997) suggestion that coupling of back cavity resonances in /s?/ contributes significantly to differentiating it from /?/.


The volume as a whole sets a very ambitious goal for itself. The class of obstruents includes a huge number of the sounds that occur in human speech, and interacts in one way or another with all the rest (as witness the vowel-click cooccurrence restrictions discussed by Miller, or the diachronic change from *[i] to [z] in Mandarin alluded to by Ohala and Solé). Treating these sounds from an interdisciplinary perspective only increases the scale of the challenge. However, the focus on the specific phonetic property of turbulence, which appears in different forms but with great consistency from one chapter to another, gives the book a thematic coherence that it might not otherwise have.

I believe that this book will be of considerable value to anyone who has looked at obstruents from any of the perspectives represented in the volume and is interested in learning more about the others. One of the things that particularly impressed me was the range of different techniques described for investigating the articulatory and acoustic properties of obstruents; the reader will find a wealth of methods for modelling, measuring, and observing turbulent sounds, and also for analyzing statistically what has been modelled, measured, and observed.

There is less to be found here about the auditory properties of these sounds. The perception of turbulent sounds is clearly relevant, for example, to Ohala and Solé's view of sound changes, to Kim et al.'s effort to identify the features that distinguish /s/ from /s'/, and to Gordeeva and Scobbie's investigation of the contrastive role of preaspiration in Scottish English fricatives. But although several chapters make reference to perceptual studies reported elsewhere, the phonetic focus of this volume is very much on articulation and acoustics.

The authors represented in this volume have made a clearly valuable contribution to the study of obstruents from all angles, and so, in marshalling the authors' diverse efforts into a coherent whole, have the editors. The publisher, on the other hand, appears to have contributed rather little. While the book is printed on good-quality paper and attractively bound, it shows no symptoms of having been professionally proofread or typeset. Since part of the value of this collection is its up-to-dateness, the decision not to take the time to turn it into an object of typographical beauty is perhaps understandable. Nonetheless, the relative lack of attention to the physical form of the volume seems a disservice to authors and readers alike, and unworthy of the contents, which constitute an important contribution to the scientific study of obstruents.


Browman, Catherine & Louis Goldstein. 1989. Articulatory gestures as phonological units. Phonology 6: 201-251.

Hall, Daniel Currie. 2004. ''A formal approach to /v/: Evidence from Czech and Slovak.'' In Olga Arnaudova, Wayles Browne, María Luisa Rivero, and Danijela Stojanovi?, eds. Formal approaches to Slavic Linguistics 12: The Ottawa meeting. 187-205.

Halle, Morris & Kenneth N. Stevens. 1997. The postalveolar fricatives of Polish. In S. Kiritani, H. Hirose, and H. Fujisaki, eds. Speech production and language: In honor of Osamu Fujimura. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 177-193.

Ku?era, Henry. 1961. The phonology of Czech. The Hague: Mouton.

Padgett, Jaye. 2002. Russian voicing assimilation, final devoicing, and the problem of [v]. Ms., University of California, Santa Cruz.


Daniel Currie Hall is an assistant professor of linguistics at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He received a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Toronto in 2007, with a dissertation on contrast in phonology. Before taking up his current position at Saint Mary's, he taught linguistics at Queen's University and the University of Toronto, and worked as a researcher in phonology at the Meertens Instituut of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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