LINGUIST List 23.1573

Wed Mar 28 2012

Review: Phonology; Typology: van der Hulst et al. (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 28-Mar-2012
From: Karen Chung <>
Subject: A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the World
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EDITORS: Harry van der Hulst, Rob Goedemans & Ellen van ZantenTITLE: A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the WorldPUBLISHER: Berlin: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2010

Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

SUMMARYThis extremely ambitious volume attempts to survey the range of possibleaccentual system types -- "accent" and "stress" are mostly used interchangeablyin this book -- in the world's languages. The book is organized mainlygeographically, by continent (e.g. Europe, Asia, Africa), region (Papua NewGuinea and Irian Jaya, the Middle East), or language family (Austronesian);continent and family coincide with Australian.

The first chapter of Part I, "Word accent: Terms, typologies and theories," byHarry van der Hulst, introduces the book's approach, terminology, and theStressTyp database, from which the volume draws a good part but by far not allof its data. It clarifies the notions of and differences between accent, stress,pitch accent, pitch, and duration. Linguistic tone is specifically not addressedin detail in this survey, in order to maintain the book's focus onaccent/stress, but it is mentioned and described when it coexists with a stresssystem. It is in fact not always so easy to determine whether a feature shouldbe considered "tone" or "accent," and sometimes there is an interdependent andinteractive relationship between the two, as in "hybrid" languages with acombined tone-accent system, of which there are many in Middle and SouthAmerica. Often a language will however lean more to one side or the other.Sometimes the data cited by the authors is inconsistent with that in StressTyp,and this is generally pointed out in the text. With such an immense volume ofdata, there are bound to be errors, and evolving analyses; so one purpose ofthis project was to check through the StressTyp data and compare it with thatcited in other sources.

Below are listed the topics and authors of the remaining chapters for Part I,with brief comments on each:

2. Australian Languages, by Rob Goedemans. Most Australian languages favor leftedge as the location of main stress, though there is variation. This chapteralso introduces the StressTyp database framework.

3. Austronesian Languages, by Ellen van Zanten, Ruben Stoel and Bert Remijsen.The Austronesian family number about 1,200 or 20% of the world's languages, andthey tend to favor right-edge stress.

4. Papuan Languages, by Ellen van Zanten and Philomena Dol. About 750 differentlanguages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, some tonal, making it the mostlinguistically diverse area in the world, and this diversity also extends tostress types.

5. North American Languages, by Keren Rice. One classification posits 62families and isolates, with expectedly diverse stress types.

6. Middle American Languages, by Harry van der Hulst, Keren Rice and LeoWetzels. These are mainly divided into tonal and pitch accent systems.

7. South American Languages, by Leo Wetzels and Sergio Meira. The number ofreliable descriptions for these languages is small, however, pitch accent andhybrid pitch accent-tone systems are common.

8. African Languages, by Laura Downing. Over 2,000 languages in four familiesare recorded for Africa in Ethnologue. The languages of sub-Saharan Africa areoverwhelmingly tonal, often with stress as well. The well-described non-tonallanguages are generally quite clearly stress languages.

9. European Languages, by Harry van der Hulst. This chapter covers languages infive families, extending to the Caucasus. Many types of accent systems arefound, with some languages exhibiting tonal features, some with very weak accent.

10. Asian Languages, by René Schiering and Harry van der Hulst. This chaptercovers a wide range of diverse families and languages, with many kinds of stressand tone systems.

11. Middle Eastern Languages, by Harry van der Hulst and Sam Hellmuth. Thischapter is one of the shortest, since it only needed to survey languages of theMiddle East, all Afro-Asiatic languages with stress systems, that were notalready covered in "Asia" and "Africa."

12. A typology of stress patterns, by Rob Goedemans. This chapter recaps themain features of accentual patterns of the world presented in the book. It couldserve as a useful overview of the highlights and findings of the entire volume.

It is notable that the book starts with chapters on less-known linguistic areasand language families: native Australia, Austronesian, Papua New Guinea, andnative North, Middle and South America. Likewise, some of the individualchapters start out with introductions of less familiar languages and languagegroups, e.g. Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan for Africa, Chukoto-Kamchatkan,Ket, and Yukaghir for Europe, and Beja for the Middle East.

The different possibilities of stress placement in the world's languages arepresented starting on p. 32. Fixed primary accents can be counted from the left:initial, second, or third syllable; or from the right: ultimate, penultimate,antepenultimate. Variable accent may depend on syllable weight, or on lexicalproperties. Systems in which accent is assigned to one or the other syllable ofa bisyllabic window are 'bounded'. In accent systems with unbounded windows,primary accent can occur anywhere in the word.

Many of the authors start off their chapters by describing the survey'slimitations and inevitable omissions and errors -- but it is clear that allworked hard to produce as representative an overview as possible, carefullysifting through a mind-boggling amount of data and hand-picking the mostillustrative bits, which they then organized, analyzed and commented on. Ratherthan just giving a linear account of what they found, it is clear that theydigested the information thoroughly, synthesized it, and came up with manyvaluable insights on it.

In lieu of trying to provide an exhaustive summary, below are a few selectedpoints in an effort to give readers some concise sense of the range of issuescovered in this work.

1. Many languages, such as Swedish, have tonal contrasts only on stressedsyllables; a stressed syllable is more "stretchable" in terms of expressing thefeatures of duration, pitch, spectral tilt, vowel quality or clarity, andamplitude (pp. 5, 9).

2. There are differing views as to whether schwas - which for many languagesmust figure prominently in any discussion of stress - are lexical, or allophonic(p. 6).

3. Amplitude is not used distinctively in any language, and thus is only'allophonic' (p. 7).

4. All languages allow monoconsonantal onsets (p. 7) - mentioned in a contextthat describes how stress is often linked to syllable structure and whether thesyllable is "heavy" or "light".

5. Stressed syllables may have extra phonotactic possibilities, i.e. greatercomplexity, may mark sites for morphological processes, or be anchors forintonational tones (p. 9).

6. The main difference between languages with stress and those with pitch accentis that pitch is the only main distinguishing feature in languages with a pitchaccent system, in contrast to languages with stress, which is correlated withmultiple features. Perhaps this should be obvious, but the difference betweenJapanese pitch accent and English-type stress might not be immediately apparentto language learners without clarification (p. 251).

7. In languages with contrastive length, duration is usually not the mostimportant feature to mark stress (p. 325).

8. Some analyses claim that in some Tupí-Guaraní languages, nasality as anunderlying feature always correlates with stress, so that there would always beat most one underlying nasal in a word, with other surface nasal vowelsresulting from nasal spreading from the stressed vowel (p. 328).

9. Genuine non-stress accent systems seem to be very rare in South Americanlanguages; and this may be true of languages in general as well (p. 359).

10. In some languages, the penultimate or other non-final syllable may bepreferred for tone, since a pitch drop in the final syllable may provide greatercontrast; and spreading a tone over two syllables may make it more prominentthan realizing it only on the final syllable (p. 414).

11. Compound noun stress in Germanic is touched on (p. 442) but, as in manyother works on stress, is not treated in depth.

12. Tone has been found in dialects of German and Dutch (pp. 448-9).

13. Even fully tonal languages like Chinese are included in this survey. BeijingMandarin has a trochaic stress pattern, due to the neutral tone, plus a systemof alternating stress in polysyllabic words (p. 580).

14. Hebrew words are generally stressed on the final syllable … with theexception of children's games; so: kla'fim is 'cards', 'klafim is a 'card game';mono'pol is 'monopoly', mo'nopol is the game 'Monopoly'. This is also happeningto personal names like Yael, and other words in colloquial speech, apparentlyinfluenced by the Yiddish accent (p. 624).

Discussion often draws on data from lesser-known languages, such as Alawa(Australia), Enggano (Indonesia), Siroi (Papua New Guinea), Polabian (WestSlavic, extinct), Bawn (Sino-Tibetan), Murle (Sudan), and Siculo Arabic (extinct).

Part II presents brief profiles of the 511 languages from the StressTyp databaseas of 2009, with source references after each. The geographical areas aresomewhat different from those in part I: Australian, Austronesian, Papua NewGuinea and Irian Jaya, North American, Middle American, South American, Eurasian(all the languages of Europe plus those spoken in India that belong to theProto-Indo-European language family), Asian, and Middle Eastern and African.This part is useful for quick reference on individual languages and languagefamilies.

EVALUATIONIt is hard to imagine any one, or even two or three people, having the expertiseto take on entire chapters of a book like this with sweeping titles like "Asia"and "Europe." Yet the book does an admirable job of what it set out to do. Thebook does not claim completeness, an impossibility given the current state ofdescriptions of accentual systems in many or most of the world's languages,including even some widely studied ones. But it does lay a broad and solidfoundation for descriptions of accentual systems in an impressive number oflanguages, making it a valuable contribution to our understanding of thepossibilities of stress. The book can be considered "theory neutral," making iteasily accessible to linguists working in any framework -- a significant strength.

Being a thick book full of technical data, the volume doesn't lend itself thatwell to cover-to-cover reading; and its main target purchasers are certainlyfirst and foremost university libraries. However, scholars who specialize inprosody and stress in language might consider getting their own copy, sloggingthrough it, and keeping it handy for reference. The rewards of doing so aremany, as suggested by the preceding lists.

An organization based on a combination of geography, region and language familymeans that many unrelated languages are treated in the same chapter, whilespecial concessions had to be made for languages spoken on more than onecontinent, e.g. Arabic could have been included in either or both Asia andAfrica, but was in fact put in a special chapter, the Middle East. However, oncereaders familiarize themselves with the organizational scheme, it is relativelyeasy to find one's way around. The subject index is not complete; for example,"segolate" isn't listed, but this is a minor quibble. One could consider gettingthe electronic edition, or accessing it through a library -- this could solvethe weight and bulk issue, and would have the added advantage of easysearchability. The book has a clean, attractive, easy-to-use format, with only avery few typos spotted -- no mean feat for a work of this scale.

_A Survey of Word Accentual Patterns in the Languages of the World_ might wellbe unrivaled thus as *the* place to begin a study of stress in the world's languages.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERKaren Steffen Chung is an associate professor of English and linguistics inthe foreign language department of National Taiwan University in Taipei,and also teaches English over the radio and Internet. Her areas ofspecialization include phonetics, teaching of pronunciation, and Chinesemorphology. She is the author of _Mandarin Compound Verbs_, which receivedan NTU excellent research award in 2007, and is currently working on a bookon Taiwan English in collaboration with the Institute of Linguistics of theAcademia Sinica, Taipei.

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