LINGUIST List 23.438

Sat Jan 28 2012

Review: Phonology; Phonetics; Cog. Sci.: Clements & Ridouane (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 28-Jan-2012
From: Andre Zampaulo <>
Subject: Where Do Phonological Features Come From?
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Announced at

EDITORS: Clements, G. Nick and Ridouane, Rachid
TITLE: Where Do Phonological Features Come From?SUBTITLE: Cognitive, Physical and Developmental Bases of Distinctive SpeechCategoriesSERIES: Language Faculty and Beyond 6PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

André Zampaulo, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, The Ohio State University

SUMMARYThe edited volume Where Do Phonological Features Come From? presents first anobituary note on the first editor, phonologist G. Nick Clements, and hisoutstanding contributions to research on phonology and the phonetics-phonologyinterface. The book is subsequently divided into five parts: Introduction,General and Cognitive Issues, Acoustic and Articulatory Bases of Features,Extracting Features from the Signal and Features in Phonological Development.

Part I of Where Do Phonological Features Come From? offers the editors' generaloverview of the contents of the volume. Since the early groundbreaking works ofJakobson, Fant & Halle (1952) and Chomsky & Halle (1968), research on featuretheory has centered on discovering the intrinsic characteristics of sounds thatenable speakers to establish phonological contrasts that convey distinctmeanings on the lexical, morphological and grammatical levels. The presentcollection of papers contributes to this search by addressing the mental statusof features, their role in speech production and perception, how their physicalproperties may be measured and what part they play in the development oflanguage. Thus, the answer(s) to the question of 'where do phonological featurescome from?' speak(s) to the core of how they arise in human oral communicationand how speakers cognitively extract, organize and implement them as unitswithin sounds. While these issues are explored from different standpoints --ranging from general linguistics to phonetics and speech sciences and languageacquisition --, the editors are adamant in establishing the principal goal ofthe volume, which is to provide scholars with the most current state of theresearch on feature theory.

Part II focuses on the general and cognitive issues of distinctive features,going beyond their traditional roles in distinguishing words or defining naturalclasses of sound patterns. Current investigation of the cognitive status offeatures offers evidence contrary to the hypothesis that they are stored inspeakers' brains as part of a Universal Grammar; rather, the papers in this partof the volume argue that features are learned and language-specific.

Abigail C. Cohn investigates the conflict between those two viewpoints in thefirst paper, "Features, segments, and the sources of phonological primitives,"by examining their arguments regarding issues such as the nature of phonologicalprimitives, their phonetic implementation, their occurrence in all humanlanguages and their relation to language acquisition. The author reviews work ondistinctive features within classic generative phonology and concludes that itprovides imprecise results. Evidence from language-specific phoneticsdemonstrates certain similarities in the phonetic correlates of features acrosslanguages, but at the same time, it also reveals that features do notnecessarily establish the same phonological categories cross-linguistically. Asfor the role of features in language acquisition, Cohn maintains that speakerscan learn and establish categorical systems out of more gradient ones.

In the second paper, "Feature economy in natural, random, and syntheticinventories," Scott Mackie and Jeff Mielke test Clement's (2003) notion offeature economy (the maximization of the ratio of sounds in an inventory to thefeatures needed to define them) in a large-scale investigation using P-base, adatabase of inventories and sound patterns of 549 languages. Although theresults support Clement's concept of feature economy by suggesting that naturalinventories are indeed more economical, they also reveal that features are notnecessary for an inventory to incur feature economy effects, as de Boer's (2001)agent-based simulations of vowel inventories without features are also shown tobe at least as economical as natural vowel inventories.

Part III features three papers which investigate the acoustic and articulatoryfoundations of distinctive features and present a reflection upon how thesephonological units can be abstracted from physical properties.

The third paper, entitled "Sound systems are shaped by their users: Therecombination of phonetic substance," by Björn Lindblom, Randy Diehl, Sang-HoonPark and Giampiero Salvi, extends previous research carried out under theframework of dispersion theory, according to which languages tend to favorphoneme inventories that maximize acoustic distinctiveness while minimizingarticulatory effort. The authors set out to test the explanatory adequacy ofthis framework regarding the preference of languages for labial, dental/alveolarand velar places of articulation. Through computational experiments centered onthe place of articulation of stop+vowel syllables from diverse languageinventories, these authors are able to determine the perceptual cost, thearticulatory cost and the mode of learning of features. Subsequently, they applysuch constraints to the observed phonetics of stop+vowel inventories and arguethat phonological facts are better explained through user-based accounts ratherthan abstract ones.

Hyunsoon Kim presents acoustic, articulatory and aerodynamic data to investigatethe phonetic implementation of distinctive features in Korean lenis and fortisfricatives /s, s'/ in the fourth paper, "What features underline the /s/ vs./s'/ contrast in Korean? Phonetic and phonological evidence." The author arguesthat these two voiceless segments should be specified for the feature [-spreadglottis] regarding the opening of the glottis, while they are different fromeach other as far as the primary articulator of the tongue blade, i.e. whilelenis /s/ is [-tense], fortis /s'/ is [+tense].

The fifth paper, "Automaticity vs. feature-enhancement in the control ofsegmental F0," by Phil Hoole and Kiyoshi Honda, offers a fine-grainedexamination of enhancement theory (Stevens & Keyser 2010), which argues thatsome features can be enhanced by others that are not necessarily phoneticallyrelated to them. The authors analyze electromyographic data from thecricothyroid muscle in order to investigate the role played by F0 in thefeatures of voicing and vowel height. Regarding the former, results indicatethat the articulation of consonants is what determines the different patterns ofF0, and the articulation of vowels establishes their different pitch patterns.Thus, speakers find themselves in control of choosing whether or not to enhancefeatures, which suggests that these do not represent abstract immutable entities.

The sixth, seventh and eighth papers, which correspond to Part IV of the volume,are concerned with the extraction of features from the signal and the subsequentcategorization of sounds.

Diana Archangeli, Adam Baker and Jeff Mielke present three studies regarding thearticulation and perception of American English /ɹ/ in the sixth paper,"Categorization and features: Evidence from American English /ɹ/." While thefirst study explores the different articulations of this sound, the second studyassesses its perception by native speakers, and the third evaluates theco-articulatory effects in /str/ clusters. The results indicate that speakersare inclined to categorize sounds and extract sound patterns from the signal,though the latter might not always be clear or consistent. The authors alsoargue that these results support the hypothesis that features are learned andemergent in the inventory of speakers and rely upon how these parse acousticdata. Thus, this paper presents evidence against the idea that features areinnately pre-defined.

Bob McMurray, Jennifer S. Cole and Cheyenne Munson contribute the seventh paper,"Features as an emergent product of computing perceptual cues relative toexpectations." This paper, too, is concerned with how speakers are able toextract distinctive features from the signal. The authors put forth a model thatbuilds upon earlier proposals (e.g. Fowler 1984; Gow 2003) and make an argumentfor the idea that the listener, by parsing the data to which s/he is exposed, isthen able to filter out the varying character of sound articulation and toutilize it as relevant information. The authors exemplify this model with a casestudy of vowel-to-vowel co-articulation (V-to-V), which shows that, by parsingthe variable acoustic formant measures of vowels, speakers are able to correctlyidentify vowels and most accurately predict the vowel to appear in the nextsyllable.

In the eighth paper, entitled "Features are phonological transforms of naturalboundaries," Willy Serniclaes presents a different view of how speakerscategorize sounds and extract distinctive features. The author argues thatfeatures are not to be identified at the stable state of the signal, but ratherat the boundaries between sounds, such as in vowel formant transitions or stopbursts. Features represent then contrastive units found in the differencesbetween categories. The author supports this approach by providingpsychoacoustic evidence for the enhanced auditory sensitivity that characterizesthese boundary regions. Moreover, he demonstrates that the perception of voweland consonant place-of-articulation distinctions coincide after rotation of theacoustic space. This indicates that speakers' place-of-articulation perceptionacts in accordance with a 'radial' representation of the vocal tract, withpsychoacoustic boundaries standing as the central reference point.

The relationship between language acquisition and the study of distinctivefeatures is reserved for the final section of the volume (Part V), whichincludes the last three contributions.

In the ninth paper, "Features in child phonology: Inherent, emergent, orartefacts of analysis?," Lise Menn and Marilyn Vihman offer their view on whatthe actual role distinctive features play in child phonology. In tune with mostof the previous papers, the authors argue against the notion that features areinnate and universal units present in all children's minds. According to theiraccount, features are instead inherent in the sense that they represent acohesive system composed of the acoustic-auditory input signal and children'scognitive and articulatory capacities. Features are thus phonetically groundedand emergent during language acquisition, forming part of a child's mentalgrammar as s/he increases her/his use of the language over time.

Alejandrina Cristià, Amanda Seidl and Alexander L. Francis contribute the tenthpaper, "Phonological features in infancy," in which they carry out experimentswith groups of 7-8-month-old and 14-month-old infants in order to address theavailability of features to the young learner and how these features help shapehuman language. Using the Headturn Preference method, the authors find that whenfeatures are grouped into natural classes, they end up helping the learningexperience and the creation of sound patterns. Additionally, children are ableto identify the operating features in their language when they are between 8 and14 months old. These results provide evidence that distinctive features emergefrom an interaction of cognitive patterns during first language acquisition andare thus not universally innate.

In the eleventh and final paper, "Acoustic cues to stop-coda voicing contrastsin the speech of 2-3-year-olds learning American English," StefanieShattuck-Hufnagel, Katherine Demuth, Helen M. Hanson and Kenneth N. Stevensapproach the variation in the production and perception of cues by children andthe possibly different use of features that they carry out in comparison withadults. By analyzing two children's use of acoustic cues to voicing contrast inword-final stops, the authors find a higher occurrence of epenthetic vowelsafter voiced rather than voiceless codas, which indicates that a possible lackof total gesture control, planning inability and non-adult patterns of enhancingfeature cues by children may still be present in their production of stops, eventhough adult listeners are able to filter and recognize them as such.

EVALUATIONThe compilation of scholarly work in ''Where Do Phonological Features Come From?''meets the objective that its editors set out, by establishing where the researchon feature theory stands nowadays. Relying on accounts from general linguisticsto speech production and perception and language acquisition, itsmulti-perspective nature renders it one of the richest contributions yet for ourunderstanding of the foundations of distinctive features. For this sole reason,it surely belongs in every phonologist's scholarly collection and researchuniversities' libraries around the world.

From the pioneering work of classical generative phonology to more recentpublications such as Clements & Hume (1995), Mielke (2008) and Clements (2009),feature theory has always attempted to offer an explanation for the way soundsare extracted from the acoustic signal and how their composing units areorganized and stored in the brains of language users, so as to enableinter-speaker oral communication. The present volume speaks to the core of thisissue. It provides a solid set of groundbreaking papers of which the underlyingthesis builds upon experimental data to reveal that, rather than universallyinnate, features are emergent and learned through the course of languageacquisition, in the interplay between sound articulation and the perception ofthe acoustic signal.

The excellent scientific quality of the volume's papers reveals differentdirections for further research within the field. The role of distinctivefeatures in sound and language change represents one of the interface areas towhich current research on feature theory can contribute and is nonethelessabsent in this volume. Assuming that sound variation and change is pervasive andinherent in natural human languages, what actual role do emergent phonologicalfeatures play in the constant (re)shaping of sound patterns? If features, as theunits of which sounds are composed, develop from the phonetics of soundarticulation and perception during inter-speaker oral communication, would'feature change' be a more revealing term than 'sound change'? While research onfeature theory continues to advance, it provides us with better tools tounderstand the components of the linguistic knowledge generated and stored inthe brains of language users. The volume under review represents an excellentguide to such tools and the state of our knowledge on these questions today.

REFERENCESde Boer, Bart. 2001. The origins of vowel systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clements, G. Nick. 2003. Feature economy in sound systems. Phonology 20:287-333.

Clements, G. Nick. 2009. The role of features in speech sound inventories. In E.Raimy & C. Cairns (eds.), Contemporary views on architecture and representationsin Phonological Theory, 19-68. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Clements, G. Nick & Elizabeth V. Hume. 1995. The internal organization of speechsounds. In J. Goldsmith (ed.), The Handbook of Phonological Theory, 245-306.Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Chomsky, Noam & Morris Halle. 1968. The sound pattern of English. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press.

Fowler, Carol A. 1984. Segmentation of coarticulated speech in perception.Perception & Psychophysics, 36:359-368.

Gow, David W. 2003. Feature parsing: Feature cue mapping in spoken wordrecognition. Perception & Psychophysics, 65:575-590.

Jakobson, Roman C., Gunnar M. Fant & Morris Halle. 1952. Preliminaries to speechanalysis: The distinctive features and their correlates. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mielke, Jeff. 2008. The emergence of distinctive features. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Stevens, Kenneth & Samuel J. Keyser. 2010. Quantal theory, enhancement, andoverlap. Journal of Phonetics 38:10-19.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERAndré Zampaulo is a Ph.D. candidate in Spanish and Portuguese Linguisticsat The Ohio State University specializing in phonetics & phonology andlanguage change, with a particular interest in the evolutionary pathways ofthe Spanish and Portuguese sound systems. He expects to defend hisdissertation on the evolution of palatal consonants in those languages byspring 2013.

Page Updated: 28-Jan-2012