LINGUIST List 23.502

Wed Feb 01 2012

Review: Phonetics; Historical Ling. Socioling.: Recasens et al. (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 01-Feb-2012
From: Erin Ament <>
Subject: Experimental phonetics and sound change
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Announced at

EDITORS: Daniel Recasens, Fernando Sánchez Miret; Kenneth J. WirebackTITLE: Experimental phonetics and sound changeSERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Phonetics 05PUBLISHER: Lincom EuropaYEAR: 2010

Erin Ament, Department of English, College of William and Mary

SUMMARYThis is an edited volume of articles based on a workshop on sound change thattook place in Salamanca, Spain in May 2009. The workshop was focused on gaininga better understanding of sound change through the study of articulatory,acoustic, and perceptual data. The majority of the articles combine adiscussion of historical sound changes with experimental data that eithersupports or contradicts the existing historical analyses.

The first article, by Silvia Calamai and Irene Ricci, is titled "Speech rate andarticulatory reduction in Italian alveolar and velar nasal + stop clusters". Itdescribes the use of electropalatography to examine regressive placeassimilation in nasal + stop clusters in Italian. The interaction betweenspeaking rate and degree of coarticulation in these clusters was tested, alongwith the effect of the location of the primary stress in the word, the locationof the cluster (word internal versus across a word boundary), and the voicing ofthe post-nasal stop. The results showed that there was assimilation in allthree places of articulation and that the consonants were indeed produced for ashorter duration in faster speech. Interestingly, the articulation of theconsonants was not as consistently affected by the speaking rate.Speaker-specific strategies regarding the amount and the location of contactduring the stop, particularly for the alveolar clusters were found. Thepresence of these strategies sheds light on the fact that even carefullycontrolled laboratory speech is subject to a high degree of variation based onhow the speakers interpret the instructions given. This raises the issue of theperhaps invalid dichotomy between clear laboratory speech on the one hand andnatural speech on the other. The article was clearly written and easy to follow.

The second article is Chiara Celata's "Rhotic retroflexion in Romance. Acousticdata for an articulation-driven sound change". It investigates the retroflexionof /t(:)r/ clusters in Sicilian. The article states that /t(:)r/ clusters areoften realized as [ʈ(:)ʂ] in spontaneous speech. This paper focuses on theorigin of retroflex consonants in Romance languages as part of a diachronicprocess based on phonetic variability. This is in contrast to the majority ofresearch on retroflexes in these languages which view them as a typologicalphenomena. Five speakers were recorded and acoustic measurements of theduration of the affricate, the intensity of the frication, the spectralcharacteristics of the frication, and the F3 and F4 values of the preceding andfollowing vowels were measured. While the articulatory data is extensive inthis article, the link between this data and the possibility for an articulationbased diachronic change in the cluster is not made completely clear. The authorargues that the cluster changed from a stop-trill combination to aretroflex-fricative combination due primarily to the transformation of the trillto a retroflex. This contrasts with the more assimilation-based proposal ofSorianello & Mancuso (1998). The lack of standard IPA for the Italian examplesis somewhat frustrating, but overall the articulatory data is well presented.

The third article by Juan Felipe García Santos is an updated summary of a bookby the same author in 2002. In "Experimental analysis of some acousticallydriven phonetic changes in Medieval Spanish", the author argues that historicalanalyses of sound changes should be supported with data from current phoneticand acoustic research. The article goes on to detail changes in 16th centuryCastilian Spanish and draws parallels between these historical changes and acurrent change in progress in Castilian palatals. The experimental data on thechange in progress is somewhat hidden in the historical analysis and isaddressed relatively briefly in the article, but the general claim is that theexperimental evidence suggests a single process for the 16th century change of/b/ to /v/ and the current change of /j/ to /x/. Both changes are claimed to bedue to a perceptual change resulting from the shortening of the segments assuggested by A. Alonso (1967-1969).

The fourth article is Daniel Recasens and Aina Espinosa's "A perceptual analysisof the articulatory and acoustic factors triggering dark /l/ vocalization".This article examines the perception of dark /l/ as /w/ in Catalan. The authorslooked at both an articulation-based hypothesis related to the loss of clearalveolar contact and an acoustic-based hypothesis based on the similar F2 valuesof dark /l/ and /w/. While both hypotheses predict the presence of dark /l/word finally and before labials and velars, only the acoustic hypothesispredicts that dark /l/ will also be present before alveolars due to thesimilarity in F2 between /w/ and dark /l/. A combined production and perceptionstudy found that the dark /l/ target was most often perceived as a /w/ when itwas produced with a small amount of alveolar contact and a low F2 value. Thepaper was very clearly written and convincing in its argumentation.

The fifth article is "The effect of word final unstressed high vowels onstressed vowel duration and its consequences for metaphonic diphthongization inSouthern Italian" by Fernando Sánchez Miret. This clearly written paperpresents preliminary results of an experiment focusing on the possible originfor the change of mid-open vowels to diphthongs in Northern Calabrian Italian.This change occurred when the mid-open vowel was followed by an unstressed highvowel. A general claim that long stressed vowels will frequently becomediphthongs is evaluated as an alternative to Schürr's (1936) hypothesis that thediphthongization is due to anticipatory raising and long distance assimilation. The results from three speakers are discussed and the general trend seen inthese speakers is that phonemically long stressed vowels before low unstressed/a/ are shorter than before unstressed /i/, supporting the stress based originfor the sound change.

The sixth article, by Kenneth Wireback, is titled "A reexamination of thepalatalization of Latin /kt/ in the light of phonetic research". In this papera historical account of the palatalization of the Latin /kt/ cluster isreanalyzed with respect to current experimental evidence regarding the gesturaldemands of producing the cluster itself. The author states that historicalaccounts often propose forms that contain the palatal guide /j/, yet formscontaining this segment are largely unattested, making such accountsproblematic. The author argues instead for an account based on gestural blendingand regressive assimilation due to acoustic factors. Several articulationstudies done by others are cited to support this claim. In general, the claimmade by the author about the use of the experimental evidence to help validatehistorical analyses is well taken, but the extensive footnoting and the writingmake the paper somewhat hard to follow.

The seventh and final article is by Marzena Żygis, "On changes in Slavicsibilant systems and their perceptual motivation". The article clearly presentsextensive articulatory, acoustic, and perceptual data about sibilants in severalSlavic languages. The results of these studies show that perceptual basedaccounts do well at explaining the distribution of sibilants in Slaviclanguages. In languages with complex sibilant inventories, (i.e. thosecontaining more than one post-alveolar segment) one of these segments is verylikely to be a retroflex. The author argues that this is because the retroflex/ʂ/ is gesturally and acoustically distinct from /ʃ/ and /ç/ and provides goodevidence in support of this argument. The article ends with an argument for theuse of perceptually-based features, such as sibilant tonality, in thedescription of sibilants to help explain the distribution of these segments in alanguage's phonemic inventory. The article is clearly written and makesexcellent use of several types of experimental data to argue its point.

EVALUATIONThis volume fits well within the current trend in linguistics of usinglaboratory and experimental methods to evaluate, test, and expand upon moreabstract analyses. It also shows the value of working at the intersection ofseveral fields, in this case phonetics, phonology, and historical linguistics.Current work on the phonetics / phonology interface is beginning to challengethe long standing tradition of using careful laboratory speech to testphonological theories due to the difference between laboratory speech andconversational speech. This challenge is supported by the work reported byCalamai and Ricci who note that there was a fair amount of variation amongsttheir speakers even in a laboratory setting. While such variation may beproblematic from the perspective of drawing concrete generalizations aboutlanguage behavior, it serves to highlight why language change happens and theimportance of looking at acoustic data from a number of individuals.

The article by García Santos presents a well stated argument for the role ofacoustic data in evaluating rival theories of historical changes, but thereporting of the data collected by this author leaves something to be desired.In contrast, the article by Recasens and Espinosa and the article by Żygis areexcellent examples of using laboratory techniques to test theories of soundchange. As a whole, the volume is cohesive and shows the growth of experimentalresearch in linguistics and the importance of using multiple approaches in anysort of linguistic analysis. One problem with the volume is the somewhatinconsistent use of IPA in some of the articles, making the arguments hard tofollow if one does not speak with the languages being discussed. Also, forsomeone who is not familiar with the literature on historical sound changes,some of the arguments for specific theories may be hard to follow. However, thepotential for future work using laboratory techniques to aid in historicalanalyses is vast and this volume is a good step in the direction of a moreintegrated approach to linguistic analyses.

REFERENCESAlonso, Amado. 1967-1969. De la pronunciación medieval a la moderna en español.Madrid: Gredos.

Schürr, Friedrich. 1936. Umlaut und Diphthongierung in der Romania. RomanischeForschungen 50: 275-316.

Sorianello, Patrizia & Antonella Mancuso. 1998. Le consonanti retroflesse nelconsentino: analisi preliminare. In Atti delle VIII Giornate di Studio delGruppo di Fonetica Sperimentale, Pisa 18-19 dicembre 1997. Pisa: Edizioni ETS:142-154.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERErin Ament is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics atWilliam and Mary. She is interested in the intersection of experimentalphonetics, language acquisition, and psycholinguistics.

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