LINGUIST List 30.119

Wed Jan 09 2019

Review: Spanish; Phonetics; Phonology: Clegg, Fails (2017)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 02-Jul-2018
From: Nate Maddux <>
Subject: Manual de fonética y fonología españolas
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: J. Halvor Clegg
AUTHOR: Willis C. Fails
TITLE: Manual de fonética y fonología españolas
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Introductions to Spanish Language and Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Nate Maddux, University of Wisconsin - Rock County


This twenty-one-chapter manual, the latest to hit an already saturated market of Spanish phonology handbooks, offers a neat 500 pages divided into six major sections. It is a visually rich tome, with no fewer than 499 figures and tables. Clegg and Fails bring to the project their combined seven decades of teaching experience in Spanish linguistics at Brigham Young University, and the book is apparently a polished version of a previously unpublished manual they have been using in their department in recent years.

The authors state their goal explicitly: the improvement of Spanish second-language (L2) pronunciation in anglophone students facilitated by a deepened understanding of the potential influence or transfer effects of their English L1 phonology. Such a statement sets this manual apart from the more theoretical resources; yet this new offering is not exclusively an applied one, either. The text assumes no background knowledge in linguistics or Spanish phonetics or phonology, and it holds central the notion that learner pronunciation and comprehension come from a robust comprehension of the target language sound system, rather than from production practice and imitation alone.

The order of chapters reflect the generally accepted progression of knowledge within the discipline, building on sound production and perception before addressing subconscious representations of these sounds, and the interplay of Spanish vocalic and consonant segments with one another and with suprasegmental aspects of language. Each chapter is buttressed by a well-developed set of review questions, a list of key terms, several audio exercises available on a companion website, and a supplemental bibliography (in lieu of an appendix of works cited). The publisher also offers online supplements like model syllabi and sample exams.

The first section in the manual contains four chapters and takes the reader through human communication, the field of linguistics, the subfields of phonetics and phonology, and human writing systems. Chapter 1 begins at the beginning: human communication, social contexts in which it occurs, verbal and non-verbal modalities, and the role of encoding and decoding within these. This brief chapter situates verbal communication as a uniquely human endeavor and lays the groundwork for the rest of the manual.

Chapter 2, the requisite “Saussure & Chomsky” hat tip, lays out the field of linguistics and its subfields. It dedicates five pages to characteristics of Spanish syntax (sentence diagrams and all) and just as many to the morphological principles of the language.
Chapter 3 presents a broad-strokes primer in phonetics and phonology: segments, the phases of sound production, syllabification, and the phonological concepts of contrast, minimal pairs, allophonic distribution, and phonotactics.

Chapter 4 dedicates eighteen pages to human writing systems and the role of sound in the historic development of symbolic, and later syllabic, consonant, and phonemic orthographic systems for expressing language.

The second major section begins with articulatory phonetics, winds its way through the physiology of speech and, in departing from many Spanish phonetics texts currently available, offers in-depth chapters on the transmission and reception of sound. Chapter 5 explores articulatory phonetics. This is where the visual richness and thoroughness of Clegg and Fails’ manual becomes apparent. This chapter includes thirty figures and illustrations, and the chapter-final list of key terms enumerates over 75 items.

Chapter 6 offers two dozen pages on acoustic phonetics, and it is here that this manual again distinguishes itself as innovative, thorough, and well organized, this time with a primer on sound waves, instrumental analysis using spectrogram tools, and analytical approaches to waveforms and formants.

Chapter 7 briefly acquaints the student with auditory phonetics. This reviewer learned enough about the inner ear to pass as an amateur otolaryngologist. Auricular anatomy is followed by an explanation of the process of sound perception and how we humans identify and categorize the sounds we hear.

The manual’s third major section encompasses three chapters on Spanish phonology. Here the chapter-final exercises include transcription exercises. Chapter 8 illustrates relationships between phonemes, focusing on opposition and contrast based on place and manner of articulation, and it introduces the concept of minimal pairs to demonstrate this. Here the idea of neutralization is also included, and the chapter offers brief explanations of ‘seseo’ and ‘yeímo’ as diachronic examples of the phenomenon. The chapter finishes with an inventory and relative frequency profile of all Spanish phonemes. The chapter touches on phonetic notation by offering a chart of symbols for 32 consonant phonemes, imposing interdental and dental diacritics with no accompanying explanation, and favoring non-IPA symbols for the palatal affricate phonemes.

Chapter 9 touches on allophonic distribution and the formal expression of phonological rules, and from here the authors lay out seven rules of Spanish phonology that exemplify complementary distribution. The chapter offers two additional rules that illustrate free variation in Spanish (rhotics, in both cases).

Chapter 10 is dedicated to phonotactics, taking the reader through syllable structure, phonotactic restrictions affecting Spanish consonants, permissible phoneme sequences, and restrictions in the language.

Section four offers two chapters dedicated solely to vowels and the vocalic inventory of Spanish. In this section and beyond, small but useful “Pistas pedagógicas” and “Consejos prácticos” sections begin to appear, intercalated within the text when dealing with specific sounds. Chapter 11 explores the phonological features and phonetic characteristics of Spanish vowels, and the processes of devoicing and nasalization. The chapter dedicates twelve of its forty pages to comparing the vocalic systems of Spanish and English. Instructors desiring a deeper look at phonological theory may observe the absence of any treatment of distinctive features in this or the following six chapters, à la Guitart (2004).

Chapter 12 inventories possible vowel sequences, focusing on the concepts of fusion at word boundaries, diphthongs and triphthongs, syneresis and synalepha, and hiatus.

Spanish consonants are the focus of fifth and penultimate section of the manual, which is divided into five chapters dealing with Spanish consonants organized as follows: stops, fricatives and affricates, nasals, laterals and rhotics, and consonant sequences. The section details each class of sounds with accompanying formal rules, waveform and sonogram images, and sagittal drawings of the buccal cavity noting the position of articulators corresponding to the production each consonant. For safe measure, photographs of the human mouth during sound production are also included in several of the chapters.

Chapter 13 examines Spanish stops and their allophonic variants and features a dozen well-organized tables illustrating the relationship between orthographic and phonetic representations of these sounds, as well as the phonotactic contexts in which they may occur. It is here that the text begins to address regional variation, dedicating several half-page sections to varying realizations of /d, b, g/ in the Hispanophone world.

In Chapter 14 the authors turn to Spanish fricatives and affricates, briefly mentioning ‘seseo’ (and, later in the chapter, ‘distinción’) and ‘yeísmo’ before focusing on general allophonic characteristics and phonotactic considerations of the segments in each group. Here the reader encounters helpful cross-section illustrations of articulators in action, and the dozen spectogram visualizations of words containing the allophonic variants of interest.

The relatively brief Chapter 15 addresses Spanish nasal phonemes and allophones, with robust table illustrating the rules of distribution of the language’s seven allophones of the nasal archphoneme.

Lateral and vibrant consonants are the central theme of Chapter 16, and again the manual’s wealth of images and its comprehensiveness of the manual are striking, or exhausting, depending on one’s perspective. Axial plane illustrations of the coronal and alveolar areas of the mouth assist the reader in differentiating the English [l] from its Spanish counterpart. Also noteworthy is the chapter’s flicker of an attempt to teach anglophone student how to produce the Spanish multiple vibrant [r] by enlisting the analogy of a piece of paper flapping in the wind.

Chapter 17 delves into sequences of consonants. It begins by explaining the collapse of identical segments, with the exception of laterals and nasals, and how this differs from the resultant gemination of these latter two classes. The chapter also explores tautosyllabic syllable onsets and codas, and heterosyllabic sequences occurring within words.

The sixth and final section concludes the manual with four chapters on suprasegmental phonology in Spanish. Chapter 18 looks at syllable structure and begins with a brief section attempting to define it along both structuralist and generativist lines. Blink and you will miss the Chomsky & Halle reference tucked in for good measure. The bulk of the chapter addresses syllable anatomy and typology, with a useful section comparing canonical syllable structure in Spanish and English. The chapter boasts an eight-page bootcamp aimed at teaching resyllabification to non-native speakers.

Chapter 19 deals with syllable stress, and it opens with brief theoretical considerations before presenting a comparison of Spanish and English stress patterns to illustrate how pitch, duration, and intensity can indicate lexical stress. After a few pages on positions of stressed syllables in Spanish, and four pages sorting the language’s parts of speech according to (a)tonicity, the chapter concludes with a highly-anticipated explanation of the rules of orthographic accent use.

Chapter 20 handles the topics of segmental and syllabic duration, Spanish and English rhythm, and syllable-, word- and sentence-level emphasis in brief but adequate fashion.

Chapter 21 is dedicated to intonation patterns. The first fifteen pages aim to establish the theoretical groundwork of intonation and its various written representations. The latter half of the chapter provides a detailed schema of intonation patterns in Spanish declarative, imperative and interrogative utterances, with brief mention of regional variation.


Clegg and Fail’s book contributes perhaps the most complete resource on Spanish phonetics and phonology in the target language to date. In an already saturated market of similar offerings, there is an inevitable curiosity about the book’s value proposition, and its worth is apparent in the text’s visual richness, innovative approach to presenting information graphically, and exhaustive treatment of what some may consider ancillary topics like the history of human writing systems or the rules of the orthographic accent in Spanish. Chapters 12 and 17, on vowel and consonant sequences, respectively, present a refreshingly well-developed treatment of a subject that is typically offered a handful of pages in other texts. Also unique is the book’s reliance on spectrogram images in its categorization of sounds, complemented by a twenty-page subsection on the interpretation of waveforms and formants in Chapter 6 (“La fonetica acústica”).

Upon revisiting the goals of Clegg and Fails laid out in the book’s introductory pages, this reviewer retains a healthy skepticism as to whether the design of the book is truly in the service of the goal of nearer-native pronunciation on the part of the anglophone student. Transfer effects per se are not explicitly addressed anywhere in the manual, and the comparisons between English and Spanish are no more abundant or elucidated here than in Hualde (2005), for example. Hualde enthusiasts will also note the absence of any treatment of Spanish morpho-phonological alternations, to which the the earlier text dedicated a full chapter.

The manual omits considerations of regional variation almost entirely. Here again, proponents of texts like Hualde’s, or of Hammond (2001), may lament this limited approach taken in Manual de fonética y fonología españolas. In comparison, Schwegler et al. (2010) offer three entire, final chapters on regional variation. It strikes this reviewer that even a rudimentary understanding of synchronic variation in Spanish would be in the service of improved pronunciation in the language by non-native speakers.

Devotees of Schwegler et al.’s (2010) Fonética y fonología españolas, 4/e will note the absence of a glossary in this manual. The book attempts to compensate with a set of chapter-final lists of undefined key terms, often entailing several dozen concepts. The manual also reclaims some turf as a true course text with its chapter-final review questions, sets of pronunciation exercises (with digital supplement), phonetic transcription exercises in Chapters 8 and 9, and a well-developed list of suggested further reading in several of the early chapters. A bibliography is absent at the end of the manual, but the chapters that include citations offer a works cited list on the final page of the chapter.

The sheer breadth of topics surveyed in Manual de fonética y fonología españolas ensures that its use as a text for a semester course will require of the instructor a healthy selectiveness. This behemoth will be no easier to cram into fifteen weeks than Guitart’s Sonido y sentido (2004), but across a year-long sequence, or simply as a supplement and a reference, Clegg and Fails’ work shines. It presents a well-organized, visually rich, and exhaustive addition to the Spanish phonetics and phonology bibliography, and its contribution is noteworthy.


Guitart, Jorge. 2004. Sonido y sentido: Teoría y práctica de la pronunciación del español. Georgetown: Georgetown University Press.

Hammond, Robert. 2001. The Sounds of Spanish: Analysis and Application. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.

Hualde, José. 2005. The Sounds of Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schwegler, Armin, Juergen Kempff, and Ana Ameal-Guerra. 2010. Fonética y fonología españolas, 4/e. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Nate Maddux is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. His research interests include language contact, phonetic and phonological approaches to Heritage Spanish in the U.S., and Kichwa-Spanish contact in the Ecuadorian Andes.

Page Updated: 09-Jan-2019