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Review of  Prosodic Features and Prosodic Structure

Reviewer: David Deterding
Book Title: Prosodic Features and Prosodic Structure
Book Author: Anthony Fox
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 14.1288

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Date: Sun, 4 May 2003 20:31:10 +0800
From: David Deterding
Subject: Prosodic Features and Prosodic Structure: The Phonology of Suprasegmentals

Fox, Anthony (2002) Prosodic Features and Prosodic Structure: The
Phonology of Suprasegmentals, Oxford University Press, paperback ed.
[The hardback edition was published in 2000.]

David Deterding, NIE/NTU, Singapore

[The hardback edition was originally announced in issue 11.1566, and
the paperback edition in issue 13.3260 --Eds.]


After a brief introductory chapter outlining the phonological basis,
phonetic basis and scope of prosody, this book consists of four main
chapters, analysing length, accent, tone, and intonation, before the
final chapter considers the structure of prosody.

The chapter on length, at 102 pages the longest of the book, considers
in some detail the length of vowels and consonants in a variety of
languages, including Latin, Greek, German, French, English, Japanese
and Estonian, and concludes that patterns of compensatory lengthening
are best analysed at the syllabic level, which explains why the
occurrence of long vowels and geminate consonants is in fact a prosodic
issue. As with all areas that are covered in this book, there is
extensive discussion of the work of traditional scholars, particularly
Trubetzkoy and others from the Prague School, so evaluation of more
recent models such as autosegmental phonology is prefaced with a solid
foundation of earlier scholarship.

In connection with length, rhythm is considered in some detail, as it
is claimed to have a vital role in determining the length of segments.
Even though Fox reports (p.88) that experimental evidence has failed to
support the idea of rhythmic isochrony, he maintains that an underlying
rhythmic beat, which may be based on the syllable, the mora, or the
foot, exists at the perceptual level.

Chapter 3 considers accent, both at the word level and the sentence
level. Many models have suggested multiple levels of accentuation, so
that a phrase such as 'elevator operator' has been analysed by some
scholars with three degrees of stress in addition to the unstressed
level (p.145), and metrical phonology with its iterative allocation of
stress proposes in principle no limit to the number of levels. But Fox
concludes that such multiple degrees of prominence are not justified,
and only two levels are needed: Level 1 accent, which is governed by
rhythm, and Level 2 accent, which is equivalent to the intonational
nucleus. Furthermore, in a language such as French where there is no
rhythmical contrast between syllables, only a single level of
accentuation is needed, a Level 2 accent in Fox's terms (p.147), and
the same applies to Japanese, where the pitch-accent provides for a
single fixed falling pitch pattern following a high pitch (p.149).

In Chapter 4, the nature of tone in a variety of languages is
considered in an attempt to derive a common framework that encompasses
both the tones of African languages such Igbo, Efik and Mende, which
can be represented in terms of sequences of level tones, and those of
East Asian languages such as (Mandarin) Chinese and Cantonese that
cannot be represented so well in terms of level tones and are best
analysed as contours. Fox concludes that the domain of tone is
generally the syllable, though sometimes it is the foot as well
(p.267), and that autosegmental phonology provides the best framework
for the representation of tone.

The nature of tonal accents in languages such as Swedish and Serbo-
Croat is also considered in some detail, and an attempt is made to
provide a classification of all languages into fours categories
(p.262): those with bound accent, such as English; those with partially
free accent, such as Swedish and Serbo-Croat; those with free accent,
such as Japanese; and true tone languages, such as Chinese and Igbo.

Chapter 5 covers intonation, considering in some detail the debate
between a representation in terms of levels, as favoured by such
American linguists as Pike and Hockett, and the use of complete pitch
configurations, as adopted by British linguists such as Kingdon,
Palmer, and O'Connor and Arnold. Fox by and large comes down in favour
of the British model, for otherwise how can a pitch sequence such as
241 be seen as similar to 231 but with a greater pitch excursion

Of modern approaches to intonation, most space is given to
Pierrehumbert's model which decomposes the intonational contour into
separate parts, including H and L pitch-accents, phrase accents, and
boundary tones, though Fox suggests that there is insufficient evidence
to justify all these three separate components (p.306).

The chapter on intonation includes some consideration of the nature of
declination, and also features such as paratones that extend beyond a
single intonation unit and encompass a complete utterance. Finally, an
attempt is made to derive a universal typology of intonation, involving
envelope features that determine the height and range of the pitch
contour, prominence features which serve to highlight particular points
in the utterance, and modality features that distinguish contours such
as rise and fall.

The last chapter considers the structure of prosody and compares
various modals. It is concluded that a hierarchical modal is
essential, though the number of tiers in the hierarchy will vary from
language to language. For example, though the syllable may be
universal, only some languages may need to make reference to the mora.

Optimality Theory is briefly considered in the final chapter but not in
much detail because the coverage of the book is focused "on the nature
of the structure itself rather then on the mechanisms whereby it might
be specified" (p.333), which seems to suggest that Optimality Theory
can only contribute to the representational mechanisms rather than the
nature of prosody.

Strictly binary representations are also dismissed, as the rhythmic
structure of a word such as 'happily' is best analysed as ((s) w w)
with no bracketing for the two weak nodes (p.353), for Fox claims that
the insistence on binary-branching creates a "spurious unit" in order
to deal with two final unstressed syllables (p.357).


This book has a rather classical feel to it, in two senses of the word:
first, it has substantial analysis of Latin, especially in the chapter
on length; and second, there are extensive references to the work of
traditional linguists, especially those from the Prague School such as
Trubetzkoy. In fact, the entry for 'Prague School' is the longest in
the index, with 16 separate entries, 3 of them to a range of pages.

Now there is, of course, nothing wrong with reference to Latin,
especially as the details of its metre and length of segments are
fairly well known and so can contribute significantly to our
understanding of these issues. Furthermore, there is certainly still
much that we can learn from the emphasis on paradigmatic contrasts that
was central to the work of the Prague School linguists, even if it does
seem odd that there is nearly half a page (p.181) explaining why
Trubetzkoy had little to say on tone, and a further paragraph (p.277)
discussing why he did not have very much to say about intonation.

However, despite this somewhat old-fashioned ring to the book, it does
succeed quite effectively in providing a solid foundation for the
analysis of prosodic structure, so that when the focus proceeds to more
recent models, such as metrical theory, autosegmental phonology and
Pierrehumbert's model of intonation, the discussion takes place within
the context of a solid theoretical grounding.

The dismissal of one modern model of phonology, Optimality Theory (OT),
on the basis that it merely contributes a mechanism for representing
the structure, will not meet with the agreement of everyone, for surely
the form of OT constraints and their relative ordering in different
dialects and languages make some interesting claims about the nature of
phonology itself. Furthermore, OT would seem to have quite a lot to
say about accent placement (see, for example, Hammond, 1999), so maybe
it is a pity that more reference is not made to the contributions of OT
in this respect. But it is certainly true that Fox is not alone in
regarding OT as less valuable than other recent models of phonology,
and his careful discussion of other recent phonological models is both
informative and thoughtfully presented.

Although the model of intonation proposed by Pierrehumbert (1980) is
accorded considerably more attention than OT, there are some criticisms
of it, for example that the way that it breaks down the pitch contour
into three components, namely pitch-accents, phrases accent, and
boundary tones, is indeterminate and not fully justified (p.305). Fox
then goes on to suggest that there are problems even when the maximal
L+H* L H% pattern is used for the description of a pitch contour,
partly because this entire pattern needs sometimes to be repeated in
the intonational head of an utterance such as "but it / certainly /
couldn't be / animal". But the text (p.303) already admits that it is
not clear whether an example such as this should be regarded as more
than one intonation unit or not, and if it is analysed as more than one
unit, surely Pierrehumbert's model can handle it quite well?
Furthermore, if one allows intermediate units of the kind proposed in
Pierrehumbert and Hirschberg (1990), surely such partially-linked
intonation patterns are actually handled rather well by the model?
Finally, even if it is true that the decomposition of intonational
contours into three separate parts is not always fully justified, the
basic principle of breaking down the intonation contour into distinct
components may still be sound, as it can successfully deal with the
problem of a double tonic (p.319), and maybe Fox does not give
sufficient credit for this.

It is in keeping with the Prague School emphasis on paradigmatic
contrasts that the chapter on length is the longest, though it remains
somewhat surprising for a book on prosody that the chapter on
intonation is the shortest (60 pages) of the four main chapters. The
material in Chapter 5 is concerned almost entirely with the structure
and representation of intonation and makes little reference to the
context or meaning of various intonational patterns, and the only
references (pp. 309 & 316) to the discourse-related work of Brazil
(1997) concern the analysis of key, which is maybe a pity as Brazil
made many overall contributions to the description of intonation.
However, this relative absence of consideration of the context and
meaning of intonation should not detract from the value of the careful
discussion and evaluation of the different ways of representing it and
the lucid overview of the debate between pitch levels and whole pitch

In one other reflection of the traditional flavour of this book, there
is an almost complete absence of any acoustic data. The statement
(p.88) that experimental results fail to confirm perceptual judgements
of rhythm is unfortunately no longer quite true, as various recent
works have reported that distinct rhythmic differences between
languages can in fact be measured (eg Ramus et al,1999; Low et al,
2000). Now, one cannot blame Fox for failing to refer to these recent
papers, as his text was written before they were published, but
reference to the detailed measurements of Couper-Kuhlen (1993) might
have been valuable. For example, Fox observes (p.169) that speech does
not exhibit the complex simultaneous rhythmic beats found in music, but
Couper-Kuhlen does report overlapping coexisting rhythmic chains in her
meticulous analysis of the rhythm of conversational speech.

In line with the absence of any acoustic data, there are no acoustic
pitch plots, which is a pity, as real plots of pitch movements can add
substance to discussion of the nature and structure both of tone and of
intonation. Fox reports (p.183) that though the movements of pitch can
easily be plotted, "this apparent phonetic simplicity is,
paradoxically, a source of difficulty in the phonological analysis of
tone." While this does of course justify the absence of pitch plots,
it would be that much more credible if some examples were included of
apparently straightforward pitch plots that are hard to interpret

Despite the absence of acoustic data to illustrate the issues under
discussion, the text is always clear, and there is an obvious careful
attention to detail. There are occasional lapses, such as the claim
(p.229) that assimilation may involve "the replacement of a 1st tone by
a 2nd tone in Mandarin Chinese when followed by a 1st or 4th tone",
while the relevant figure (p.197) actually shows something entirely
different, with the tonal sequence 1 2 4 becoming 1 1 4. But such
oversights are very rare, and overall the clarity of the presentation
is admirable.

This book therefore provides a highly valuable and thoughtful overview
of the structure of prosody, discussing a number of modern phonological
models on the solid foundation of traditional scholarship, with an
impressive analysis of prosodic issues in a wide range of different
languages. The presentation is always lucid and the analysis always
carefully presented, even if not everyone will concur with some of the
conclusions. This book therefore does offer an excellent contribution
to an understanding of the nature and representation of prosody which
many readers will find exceptionally useful.


Brazil, D (1997) The Communicative Value of Intonation in English.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Couper-Kuhlen, E (1993) English Speech Rhythm: Form and Function in
Every-day Verbal Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hammond, M (1999) The Phonology of English: A Prosodic-Theoretic
Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Low E L, Grabe E, & Nolan F (2000) 'Quantitative characterizations of
speech rhythm: syllable-timing in Singapore English' Language and
Speech 43(4), 377-401.

Pierrehumbert J (1980) The Phonology and Phonetics of English
Intonation. PhD Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge MA.

Pierrehumbert, J & Hirschberg, J (1990) The meaning of intonational
contours in the interpretation of Discourse. In P R Cohen, J Morgan & M
E Pollack (eds) Intentions in Communication, Cambridge MA: MIT Press,

Ramus F, Nespor M & Mehler J (1999) 'Correlates of speech rhythm in the
speech signal', Cognition, 72, 1-28.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER David Deterding is an Associate Professor at NIE/NTU, Singapore, where he teaches phonetics, syntax, and translation.