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Review of  Phonetics

Reviewer: Kevin Mendousse
Book Title: Phonetics
Book Author: Peter J Roach
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 14.2137

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Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003 21:09:06 +0200
From: Trudy & Kevin Agar-Mendousse
Subject: Phonetics.

Roach, Peter (2001), Phonetics. Oxford University Press, Oxford
Introductions to Language Study.

Reviewed by Kevin Mendousse, University of Auckland (New Zealand) and
University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV, France).


Peter Roach's Phonetics forms part of a series of introductory books to
language study, all of which are organised into the following four sections:
Survey, Readings, References and Glossary.

Its stated purpose is to serve as a complement to academic introductory
texts whose degree of technicality can be quite daunting to the novice
reader. As the series editor Widdowson points out in the preface, it is
presumably "an advantage to have a broad map of the terrain sketched out
before one considers its more specific features on a smaller scale, a
general context in reference to which the detail makes sense" (p. vii). In
that respect, Roach's book is primarily intended for novice students in
phonetics and non-specialists alike.

The Survey section (pp. 1-69) offers a summary overview of the main features
of phonetics, laying out the discipline's general scope, basic concerns,
principles of enquiry and key concepts. The Readings section (pp. 71-97)
serves as a transition to critical reading by quoting short selected texts
from major works in phonetics and providing the reader with insightful
questions as to the how and why of phonetics. The third section, References
(pp. 99-105), offers an annotated list of more specialised readings for a
closer look at each of the Survey chapters, while the fourth and final
section, Glossary (pp. 107-114), indexes key words along with their
definitions and simultaneously cross-references their related concepts.

The Survey is divided into ten chapters, including a paragraph-long
conclusion (Chapter 10). Chapter 1, "The Science of Speech" (pp. 3-10),
begins with a brief account of the speech chain, reviewing the basic
mechanisms involved in the production of speech sounds by the speaker, their
movement through the air in the form of acoustic vibrations and their
reception by the listener. It also provides a rationale for the study of
phonetic transcription and sound systems (vowels and consonants) as well as
for the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) with reference to
the notions of contrast, phoneme and allophone. A revised and updated chart
of the IPA (pp. 8-9) complements the introduction.

In Chapter 2, "Making Speech Sounds" (pp. 11-16), Roach goes on to describe
the breathing system and the vocal tract, covering both laryngeal and
supralaryngeal features. A detailed contextual analysis of the articulatory
processes involved in the production of the word "sand" supplements the
presentation of the aformentioned features while illustrating the need for
their phonetic description and classification. A diagram (p. 16) of the
articulator movements for the production of the same word summarises the
discussion, allowing the reader to see the overall unity beyond the
multiplicity of articulatory events that occur both simultaneously and
successively in speech production.

In Chapter 3, "Classifying Speech Sounds" (pp. 17-24), Roach justifies the
use and need for a taxonomy of sounds (phonemes and allophones alike), which
leads him to outline a general classification of vowels and consonants. The
concept of cardinal vowels and the vocalic features of openness, frontness
and rounding are introduced here, as are the consonantal features of
voicing, place of articulation and manner of articulation along with their
various airstream mechanisms. Diagrams of both the vocalic space (p. 19) and
the place of articulation for consonants (p. 21) lend visual support to the

Chapter 4, "Tone and Tone Languages" (pp. 25-29), deals with those languages
that make distinctive use, through controlled adjustment of the vocal folds,
of pitch variations such as pitch level and/or movement. Specific
characteristics and uses of pitch are surveyed here with particular
reference to lexical and grammatical tones, tone levels and contours,
contextual variations and pitch-accents.

Chapter 5, "Suprasegmentals" (pp. 31-38), broadens the tonal discussion of
Chapter 4 to include other prosodic features like stress, intonation,
rhythm, tempo and voice-quality, while providing a rationale for their study
by highlighting the important part they all play in the communication and
understanding of ideas, emotions, etc.

In Chapter 6, "Acoustics of Speech Sounds" (pp. 39-46), Roach furthers his
investigation of speech sounds to include their spectral definition, showing
how any one segment can be broken down into waveforms of different
frequencies. The reproduction of the acoustic waveforms and spectrograms of
both the word "see" (pp. 40-41) and the sentence "She bought some chairs and
a table" (p. 45) illustrates the explanations. Acoustic notions of
(a)periodicity, amplitude, formant as well as the source-filter theory are
introduced here. In an extension of Chapter 3 and its articulatory account
of speech sounds, Chapter 6 develops the segmental classification of vowels
and consonants (fricatives, plosives, nasals, affricates, approximants) in
relation to their acoustic pattern that can be one of four possible types:
periodic, aperiodic, a mixture of both or silent. A very brief
characterization of the acoustics of the suprasegmental feature of pitch
through fundamental frequency, intensity and duration complements the

Chapter 7, "Sounds in Systems" (pp. 47-51), links phonetics to phonology by
focusing on the contrastive function of speech sounds and showing how
languages differ in what constitutes their phonemic repertoire and/or in the
phonotactic constraints that govern their syllable structure.

Chapter 8, "Connected Speech and Coarticulation" (pp. 53-62), broadens the
phonetic account of individual speech sounds to their analysis in connected
speech where they are no longer seen as discrete and independent sound units
but as a sequence of interacting segments that have potential effects of
assimilation, coarticulation and elision on one another. Three cases of
assimilation are reviewed (assimilation being defined as what happens when
one sound becomes phonetically similar to an adjacent sound), along with a
discussion of the mechanical and biological causes of such processes: (i)
assimilation of voice, (ii) assimilation of place and (iii) assimilation of
manner. Having said that, Roach then moves away from ideas that are
traditionally associated with assimilation like phoneme change or sounds
influencing adjacent sounds, in favour of coarticulation processes known to
have anticipatory and perseverative effects that expand much further than
from just one segment to its neighbour. Finally, with reference to
laboratory findings, Roach argues that elision is not a separate process
from assimilation but rather an extreme result of coarticulation whereby two
sounds are produced so closely in time to each other that in-between sounds
are inaudible but never completely lost nor deleted as far as production is
concerned. There is indeed strong empirical evidence supporting the
underlying presence of articulatory features pertaining to the so-called
"missing segment".

In Chapter 9, "Variation" (pp. 63-68), Roach demonstrates the degree of
variation that can occur within the phonetics and phonology of any one
language as a result of differences such as regional (dialect, accent),
social (status, context, gender), stylistic (communication needs) and age

Chapter 10, "Conclusion" (p. 69), ends the Survey section on a positive note
by emphasizing the living and dynamic side of speech as well as the thriving
and exciting nature of phonetics as a field of study. Roach points to the
wealth of material available, not only in journals and books but also on the
Internet, on any aspect of phonetics, speech research, and pronunciation
teaching as indicative of the relevence of phonetics today.


Roach's Phonetics clearly and accurately lays down the basic concerns,
fundamental units and key concepts in phonetics, while presupposing no prior
knowledge of linguistics. The four clear-cut sections of the book allow for
flexibility in the reading, and the recommended references for each of the
Survey chapters present the interested student with material for further
study and investigation. The excerpts selected from the more specialist
literature and the questions asked in the Readings section are interesting,
relevant and often thought-provoking.

Overall, the book is an insightful work that provides the reader with a
broad overview of the field of phonetics, with sporadic reference to
phonology, while stimulating thought and encouraging both introspection and
reflection through numerous and diverse examples taken from languages across
the world, with a wide range of references to European, African, Asian and
indigenous American languages and dialects.

The writing is always clear, effective and very readable; the explanations
are self-contained, accurate, simple and sometimes humorous but never
simplistic. Symbols and terminology are introduced progressively, as they
are needed, which renders them less daunting to the novice reader and
enables her to see beyond them. Having said that, the glossary is a welcome
addition to an introductory text in phonetics that, necessarily, comprises a
certain amount of jargon.

By avoiding the common pitfall, found in many introductory texts, of
confusing the novice reader at the outset with a mass of new concepts,
terms, notational practises and complex phonetic descriptions and diagrams,
Roach makes his book easily accessible to the target readership, therefore
achieving the objectives stated in the preface. The book should thus serve
as a very useful tool in the context of an introductory class in phonetics.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Kevin Mendousse is currently teaching in the French department at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), and has recently submitted a PhD thesis in linguistics at the University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV, France), where he taught English phonetics and phonology for several years. His main research interests include articulatory and acoustic phonetics, phonological theory and morphophonological representation, speech perception and, more generally, psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology.