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Review of  Phonetic Data Analysis

Reviewer: Peter Unseth
Book Title: Phonetic Data Analysis
Book Author: Sorry, No Book Author Data Available!
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 15.839

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Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 20:02:38 -0500
From: Peter Unseth
Subject: Phonetic Data Analysis

AUTHOR: Ladefoged, Peter
TITLE: Phonetic Data Analysis
SUBTITLE: An Introduction to Fieldwork and Instrumental Techniques
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2003

Peter Unseth, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics and SIL, Intl.


Ladefoged is uniquely qualified to write such a book on collecting and
analyzing phonetic data. He is rightfully famous as a phonetician,
known both for his laboratory work and for doing fieldwork on site in
dozens of minority languages around the world. The book will be useful
for both those who work in highly equipped laboratories and those who
travel to remote parts of the world, as he gives suggestions ranging
from the use of MRI technology to old-fashioned palatography done by
painting powdered charcoal on the tongue.

The book has chapters that address how to study different types of
phonetic problems, with an introductory chapter on how to record data
and a coda chapter on equipping a phonetics laboratory and what to do
with our data after field work. At the end of each chapter (for
chapters 2-7) is a short list of sources for additional reading on the

As a special added bonus, at intervals Ladefoged includes a couple dozen
amusing anecdotes from his career, placed in boxes to separate them from
the text. These cover everything from cultural blunders & successes to
his role as a consultant for the production of the film "My Fair Lady".
These entertain and subtly inform the reader, but also show how widely
Ladefoged has traveled and worked.

Chapter 1- Recording the sounds of a language
The first chapter is a general introduction on how to do phonetic field
work: selecting what sounds to record, choosing speakers to record, how
to use microphones (results can often be improved by careful
techniques), taking written notes, and a final section which reminds
readers about statistics, such as gathering enough utterances from
enough speakers.

Chapter 2- Finding the places of articulation.
This chapter deals with a fairly straightforward phonetic problem. As
with all of his chapters, he begins with the simplest techniques and
proceeds to the more complex. He starts with photography and basic
palatography, then proceeds to "advanced palatography", involving making
a plaster cast of the speaker's palate. The chapter concludes with
dynamic electropalatography, something that can only be done in a lab.

Chapter 3- Aerodynamic investigation
Ladefoged explains how to measure nasal and oral airflow and even
subglottal airflow, the latter requiring qualified medical assistance.
Again, his practical explanations of the techniques, photographs of each
apparatus in use, and discussion of the results give most readers a
clear sense of understanding and a feeling that they could go out and
begin practicing the technique ("practice" in the sense of learn by

Chapter 4- Pitch, loudness and length
This chapter, like those that follow, focuses on discussing the
measurements of the data that has been gathered, since they are
concerned with the analysis of digitized sound, data that can be
gathered with a microphone.

He begins by discussing the measurement of pitch, a topic that we
naively assume a computer can do for us flawlessly, "no room for human
error here." However, Ladefoged brings us back to reality by explaining
the potential errors made by computer software in measuring pitch, even
showing how manual manipulation can sometimes be used to overcome
certain software problems. He then steps out of the "phonetic" mode
briefly and gives some welcome "phonological considerations".

Chapter 5- Characterizing vowels
Readers are introduced to some of the problems of measuring and
analyzing formants, a topic with great depths of complexity. He
stresses the importance of carefully choosing criteria to be used in
measuring and following these consistently, these steps are particularly
important for languages which are new to the investigator. The
discussion of vowel formants is the most extended technical part of the
book and Ladefoged even suggests outside reading, making suggestions
both in the text and at the end of the chapter. However, even if
readers have only this chapter, and no additional information on
analyzing vowels, they will be able to perform some useful measurements
of the acoustic characteristics of vowels.

Chapter 6- Acoustic analysis of consonants
Again, as he did for chapter 5 about measuring vowels, Ladefoged reminds
readers to develop and use a consistent set of criteria in measuring
sounds, e.g. whether to include the time of aspiration with the
consonant: "devise a plan, write it down, keep to it." There are
sections on different types of consonants, e.g. "nasals, laterals,
approximants, and trills", a section on "spectrograms and places of
articulation", etc. I would have liked to see some mention of the
specific issues related to affricates, implosives, and ejectives.

Chapter 7- Acoustic analysis of phonation types
In his chapter on phonation types, he shows the acoustic characteristics
of breathy, creaky, and modal voice, consistently distinguishing these
being a challenge for many phoneticians' ears. He stresses the
importance of comparing utterances with comparable pitch, vowel quality,
and stress, a point that has been overlooked by some.

Chapter 8- Coda
This last chapter is a mix of different practical matters: remember to
pack plenty of cleaning supplies for palatography, a reminder to boil
drinking water, encouragement to try exotic meats, a suggestion to take
duct tape and a spare flashlight, etc. He also discusses more
innovative methods for viewing the speech mechanism: EMA
(Electromagnetic Midsagittal Articulography, MRI (Magnetic Resonance
Imaging) and ultrasound. He concludes by giving a list of suggested
equipment for a basic phonetics laboratory.


The book is substantive enough for experienced phoneticians, but
accessible enough for students. I expect to use the book to guide me in
my own phonetic research plus plan to assign readings to my phonetics

Ladefoged warns those who are too fascinated by computers that acoustic
analyses of consonants are often not as helpful for many studies as
palatography. I heartily agree, having recently read a detailed and
exclusively acoustic study of the possible change of the point of
articulation for historical palatal stops across dialects of a language.
Some simple palatograms would have shed important light on the topic.

The chapters are uneven in their level of technical detail, related to
the complexity of the topic (though not uneven in their quality). The
earlier chapters, e.g. chapter 2 "Finding the places of articulation"
contain relatively more discussion of the techniques used to gather the
data. The later chapters, e.g. chapter 5 "Characterizing vowels",
focus on the complexity of measuring and interpreting the data. This
difference in complexity is generally appropriate for each topic, but I
noticed some abrupt changes from an almost conversational style of
writing to a dense technical style.

The book is meant to be a manual for phoneticians, not a discussion of
theoretical issues in phonetics. Therefore, Ladefoged makes almost no
references to the literature, eliminating the need for a bibliography at
the end.

The reviewer is a member of the faculty of the Graduate Institute of
Applied Linguistics, teaching phonetics. He has done fieldwork in a
dozen languages of Ethiopia.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0631232702
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 208
Prices: U.K. £ 13.99
U.S. $ 24.47
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0631232699
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 208
Prices: U.K. £ 38.50
U.S. $ 48.97