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Review of  Phonetics

Reviewer: Marie Ploquin
Book Title: Phonetics
Book Author: Henning Reetz Allard Jongman
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 21.2520

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AUTHOR: Reetz, Henning; Jongman, Allard.
TITLE: Phonetics
SUBTITLE: Transcription, Production, Acoustics, and Perception
PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell
YEAR: 2009

Marie Ploquin, English Programs, University of Quebec in Montreal, Quebec, Canada


The stated aim of this book is to provide an introductory course in phonetics
with more content than the average introductory textbook. It is meant for
students of all disciplines concerned, to whatever degree, with phonetics,
covering transcription, articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics and auditory
phonetics. A companion website provides sound files to illustrate the text.

Chapter 1 introduces the book and its structure and offers ''phonetics in a
nutshell'', section that introduces basic phonetic concepts and terms.

Chapter 2, ''Articulatory Phonetics'', describes how sounds are produced. The
description of the speech production apparatus is concise and satisfactory. The
chapter deals exclusively with English sounds. The presentation of consonant
features is classical, divided into a section on place of articulation and one
on manner of articulation. No visual aid, no summarizing table and no sound
files are provided to illustrate individual consonant sounds. A useful section,
supported with a figure (2.2) and sound file, shows how the manner of
articulation and voicing of consonants is graphically represented on
oscillograms and spectrograms. The articulation of vowels, includes first the
description of front vowels, ordered in terms of height, then the descriptions
of back vowels also ordered for height, central vowels (for the words 'about',
'fur', and 'cut'), the diphthongs and diphthongized vowels. The section on back
vowels triggers, and is interrupted by, a discussion about varieties of English,
especially with regard to the difference -- or not -- in the pronunciation of
'caught' and 'cot'.

In chapter 3, ''Phonetic Transcription'', the authors discuss transcription and
introduce the concepts of narrow and broad transcription, phonology vs.
phonetics and minimal pairs. The rest of the chapter includes four parts:
consonants, vowels, diacritics and other symbols, and the transcription of
General American English. The section on consonants offers the broad
transcription symbols of the consonants of English seen in chapter 2 and
examples. In the section on vowels, the notions of lax and tense, quantity and
quality, open and closed syllables, length, and centralization are introduced.
Dialectal allophones of a few phonemes are discussed. The section on diacritics
takes a set of examples -- dentals, apicals, laminals, length, and stress
markers -- to continue the discussion between broad and narrow transcription.
The final section, on transcription of General American English, is subdivided
into consonants and vowels. Rather than offer a complete description of GA
phonemes, it serves ''more to increase awareness of some regular processes of
English'' (p.37) and their transcription, dealing with matters like aspiration,
coarticulation, consonant release, flaps, glottal plosives, intrusion, and, for
vowels, duration and effects of following consonants.

Chapter 4, ''Place and Manner of Articulation of Consonants and Vowels'',
describes a wide range of sounds of the world's languages. The IPA consonant
table is provided and consonants are presented by place of articulation (labial
to guttural). A section on additional manners of articulation (those not
explained in the chapters on English) provides information on trills, taps and
flaps, and lateral fricatives. The discussion on vowels begins with the feature
of length, illustrated with pairs of German vowels. The vowels are not
necessarily explained or described ([y] / [ʏ] and [ø] / [œ] for instance). The
production of vowels beyond the phonemic inventories of English and German is
briefly described. The final part of the chapter introduces four types of
secondary articulation -- labialization, palatalization, velarization and
pharyngealization. No sound file to illustrate this chapter is provided on the
accompanying website, contrary to p.50.

Chapter 5, ''Physiology of the Vocal Apparatus'', gives a thorough explanation of
the anatomy and processes of speech production organized in three parts: the
subglottal system, the larynx and the vocal tract. The first two describe the
relevant anatomy, processes, theories and function in speech (loudness, for
instance). The third part mainly describes the pharynx, the nasal tract and
velum, and the oral tract. The chapter is quite detailed and includes drawings
to illustrate both anatomy and processes.

Chapter 6, ''Airstream Mechanisms and Phonation types'', treats non-egressive
airstream mechanisms, those used to produce ejectives, implosives and clicks.
The description of phonation types includes the physical aspect (position of the
vocal folds and vibration), examples of sounds and uses of each phonation type
in English and other languages. The next section deals with voicing,
voicelessness and aspiration only in the context of plosives. The notion of
Voice Onset Time (VOT) is described at length. The last section, ''Common and
rare sounds'', is based on the UPSID database (UCLA Phonetic Segment Inventory
Database, 1984). The section however offers more information on ''common'' sounds
than on ''rare'' ones, and only for consonants.

Chapter 7, ''Basic Acoustics'', provides a description of sound waves, their
origin and propagation as well as of the speed of sound. The text includes
numerous drawings and an on-going analogy with movements found in lines of
people, still, swaying or standing. The next sections explain the transformation
of air pressure into electric signals and the graphic representation
(oscillograms) of the latter. The last part offers a thorough explanation of the
acoustic concepts of frequency, amplitude and phase.

Chapter 8, ''Analysis Method for Speech Sounds'', is an imposing chapter in both
size and content. Indeed, this 42-page chapter tackles issues such as the
transformation of analog signals into digital signals, the description of the
types of signals (periodic, quasi-periodic and non-periodic) and the different
methods available to analyze speech signals. While many concepts explained in
this section are technical (for instance, sampling rates, the Nyquist criterion,
aliasing, Fourier transformation and harmonics), the explanations, illustrations
and analogies enable the reader to easily grasp them. The chapter also presents
the advantages and drawbacks of using the various graphic representations of
speech signals: oscillograms, Fourier spectrum, LPC spectrum and spectrograms.

Chapter 9, ''The Source-Filter Theory of Speech Production'', deals with the
separation of speech sounds into one or more source signals. The first three
sections explain the notions of resonance, damping and filtering. Again, these
technical notions are made accessible by clear and progressive explanation, for
instance explaining resonance of cylindrical tubes before moving on to
non-cylindrical tubes. The last two parts of the chapter apply those concepts to
speech signals and explain the position of the articulators and formant frequencies.

Chapter 10, ''Acoustic Characteristics of Speech Sounds'', describes the relation
between the acoustic characteristics of a number of sounds and their graphic
representation. Vowels are discussed in terms of their acoustic characteristics
and F1 to F3 formant according to their quadrilateral classification. The
effects of nasal quality, duration and diphthongs on spectrograms and spectra
are also discussed. Consonants are also analyzed in terms of acoustic
characteristics and consequences for spectrograms and spectra. The discussion is
organized around classes of manner of articulation, from approximants to
plosives. The chapter ends with discussion of the debate on how
context-dependent the acoustic properties of a specific speech sounds might or
might not be.

Chapter 11, ''Syllables and Suprasegmentals'', begins with the claim that the
principal suprasegmental features are ''stress'', ''length'', ''tone'', and
''intonation''. Considering ''length'' a suprasegmental feature is highly
questionable, as it is an acoustic attribute of other suprasegmental features
(stress for instance) rather than a feature per se. Suprasegmental features are,
as the word indicates, ''above the segment''; that is to say that they are not
permanently associated with specific segments. Yet the majority of the examples
given are segmental: contrastive length, geminates, intrinsic duration, and
number of segments in the syllable. The only factor that might be considered as
suprasegmental is ''phrase-final lengthening''. However, ''phrase-final'' has to do
with rhythm, of which length is a correlate. (''Rhythm' is understood here as
phonetic events (such as F0 valleys and peaks, intensity rises and falls,
non-intrinsic segmental length variation, absence/presence of pauses and length
variation of pauses) across segments such as phrases and clauses. This is what
Cutler (1984:82) calls ''accent'' and Fox (2000:115) refers to as ''accentuation''.)
In any case, if the authors wanted to take the unusual stance of considering
''length'' a prosodic feature per se, they ought to have made a case for it.

The section on syllables leads only to the conclusion that there is no
comprehensive phonetic definition of the word. In the section on stress, the
authors use the ''stress-timed'', ''syllable-timed'', and ''mora-timed''
classification although they acknowledge the lack of empirical evidence to
support the categorization. A brief description of tone and intonation is
offered in the last section.

Chapter 12, ''Physiology and Psychophysics of Hearing'', begins with a description
of the hearing organ (their term, p.226). The account includes physical
properties of the different parts of the ear and an explanation of how these
parts work together to transform air pressure into neural impulses. Complete
with illustration, the description is quite adequate. The second half of the
chapter deals with the auditory frequency, loudness and time scales. The account
of the different frequency scales is noteworthy as it provides a concise and
clear description of what the scales represent, what they are best used for, how
they grade differences of frequency and their calculation, as well as how the
scales compare and the calculations required to transform one scale into another.

Chapter 13, ''Speech Perception'', presents the major findings on how the listener
interprets and decodes an oral message. The section on vowels introduces the
notions of equivalence classification, normalization (extrinsic and intrinsic),
as well as exemplar-based theories. The study is organized according to manner
of articulation, from approximants to plosives. This section describes which
acoustic cues are known or believed to contribute to our perception of each
class of consonants and to our discrimination of the consonants within each
class. Also included are a section on the Motor Theory of speech perception,
which leads to an account of categorical perception, and on speech, non-speech
and animal perception. The discussion then turns to non-native speech perception
where it explores factors such as first and second language phonemic inventory,
language experience and age of the learner.


The stated goal -- an introductory course in phonetics with more content than
the average introductory textbook -- is reached as this work covers all main
aspects of phonetics that beginners might come across. Not all subjects are
treated with equal quality, though, and I would say that the strength of this
book lies in the technical chapters. Reetz and Jongman have made these highly
accessible to readers on all levels. The information provided is largely
accurate and adequate (although see the summary of Chapter 11 above for what I
consider to be a shortcoming). More than anything, the organization could have
been improved upon on these counts:

(1) The subtitle and the table of contents are not harmonized -- transcription
is in the articulatory phonetics chapters.

(2) The table of contents does not clearly identify which chapters belong to
which area of phonetics. Bearing in mind that the book is meant for beginners,
dividing the content into the areas covered by the book and distributing the
existing chapters among these parts could have been beneficial.

(3) According to the subtitle and preface, the authors consider transcription
one of the ''four areas that comprise phonetics'' (p.xi). While this is
disputable, the choice to list transcription first in the subtitle is in my view
misleading, giving it exaggerated importance. It might have been more judicious
to use the order stated on p.6: ''In this book, we explain how a sound is
produced, analyzed, perceived and transcribed.''

(4) Some sections seem misplaced. The discussion of varieties of English and
type of English used in the book would for instance be better placed in chapter 1.

I would have expected a book titled ''phonetics'' to offer examples of more
languages than this one offers. I do appreciate the authors' comment that ''many
of the examples are taken from English, simply because this book is written in
English'' but, as they also mention, ''phonetics ... is not geared toward any
particular language'' (p.1).

Some sections for instance unjustifiably deal exclusively with English; this is
case for chapter 2 in which the description of articulatory phonetics is limited
to the vowels and basic consonants of English and the vowel section on phonetic
transcription (chapter 3). Still, the book does cover more than English, even
if the latter remains the main source of information and of reflection for the
authors. Also, it only becomes clear in Chapter 2 that that the variety of
English used throughout the book is General American (GA).

Each chapter ends with a series of 5 to 7 questions or exercises, sufficient for
the autonomous reader to check whether they have grasped the main points or for
the teacher to use as inspiration for a larger variety of questions.

The explanations throughout the book are clear. A number of analogies are used
to render the technical subjects more accessible. The writing is also clear
although some statements are quirky. For instance, the suggestion to ''stick a
finger in your mouth'' to feel the difference of production of the last sound'' in
‘king' and ‘kin' is quite odd. One should assume that if readers can produce the
two sounds, they do not need to resort to this. The text is coherent and
reference is made of earlier uses of a term. The only instance of lack of
coherence is found in the section on ''dorsals'' (section 4.1.3), which does not
explain, nor even use, the term ''dorsal''. The reader might appreciate learning
about the relation between dorsal and velars and uvulars. The accompanying
website is useful and the audio clips are very clear. More clips would be needed
for the chapters dealing with articulation.

Bearing in mind the previous comments, I would recommend this book to my
students as a reference book, particularly for the more technical parts.


Cutler, A. 1984. ''Stress and accent in language production and understanding''.
in Intonation, Accent and Rhythm: Studies in Discourse Phonology, Gibbon, D.,
and H. Richter, (eds.), pp.77-90. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Fox, A. 2000. Prosodic Features and Prosodic Structure. The Phonology of
Suprasegmentals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marie Ploquin is a tenured Maître de langue in English at University of Quebec in Montreal. She has developed English as a non-native language speech perception courses as well as ESL pronunciation courses. Her doctoral thesis (2009) examines francophones' and sinophones' phonological issues in production of ESL prosody. Her research interests include phonetics, experimental phonetics, prosody, prosodic phonology, forensic phonetics and the perception of foreignness.

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ISBN: 0631232265
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