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Review of  Features in Phonology and Phonetics

Reviewer: Janet Leonard
Book Title: Features in Phonology and Phonetics
Book Author: Annie Rialland Rachid Ridouane Harry van der Hulst
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 27.2969

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


The book “Features in Phonology and Phonetics”, edited by Annie Rialland, Rachid Ridouane and Harry van der Hulst is 280 pages long and consists of a preface presenting George N. Clements' CV along with a celebration of his contributions, both professional and personal, by Samuel Jay Keyser. The preface is followed by eight articles and an appendix of publications by George N. Clements. Specifically, this book presents the posthumous writings of Nick Clements, his colleagues and students. It is organized into three parts: part one is an introduction, part two presents two unpublished manuscripts, and part three includes five articles on the contributions of individual features to Feature Theory. Each article includes its own set of references. At the end of the book is a three page index of terms, relevant to phonological and feature theory, used throughout the volume. The purpose of this book is to situate Nick Clements' contributions to feature theory within its historical and theoretical context and to introduce the reader to a collection of some of his unpublished manuscripts and collaborative work.

The first section of the book includes one article and an appendix. The article is written by the editors of this volume and is titled ''Features in Phonology and Phonetics: The contributions of George N. Clements''. This part of the book places Clements ̓ work in the appropriate theoretical and historical context and explains the kinds of research questions he was seeking to answer.

The ''Introduction'' runs through the history of the ''phoneme'' and discusses how scholars such as Trobetzkoy and Jakobson classified distinguished phonological contrasts by focussing on phonetic properties of sounds (p. 4) and how these ideas were later published as Jakobson, Fant and Halle (1952) and Jakobson and Halle (1956). These latter authors were the first to posit a small set of distinctive features to describe the phonological properties of sounds. The features dealt with both the articulatory and acoustic properties of speech sounds. Acoustic properties of sound are seen as more important by Jackobson because the acoustic properties of sound involve both the speaker and the hearer, whereas the articulatory properties involve only the hearer. However, it is the proposed articulatory properties that take a predominant role in the 20th century descriptions of phonological features. Phonology features that are grounded in articulatory phonetic descriptions make their initial appearance in the ''Sound Patterns of English'' (Chomsky & Halle, 1968) and are the focus of the ''Motor Theory of Speech Perception'' (Liberman & Mattingly, 1985) as well as ''Articulatory Phonology'' (Browman & Goldstein, 1986).

The appendix included in part one of this book provides a list of publications by George N. Clements. Five pages of references are presented. These include books, journal articles, encyclopedia chapters, book chapters, conference papers, book reviews and working papers. In total, there are 105 works listed.

In Part 2 of this book, the reader is introduced to Clements' (2009) own research which is centred on five principles: feature bounding, feature economy, marked feature avoidance, robustness and phonological enhancement. These principles are designed to define the broad properties of sound systems cross-linguistically. This part of the book includes two unpublished manuscripts. The first article in part 2 of this book is written by George N. Clements and is titled ''The hierarchal representation of vowel height''. This article presents a theory which characterises vowel height on the binary feature [open] which is assigned at different tiers. The theory claims to address problems inherent in early models of vowel height. Some of the solutions that this theory offers include the characterisation of vowel height to a single feature, an account for vowel systems with more than three heights, a reduction of the need for redundancy rules, a better account of partial assimilation, and accounts for the independence of height in some processes. In sum, their prediction is that if these proposals are correct, then the feature [open] can replace the features [high] and [low].

The second article in Part 2 of this book is co-authored by George N. Clements and Rajesh Khawtiwada and is titled ''Co-occurrence constraints on aspirates in Nepali''. In this article, the authors seek to extend MacEarchern's (1999) typology of languages with aspirated sounds by comparing Nepali with Sanskrit and Goijori. They find that the kinds of restrictions on co-occurring aspirates in Nepali are consistent with an implicational hierarchy. They conclude that although the co-occurring aspirates are rare in Nepali, the language is not atypical with respect to the kind of consonant co-occurrences expected in this group of languages.

In Part 3 of this book, the reader is introduced to two views on the source of phonological features. The first view is that phonological features are rooted in language acquisition and arise from ''general cognitive principles of categorization'' (p. 8) (see Blevins 2004; Mielke 2008). The other view is one of innateness, which is the idea that phonological features are evolutionary primes which have evolved for the ''specific purpose of language'' (p. 8) (see Chomsky & Halle, 1986). Clements himself was primarily concerned with the ''relations distinctive features have to measurable physical properties'' (p. 8). In this section of the book Clements and his colleagues explore the relationship between the cognitive principles of categorization and innateness for the phonological features [tense], [strident], [nasal], [ATR] and [pharyngeal] respectively. Providing for each feature a historical overview of its phonological, articulatory, acoustic and perceptual properties, and presenting proposals about the role of each feature in explaining how sounds contrast across languages.


The articles in this book are particularly interesting and important because they provide a solid background in Feature Theory, drawing on language examples from a variety of the world's languages. Placing Clements' work within its appropriate historical and theoretical context, this book is a must read for researchers of phonology and Feature Theory. Crucially, the articles in this book serve as excellent background material for anyone whose research interest is concerned with the motivation of, historical use of, and the phonological and phonetic grounding of features. In addition, the reader is introduced to the theoretical framework and the kinds of questions about phonological features that Clements, his colleagues, and his students were seeking to answer.


Blevins, Juliette. 2004. Evolutionary Phonology: The Emergence of Sound Patterns. Cambridge

Browman, P. Catherine and Louis Goldstein. 1986. Towards an articulatory phonology. In C. Ewen and J. Anderson (eds.), Phonology Yearbook 3, 219-252. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chomsky, Noam and Morris Halle (1986). The Sound Patterns of English. New York. Harper and Row.

Clements, G. Nick. 2009. The role of features in phonological inventories. In Eric Raimy and Charles Cairns, (eds.), Contemporary Views on Architecture and Representation in Phonological Theory: 19-68. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jakobson and Halle (1956). Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton.

Jakobson, Roman, Gunner Fant and Morris Halle. 1952. Preliminaries to Speech Analysis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Acoustic Laboratory.

Liberman Alvin. M. and Ignatius G. Mattingly. 1985. The motor theory of speech perception revised. Cognition. 21: 1-36.

MacEarchern, Margaret. 1999. Laryngeal co-occurrence restrictions. New York: Garland.

Mielke, Jeff. 2008. The Emergence of Distinctive Features. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Janet Leonard is a PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria. Her field of research is on the sound structure of SENĆOŦEN (Saanich), a Northern Straits variety of an endangered Salish language spoken on Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada. Her doctoral research seeks to identify, describe and account for the phonetic, phonological and morphological properties which govern the distribution and representation of SENĆOŦEN schwa.