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Review of  The Sounds of Spanish: Analysis and Application

Reviewer: John Joseph Stevens
Book Title: The Sounds of Spanish: Analysis and Application
Book Author: Robert M. Hammond
Publisher: Cascadilla Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 12.2824

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Hammond, Robert M. (2001) The Sounds of Spanish: Analysis and
Application (with special reference to American English).
Cascadilla Press, paperback ISBN 1-57473-018-5, ix+423pp, $48.95.

John J. Stevens, University of North Carolina at Wilmington

"The Sounds of Spanish: Analysis and Application" by Robert M.
Hammond is an introductory textbook written for English-speaking
students of Spanish phonetics and phonology. It contains twenty-
five chapters, which are divided into five major sections, and
includes appendices, a glossary, and references. Written in
English, the book gives a rigorous description of the speech
sounds of the Spanish language, while systematically comparing
the differences between Spanish and American English
pronunciation. Students are offered practical advice on how to
acquire a more native-like Spanish pronunciation. The book also
describes the widespread phonetic variation found among the major
Spanish dialects. Useful material, such as graphics and charts
suitable for making transparencies, is available through a
companion web site. This web site also contains speech files
that allow students to hear the pronunciation examples provided
in the text.

"The Sounds of Spanish" is replete with detailed information
about Hispanic phonetics and phonology. For those topics that go
beyond the scope of an introductory text, a list of suggested
readings is furnished at the end of each chapter for the
interested reader to explore further. Each chapter also contains
a list of references, which appear again at the end of the book
as part of a master list. Surprisingly, the book lacks a subject
index, which would have offered tremendous assistance in locating
information in a complex textbook of this nature.

Although the book is written in English, its formal presentation
and use of technical language may prove intimidating for students
encountering linguistics for the first time. The glossary
provides useful definitions, but would have benefited from the
inclusion of equivalent Spanish terms or expressions. A
bilingual glossary would have been especially useful as a
vocabulary guide for those students receiving classroom lectures
in Spanish.

Part I, "Phonetics and Phonology," serves as an introduction to
the text and contains chapters on the study of sounds and sound
systems, phonetic transcription, speech production and acoustic
phonetics, the articulatory phonetics of vowels and consonants,
the five families of sounds, and the phoneme. This section
provides an overview of the discipline and provides the necessary
background for the subsequent study of Spanish sounds. Here
Hammond presents the theoretical approach he adopts for his
analysis of Spanish, a simplified model loosely based on
unilinear generative phonology in which phonetic representations
are derived from phonological representations by means of a
system of rules. He clearly explains the reasons for choosing
this particular model, (e.g., ease of presentation, minimal
amount of formalism, less confusion, etc.), which is entirely
appropriate for an introductory textbook. At the same time, he
does mention newer approaches, such as Optimality Theory, and
suggests readings to which interested students are referred.

The examples the author employs to illustrate important points in
his discussion are clear and concise and often include cases not
only from English and Spanish but from other languages as well.
For example, in his discussion of the phoneme (chapter 7),
Hammond provides examples from Classical Latin to illustrate the
phonological function of vowel length. He also compares the
vowel inventories of Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish, focusing
on the difference between the phonemic function of the Brazilian
mid front lax vowel and the allophonic function of the equivalent
vowel in Spanish. The author extends this discussion to include
an interesting comparison of "s" sounds in Spanish and Guipuzcoan
Basque in which he demonstrates that whereas the voiceless
lamino-alveolar grooved fricative and voiceless apico-alveolar
grooved fricative are separate phonemes in Guipuzcoan Basque,
these sounds for some speakers of Spanish are merely allophones
occurring in a pattern of free variation.

Parts II, III, and IV comprise the large middle section of the
book and deal with, respectively, the Spanish vocoids,
obstruents, and sonorant consonants. The author's individual
treatment of all of the Spanish phonemes and their major
allophonic variants is systematic and complete. He proceeds
first by giving a thorough description of the phoneme, its
orthographic representation, and the distribution of its phonetic
realizations and major dialectal variants. He then compares and
contrasts these sounds in Spanish and English, making
recommendations for how students can avoid American English
speech habits in their pronunciation of Spanish. Finally, each
major section is followed by a summary of important points to
remember, which includes the characteristics of the Spanish
sounds and their English counterparts and a recapitulation of the
advice on how to achieve a more native-like accent in Spanish.

Native speech samples of the sounds and speech phenomena
presented in the textbook can be found on the companion web site.
While these audio files allow students to practice perceiving the
differences between English and Spanish sounds, neither the web
site nor the textbook provides exercises that enable students to
practice producing Spanish sounds. The web site does contain,
however, excellent review questions for each chapter.

Part V, "Other Topics in Spanish Pronunciation," includes
chapters on Spanish word stress, intonation, vowel combinations,
Spanish language history, and the Spanish of the Iberian
Peninsula, the Canary Islands, and the Americas. The first three
topics, word stress, intonation, and vowel combinations, seem a
bit out of place in this final part of the book dedicated mostly
to Spanish language history and dialectology. The relegation of
suprasegmentals to an "other topics" section belies their
importance in the overall process of second language acquisition.
According to Dalbor (1997, ix), features of stress, intonation,
and rhythm are the most difficult for the second language learner
to master and therefore require the most practice. Introducing
the suprasegmentals much earlier in the sequence, and even before
segmental sounds, would have made good sense for this textbook,
because it would have allowed students more time to practice
these hard-to-learn features.

The chapter on the history of the Spanish language is quite
complete for an introductory textbook whose main objective is
teaching Spanish pronunciation. Although by necessity brief,
this section nevertheless provides a solid foundation for
understanding the evolution of the language and the emergence of
the major dialects found today in the Iberian Peninsula and in
the New World. The last two chapters discuss these varieties
(including the Spanish of the United States), and give examples
of their most representative and unique features.

"The Sounds of Spanish" is a first-rate reference manual,
containing a wealth of detailed information on Spanish phonetics,
phonology, and the problems speakers of English must overcome to
achieve a native-like pronunciation of Spanish. It would be
especially suitable as a textbook for post-graduates studying
Spanish phonetics and phonology as part of a specialized
concentration in Hispanic linguistics. It would also be a good
choice for advanced undergraduate students with some previous
background in linguistics. This textbook could also be used with
beginning students of Spanish linguistics; however, given its
level of sophistication and detail, the instructor may want to
proceed at a relatively slow pace, dividing the material into a
two-semester sequence of phonetics and phonology. Beginners
could also be supplied with supplemental exercises to ensure they
receive enough practice producing Spanish sounds.

Dalbor, John B. (1997) Spanish Pronunciation: Theory and
Practice, 3rd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

John J. Stevens is an assistant professor of Spanish at the
University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His research
interests include sociolinguistic variation, the acquisition of
Spanish as a second language, and technology-enhanced language
learning. He is currently conducting research that compares
proficiency outcomes between students learning basic Spanish
language in a traditional classroom setting and in a distance-
learning milieu.