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Review of  Sociophonetics

Reviewer: Seetha Jayaraman
Book Title: Sociophonetics
Book Author: Marianna Di Paolo Malcah Yaeger-Dror
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.2127

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EDITORS: Marianna Di Paolo and Malcah Yaeger-Dror
TITLE: Sociophonetics
SUBTITLE: A Student’s Guide
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2010

Seetha Jayaraman, Dhofar University, Sultanate of Oman.


The book provides students of linguistics and phonetics with useful tips on
conducting research, from the basics of data collection, to methods of recording
and selecting equipment appropriate to the type of data being analyzed. In other
words, the book caters to the needs of researchers who are involved in
interdisciplinary research on sociological aspects in the phonetic analysis of
speech, especially through conversations and interviews. An acoustic analysis of
such authentic data combines the techniques of acoustic analysis of natural
speech and sound segments with that of voice quality for the purpose of

The book has a collection of 15 research papers contributed to the Workshop on
Sociophonetics in 2004. The authors are experts in the field of speech prosody.

Chapter I is an introduction to sociophonetics and to the volume by the editors,
Marianna Di Paolo and Malcah Yaeger-Dror. The chapter presents the definition
and use of the term 'sociophonetics,' and relates social and phonetic factors to
language studies. Variation and social context are closely associated with
language and provide the basic tools for language studies, viz., language
acquisition and language analysis. The scope of the book extends beyond language
acquisition. It addresses the social and indexical meaning of speech variation
and thus uses a novel approach to speech perception and speech production. This
approach looks at the findings of experimental studies as diagnostic rather than
as simple analytical modeling. The articles support themselves on earlier
findings and recommend different research methodologies. The editors discuss the
layout of chapters, all of which provide a compilation that outlines the
development of the various relevant subfields to the present.

Chapter II, also by Marianna Di Paolo and Malcah Yaeger-Dror, on field methods,
discusses gathering data, creating a corpus, and reporting. It also deals with
different field methods used for the collection and compilation of data. The
chapter outlines the theoretical framework of sociolinguistic studies by
Weinreich et al. (1968) as the basis for social variation of age, gender and
region to explain speech variables. It suggests different ways of contributing
to research through various methodologies of data sampling, and sampling using
different sources and instrumental techniques. Some of the methodologies
recommended are collecting authentic data, and specifying the goals or features
being studied within the actual speech of the target community. The analysis
that follows leads to accurate results because a few key factors are taken into
account like speaker characteristics (in the case of interviews), the
interviewer’s characteristics, planning the recording, and minimizing the
observer’s paradox, since the aim is to study normal or natural speech. This
approach emphasizes the need to include the interviewer’s role in the responses
recorded, depending on the speaker’s style. Social setting is another aspect
being considered in this approach. The importance of sampling rate and the
number of subjects, depending on the statistical analysis and the group being
observed, are also focused upon.

The method of 'structured elicitations,' which is found to be very effective in
sociophonetic studies, is stressed (e.g. using minimal pairs, phonological and
semantic disambiguation, and vowel categorization for phonological studies). A
second approach is 'apparent time and real-time studies,' which assumes that
there is a certain language change across generations. Selection of tokens is as
important as the selection of the size of speakers. It is advised to choose
tokens that are representative of the same phonological variables of a single
recorded sample for a common variable being studied. Important factors that help
in creating a suitable corpus and the common problems that can be faced in
making the corpus from the data are briefed. Finally, methods of reporting
results of a study in a systematic manner are listed.

In Chapter III, about making a field recording, Christopher Chieri discusses the
important aspects of recording data, such as sampling rate, sample size, the
process of digitizing and compressing data, and compatibility criteria of software.

Chapter IV, which addresses transcription, by Margaret Maclagan and Jennifer
Hay, shows how to use transcription of passages and segmentation, as well as
phonetic, paralinguistic, and non-linguistic factors, when undertaking acoustic
analyses of sound files. Various levels of fillers like pauses and hesitations,
in addition to supra-segmental features, are also detailed. Aural punctuation is
transcribed through diacritics and special symbols, like pauses as a dot '.', a
short dash '-', or a long dash '__', depending on the length of the pause and
the rate of speech. Similarly, interruptions and overlaps are indicated by '//'
in transcription. Pauses can be meaningful or they can indicate hesitation on
the part of speakers. Fillers, on the other hand, are indicated by the phonetic
sounds emitted and are transcribed accordingly. For instance, laughter is
transcribed as [laugh]. Intonation in longer stretches of speech is transcribed
with the conventional diacritics of IPA transcription for tonal and pitch

Chapter IV continues by looking at ways of preserving recorded data on CDs and
DF Cards and converting files to a suitable format for further research. The
preliminaries of acoustic analysis are also discussed in this chapter.

Chapter V, 'Issues in using Legacy Data,' by Paulina Bounds, Naomi Palosaari,
and William A. Kretzschmar Jr., familiarizes the reader with different ways of
using legacy data, which are recorded in the past and stored as archival
collections to be retrieved and analyzed by researchers. These are important for
studying endangered languages or less-used languages and can be maintained using
advanced audio-storage technology. Therefore, digitizing this type of data is a
good method of storing them for future research.

In Chapter VI, 'Analyzing Stops,' Paul Foulkes, Gerard Docherty, and Mark J.
Jones give useful tips on analyzing stop consonants along their acoustic
parameters of voice onset time (VOT), burst duration (BD), aspiration, voicing,
duration, and formant transitions from a study of spectrograms. Different
approaches to acoustic measurements of stop consonants are discussed
exhaustively and comprehensively.

In Chapter VII, 'Liquids,' Eleanor Lawson, Jane Stuardt-Smith, James M. Scobbie,
Malcah Yaeger-Dror and Margaret Maclagan give an overview of the phonetically
and phonologically complex speech sounds /l/ and /r/. In articulatory terms, the
two sounds differ markedly in degree of occlusion. Acoustically, liquids are
characterized by formants, antiformants (for /l/), and bandwidth and formant
transitions to the following vowel. The articulatory variants of liquids, that
is, the perceptive variation in the quality of liquids, are explained through
spectrograms. This chapter also views earlier findings on formant patterns put
forth by different phoneticians through acoustic similarities and by providing
spectrographic evidence to the male/female distinction in the articulation of
these sounds. Sociolinguistic and phonological variation in the articulation of
/l/ and /r/ are also explained in detail.

In Chapter VIII, entitled 'Analyzing Vowels,' Marianna Di Paolo, Malcah
Yaeger-Dror, and Beckford Wassink analyze vowels while taking into consideration
factors like syllable structure, syllable type, and phonetic and phonological
environment (i.e. preceding and following sound segments). These aspects have
been studied and reported by earlier researchers (Laver, 1969, Lehiste, 1970,
Kent & Read, 1995, and Ladefoged, 2001). In line with these studies, this
chapter gives methods of measuring formant frequencies of vowels. The importance
of measuring the first two formants (F1 and F2) in vowel identity and vowel
context, and measuring these two formant trajectories to identify diphthongs is
discussed and is well supported by spectrographic illustrations.

Chapter IX, 'More on Vowels: Plotting and Normalization,' by Dominic Watt, Anne
Fabricius, and Tyler Kendall, focuses on the normalization procedure of vowels
and plotting F1 versus F2 values for comparing the male/female distinction in
the articulation of vowels. Taking into account the specific nature of vowels,
acoustic space and linguistic analysis, F1-F2 are plotted as per the method
established by Joos (1948) and Peterson & Barney (1952), and vowel plots are
interpreted differently for different varieties of English. The difference in
articulation is visible between male/female formant frequencies, which are
inaudible. Two sets of F1/F2 are plotted separately for male and female
speakers. The objective of normalization discussed in this chapter is to
quantify the formant frequencies of vowels in order to bring out the difference
in their production between speakers and speaker groups. Normalization of vowel
formant frequency serves as a model of cognitive processes involved in vowel
production. Overall, this chapter emphasizes experimental methods and computing

Chapter X, 'Analyzing Prosody: Best Practices for Analysis of Prosody,' by
Malcah Yaeger-Dror and Zsuzsanna Fagyal, re-emphasizes the importance of speech
prosody and the acoustic correlates of fundamental frequency, duration and
intensity/amplitude and the variations of these characteristics caused by social
factors like ethnicity and gender. It also gives a brief account of earlier
sociolinguistic studies on intonation and the utterance level prosody of pauses
and hesitations, along with pitch contours and intonation based on English. The
latest works of Golato and Fagyal (2008) and Levey (2008) add to the latest
findings on bilingualism and its influence on speech. Features such as duration
and stress, pitch variation, pauses, hesitations and other timing factors
determine the variability in speech rhythm. Sociophonetic studies on fundamental
frequency and intonation, based on language contact prosody, involve
conversation analysis of bilinguals (e.g. English-Spanish bilinguals in
Gibraltar (Levey, 2008) and North Africans in France (Fagyal, 2010)) and use the
approach of comparative prosody. While some conversation analyses adopt the view
of intonation holistically, others look at specific tones (e.g. Golato and
Fagyal, 2008).

Chapter XI, 'Acoustical Analysis of Voice Quality for Sociophonetic Purposes,'
by John H. Esling and Jerold A. Edmondson, treats the physiological aspects of
speech, mainly those dealing with voice quality and voice dynamics, reiterating
the view of Abercrombie (1967) and Laver (1970), and supporting the extensive
studies done by Catford (1964) on phonation types and physiology of speech. Most
of the views expressed are reconfirming all the earlier findings on mechanisms
involved in speech production.

In phonetic description, identifying and describing vowel quality is as
important as describing voice quality. Laver (1970) refers to changes in sound
quality as relating to voluntary movements of the larynx and vocal tract, while
Abercrombie (1967) considers voice quality as conveying the least linguistic
meaning in speech. The sociophonetic research findings discussed in this chapter
about voice quality are in line with those of Catford (1964), who outlines the
non-phonological function of phonation and glottal features, which are
indicative of the speaker’s sex, health, social class, place of origin, etc.

Chapter XII, 'Experimental Speech Perception and Perceptual Dialectology,' by
Cynthia G. Clopper, Jennifer Hay, and Bartlomiej Plichta, shifts the focus from
production to perception, and the experimental methods used to interpret the
results of synthesized speech samples, such as Linear Predictive Coding (LPC)
analysis and other new software available like AKUSTYK.

There are many software packages available for manipulating and varying (e.g.
time, pitch, etc.) pre-recorded speech samples, such as the Linear Predictive
Coding analysis/resynthesis (LPC AR) method, which is based on the Source Filter
Theory of speech production. Bartlomiejz Plichta’s AKUSTYK is a more recent
software package ( designed for sociophonetic research and is
accessible globally. Its advantage is that it is very flexible and enables
division and analysis/synthesis of samples in individual frames independent of
each other. Thus, it allows modifications of parameters (e.g. formants,
bandwidth, etc.), in addition to generating speech continua automatically.

Chapter XIII, 'Working with Children,' by Ghada Khattab and Julie Roberts,
brings us to the subject of challenges faced in recording baby-talk and
youngsters' speech and analyzing it using Linear Predictive Coding (LPC) and
Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) spectra. Although working with children is
interesting, their noisy recordings and immature vocal track make acoustic
analysis difficult for research on sociophonetics and language acquisition.
Grouping the samples according to age and transcription of utterances on the
basis of audio recordings are challenges faced when working with children.
Activities and interaction with parents or caretakers can be used to overcome
reluctance on the part of children to respond to questions. Furthermore, the
authors address the latest advances in technology, like Language Environment
Analysis (LENA) and Digital Language Processor (DLP), designed by Infoture,
which represent useful techniques for handling audio samples. Finally, the
chapter also lists websites for recording technology and discusses the role of
social context.

Chapter XIV, 'Ascertaining Word Classes,' by Betty S. Phillips, relates studies
on social and phonetic variables extensively to grammatical word classes and
factors leading to variation in terms of historical description of pronunciation
in different dialects using the Centre for Lexical information (CELEX) as a
valuable frequency list. This is a database on the relative frequency of lexical
items in English, which is compiled based on a corpus of about 17.9 million
words. In sociophonetic studies, the emphasis is both on the social and phonetic
aspects of language variation. Therefore, it is important to create reliable
data, associate factors which influence lexical variation, and classify word
classes based on phonetic variation. CELEX is an efficient method of
ascertaining the frequency of occurrence of lexical items in a given language.

Chapter XV, 'Checking for Reliability,' by Cynthia G. Clopper, discusses the
reliability of acoustic measurements of segments and their auditory
correlates/coding, or transcription. Phonetic transcriptions of vowels,
diphthongs, and aspirated plosives and their acoustic measurements, as well as
problems in checking for reliability, are discussed. A data set is considered
reliable when it can be replicated with different samples or when it gives the
same values when repeated with the same utterances. Reliability is also
certified if the difference between the values of measurements is 0, or close to
0, with the same samples.

In Chapter XVI, 'Statistical Analysis,' Jennifer Hay deals with key concepts in
statistical techniques/analysis of acoustic parameters in speech using
phonological phenomena and different models like 'classification and regression
trees' (CART) or 'analysis of variance' (ANOVA). Statistical technique refers to
laying out the data and measurements in readable forms, such as tables, graphs,
or figures, depending on the size, categories, and details of the data being
analyzed (preferably in the form of spreadsheets). This method gives all the
relevant information category-wise or speaker-wise (e.g. numbers, percentages)
in order to compare the values at a glance and interpret the variables measured.


The book is meant to serve as a guide to students working on phonetics and
phonology, in addition to experimental phoneticians, phonologists, cognitive
scientists and conversation analysts. Each chapter is based on a different
viewpoint and presents the results of articulatory, auditory and acoustic
approaches to analyses based on different varieties/dialects of English.
Although empirical work has already been done, as seen through the results
presented earlier, the book presents a blend of all sociophonetic aspects of
conversational English (involving the typology of voice quality of speakers like
creaky, harsh, and so on).

Aside from the techniques of qualitative analysis of production and reception of
sociophonetic data, the book also discusses the quantitative analysis of
language in relation to social interactions.

The last four chapters give a concise review of the statistical analysis of
speech versus age and social contexts. A noteworthy feature of the book, which
will help readers immensely, is the list of websites referencing audio-visual
analyses that support the studies cited. As the book is meant for readership by
students, the short summaries at the end of Chapters VI to VIII and the
exercises and notes which appear at the end of each chapter further supplement
the reader’s guidance towards further reference and comprehensibility of the
theoretical analyses. Acoustic measurements and graphic representations of
experimental evidence, for example, those of durational values, add to the
reliability of the methodologies adopted for the studies and to the validity of
the results of such studies.

The guide certainly gives useful tips on techniques of analysis and a
comprehensible account of research methodologies of empirical data. It is a
valuable textbook for students and researchers alike.

In conclusion, the book is a rich source of information on methodologies of
sociophonetic analysis, with information ranging from the basics of data
collection to the most advanced computational techniques.

The editors have done a remarkable job of putting together a variety of papers
on phonetic, acoustic, and statistical analyses and linking them effectively to
social factors such as speaker age, purpose (i.e. normal speech or formal
interviews), role, and context. This gives a new perspective to phonetic
analysis for both fresh researchers and veterans in the field. It is a good
reference guide for research on speech corpora encompassing a wide range of
topics from collecting speech samples to computing and validating results.


Abercrombie, D. (1967). Elements of General Phonetics. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.

Catford, J.C. (1964). Phonation Types. In D. Abercrombie, D.B. Fry,
P.A.D. MacCarthy, N.C. Scott and J.L.M. Trim (eds.). In Honour of Daniel
Jones: Papers Contributed on the Occasion of his Eightieth Birthday, 12
September 1961. London: Longmans, Green & Co. 26-37.

Fagyal, Z. (2010). Rhythm Types and the Speech of Working-Class
Youth in a Banlieue of Paris: The Role of Vowel Elision and Devoicing. In
D. Preston and N. Niedzielski (eds.). A Reader in Sociophonetics.
Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter. 91-132.

Golato, A. and Fagyal, Z. (2008). Comparing Single and Double Sayings
of the German Response Token Ja and the Role of Prosody: A Conversation
Analytic Perspective. Research on Language and Social Interaction 41(3): 1-

Levey, D. (2008). Language Change and Variation in Gibraltar. Amsterdam:

Joos, M. (1948). Acoustic Phonetics. Language 24(2). Language Monograph
23: 5-136.

Kent, R. & Read, H. (1995). Acoustic Analysis of Speech. New Delhi:
AITBS Publishers.

Ladefoged, P. (2001). A Course in Phonetics, 4th Edition. Fort Worth:

Laver, J. (1970). The Synthesis of Components in Voice Quality. In
Proceedings of the 6th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Prague:
Publishing House of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. 523-525.

Lehiste, L. (1970). Suprasegmentals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Peterson, G.E. and Barney, H.L. (1952). Control Methods Used in a Study of
the Vowels. JASA 24(2): 175-84.

Weinreich, U., Labov, W., and Herzog, M. (1968). Empirical Foundations
for a Theory of Language Change. In W. Lehmann and Y. Malkiel (eds.).
Directions for Historical Linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press. 95-

Dr. Seetha Jayaraman is a faculty member at Dhofar University at Salalah, Sultanate of Oman, where she teaches English language skills to undergraduate students. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, comparative linguistics, articulatory and acoustic phonetics of English, French and Indian languages, comparative phonetics, and L2 acquisition and mother tongue influence.

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