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Review of  Experimental phonetics and sound change

Reviewer: Erin Ament
Book Title: Experimental phonetics and sound change
Book Author: Daniel Recasens Fernando Sánchez Miret Kenneth J. Wireback
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): Catalan-Valencian-Balear
Spanish, Old
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 23.502

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EDITORS: Daniel Recasens, Fernando Sánchez Miret; Kenneth J. Wireback
TITLE: Experimental phonetics and sound change
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Phonetics 05
PUBLISHER: Lincom Europa
YEAR: 2010

Erin Ament, Department of English, College of William and Mary

This is an edited volume of articles based on a workshop on sound change that
took place in Salamanca, Spain in May 2009. The workshop was focused on gaining
a better understanding of sound change through the study of articulatory,
acoustic, and perceptual data. The majority of the articles combine a
discussion of historical sound changes with experimental data that either
supports or contradicts the existing historical analyses.

The first article, by Silvia Calamai and Irene Ricci, is titled “Speech rate and
articulatory reduction in Italian alveolar and velar nasal + stop clusters”. It
describes the use of electropalatography to examine regressive place
assimilation in nasal + stop clusters in Italian. The interaction between
speaking rate and degree of coarticulation in these clusters was tested, along
with the effect of the location of the primary stress in the word, the location
of the cluster (word internal versus across a word boundary), and the voicing of
the post-nasal stop. The results showed that there was assimilation in all
three places of articulation and that the consonants were indeed produced for a
shorter duration in faster speech. Interestingly, the articulation of the
consonants was not as consistently affected by the speaking rate.
Speaker-specific strategies regarding the amount and the location of contact
during the stop, particularly for the alveolar clusters were found. The
presence of these strategies sheds light on the fact that even carefully
controlled laboratory speech is subject to a high degree of variation based on
how the speakers interpret the instructions given. This raises the issue of the
perhaps invalid dichotomy between clear laboratory speech on the one hand and
natural speech on the other. The article was clearly written and easy to follow.

The second article is Chiara Celata’s “Rhotic retroflexion in Romance. Acoustic
data for an articulation-driven sound change”. It investigates the retroflexion
of /t(:)r/ clusters in Sicilian. The article states that /t(:)r/ clusters are
often realized as [ʈ(:)ʂ] in spontaneous speech. This paper focuses on the
origin of retroflex consonants in Romance languages as part of a diachronic
process based on phonetic variability. This is in contrast to the majority of
research on retroflexes in these languages which view them as a typological
phenomena. Five speakers were recorded and acoustic measurements of the
duration of the affricate, the intensity of the frication, the spectral
characteristics of the frication, and the F3 and F4 values of the preceding and
following vowels were measured. While the articulatory data is extensive in
this article, the link between this data and the possibility for an articulation
based diachronic change in the cluster is not made completely clear. The author
argues that the cluster changed from a stop-trill combination to a
retroflex-fricative combination due primarily to the transformation of the trill
to a retroflex. This contrasts with the more assimilation-based proposal of
Sorianello & Mancuso (1998). The lack of standard IPA for the Italian examples
is somewhat frustrating, but overall the articulatory data is well presented.

The third article by Juan Felipe García Santos is an updated summary of a book
by the same author in 2002. In “Experimental analysis of some acoustically
driven phonetic changes in Medieval Spanish”, the author argues that historical
analyses of sound changes should be supported with data from current phonetic
and acoustic research. The article goes on to detail changes in 16th century
Castilian Spanish and draws parallels between these historical changes and a
current change in progress in Castilian palatals. The experimental data on the
change in progress is somewhat hidden in the historical analysis and is
addressed relatively briefly in the article, but the general claim is that the
experimental evidence suggests a single process for the 16th century change of
/b/ to /v/ and the current change of /j/ to /x/. Both changes are claimed to be
due to a perceptual change resulting from the shortening of the segments as
suggested by A. Alonso (1967-1969).

The fourth article is Daniel Recasens and Aina Espinosa’s “A perceptual analysis
of the articulatory and acoustic factors triggering dark /l/ vocalization”.
This article examines the perception of dark /l/ as /w/ in Catalan. The authors
looked at both an articulation-based hypothesis related to the loss of clear
alveolar contact and an acoustic-based hypothesis based on the similar F2 values
of dark /l/ and /w/. While both hypotheses predict the presence of dark /l/
word finally and before labials and velars, only the acoustic hypothesis
predicts that dark /l/ will also be present before alveolars due to the
similarity in F2 between /w/ and dark /l/. A combined production and perception
study found that the dark /l/ target was most often perceived as a /w/ when it
was produced with a small amount of alveolar contact and a low F2 value. The
paper was very clearly written and convincing in its argumentation.

The fifth article is “The effect of word final unstressed high vowels on
stressed vowel duration and its consequences for metaphonic diphthongization in
Southern Italian” by Fernando Sánchez Miret. This clearly written paper
presents preliminary results of an experiment focusing on the possible origin
for the change of mid-open vowels to diphthongs in Northern Calabrian Italian.
This change occurred when the mid-open vowel was followed by an unstressed high
vowel. A general claim that long stressed vowels will frequently become
diphthongs is evaluated as an alternative to Schürr’s (1936) hypothesis that the
diphthongization is due to anticipatory raising and long distance assimilation.
The results from three speakers are discussed and the general trend seen in
these speakers is that phonemically long stressed vowels before low unstressed
/a/ are shorter than before unstressed /i/, supporting the stress based origin
for the sound change.

The sixth article, by Kenneth Wireback, is titled “A reexamination of the
palatalization of Latin /kt/ in the light of phonetic research”. In this paper
a historical account of the palatalization of the Latin /kt/ cluster is
reanalyzed with respect to current experimental evidence regarding the gestural
demands of producing the cluster itself. The author states that historical
accounts often propose forms that contain the palatal guide /j/, yet forms
containing this segment are largely unattested, making such accounts
problematic. The author argues instead for an account based on gestural blending
and regressive assimilation due to acoustic factors. Several articulation
studies done by others are cited to support this claim. In general, the claim
made by the author about the use of the experimental evidence to help validate
historical analyses is well taken, but the extensive footnoting and the writing
make the paper somewhat hard to follow.

The seventh and final article is by Marzena Żygis, “On changes in Slavic
sibilant systems and their perceptual motivation”. The article clearly presents
extensive articulatory, acoustic, and perceptual data about sibilants in several
Slavic languages. The results of these studies show that perceptual based
accounts do well at explaining the distribution of sibilants in Slavic
languages. In languages with complex sibilant inventories, (i.e. those
containing more than one post-alveolar segment) one of these segments is very
likely to be a retroflex. The author argues that this is because the retroflex
/ʂ/ is gesturally and acoustically distinct from /ʃ/ and /ç/ and provides good
evidence in support of this argument. The article ends with an argument for the
use of perceptually-based features, such as sibilant tonality, in the
description of sibilants to help explain the distribution of these segments in a
language’s phonemic inventory. The article is clearly written and makes
excellent use of several types of experimental data to argue its point.

This volume fits well within the current trend in linguistics of using
laboratory and experimental methods to evaluate, test, and expand upon more
abstract analyses. It also shows the value of working at the intersection of
several fields, in this case phonetics, phonology, and historical linguistics.
Current work on the phonetics / phonology interface is beginning to challenge
the long standing tradition of using careful laboratory speech to test
phonological theories due to the difference between laboratory speech and
conversational speech. This challenge is supported by the work reported by
Calamai and Ricci who note that there was a fair amount of variation amongst
their speakers even in a laboratory setting. While such variation may be
problematic from the perspective of drawing concrete generalizations about
language behavior, it serves to highlight why language change happens and the
importance of looking at acoustic data from a number of individuals.

The article by García Santos presents a well stated argument for the role of
acoustic data in evaluating rival theories of historical changes, but the
reporting of the data collected by this author leaves something to be desired.
In contrast, the article by Recasens and Espinosa and the article by Żygis are
excellent examples of using laboratory techniques to test theories of sound
change. As a whole, the volume is cohesive and shows the growth of experimental
research in linguistics and the importance of using multiple approaches in any
sort of linguistic analysis. One problem with the volume is the somewhat
inconsistent use of IPA in some of the articles, making the arguments hard to
follow if one does not speak with the languages being discussed. Also, for
someone who is not familiar with the literature on historical sound changes,
some of the arguments for specific theories may be hard to follow. However, the
potential for future work using laboratory techniques to aid in historical
analyses is vast and this volume is a good step in the direction of a more
integrated approach to linguistic analyses.

Alonso, Amado. 1967-1969. De la pronunciación medieval a la moderna en español.
Madrid: Gredos.

Schürr, Friedrich. 1936. Umlaut und Diphthongierung in der Romania. Romanische
Forschungen 50: 275-316.

Sorianello, Patrizia & Antonella Mancuso. 1998. Le consonanti retroflesse nel
consentino: analisi preliminare. In Atti delle VIII Giornate di Studio del
Gruppo di Fonetica Sperimentale, Pisa 18-19 dicembre 1997. Pisa: Edizioni ETS:

Erin Ament is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics at William and Mary. She is interested in the intersection of experimental phonetics, language acquisition, and psycholinguistics.