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Review of  Tones and Features

Reviewer: Seetha Jayaraman
Book Title: Tones and Features
Book Author: John A. Goldsmith Elizabeth V. Hume Leo Wetzels
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 23.2378

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EDITORS: John A. Goldsmith, Elizabeth Hume and Leo Wetzels
TITLE: Tones and Features
SUBTITLE: Phonetic and Phonological Perspectives
SERIES: Studies in Generative Grammar
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2011

Seetha Jayaraman, Dhofar University, Sultanate of Oman.


“Tones and Features - Phonetic and Phonological Perspectives” is a collection of
papers as a part of the series “Studies in Generative Grammar”. The
contributions were presented at a conference at the University of Chicago’s
Paris Center in June 2009, which was organized in honor of Nick Clements.

In the preface, the editors recall and appreciate the contributions made by
Clements to phonology and phonological theories, most of which are based on the
study of African languages. Clements was instrumental in developing views on
features, feature geometry, sonority and syllabification.

The editors also discuss phonological systems, raising the question of whether
tone is different from phonological features. Addressing this question is the
key element in three of the five papers of Part I of the book, which is based on
phonological theories on African languages.

The volume has 14 papers and is divided in two parts. Each paper is followed by
an extensive list of references and explanatory notes.

The first part of the book, “The representation and nature of tone”, deals with
tone systems and tonal contrasts (lexical versus phonological), and has five
papers on different aspects of tone.

The first paper, “Do we need tone features?”, by G. N. Clements, Alexis Michaud
and Cédric Patin, reviews and analyzes the criteria commonly used in feature
analysis in segmental phonology in 1967. With the introduction of Autosegmental
Phonology in 1976, tonal features began to be treated as significant in defining
specific phonological features. This paper examines the need for tone features,
as well as their functions in level tones, contour tones, and register, by
drawing on examples from Asian and African languages. The study concludes that
tonal features do not serve the same functions as segmental features.

The second paper, “Rhythm, quantity and tone in the Kinyarwanda verb”, by John
Goldsmith and Fidèle Mpiranya, focuses on the complex nature of tone assignment,
while keeping it distinct from other aspects of phonology (i.e. assignment deals
with the point of realization used on a global metrical structure, based on the
word as a whole). The study is based on the tonal system of Kinyarwanda verbs
and demonstrates that rhythmic positions vary with tonal assignment of the
verbal system in some languages, a phenomenon that is comparable to stress

In the third paper, “Do tones have features?”, Larry M. Hyman addresses three
questions: (1) Why isn’t tone universal?; (2) Is tone different?; and (3) Do
tones have features?. Hyman believes that feature analysis is not necessary and
suggests that tone features are useful and that their existence “….is not
compelling because of their greater autonomy and unreliable intersection with
each other and other features” (54).

The fourth paper, “Features impinging on tone”, by David Odden, is an account of
motivating tonal features. The focus is on the types of evidence for the
existence of and motivation for certain features. For example, the interaction
between consonant voicing and tone, and a register feature called [upper] that
divides tone spaces into upper and lower registers. For example, the interaction
between consonant voicing and tone, and a register feature called [upper],
divides tone spaces into upper and lower registers. Another example is the
feature [raised], which subdivides registers into higher and lower internal
levels. Such phenomena explain the phonological alternation and the physically
discontinuous assimilation of the feature [+round] in Anlo we (Clements, 1978).
A similar example is drawn from Kikamba, where the 4 level tonal space is
divided by a distinction between high and low tones, which are further
differentiated by being [plain] versus [extreme] outside of the tonal space.
Another example is drawn from Kikamba, where the 4 level tonal space is divided
by a distinction between high and low tones, which are further differentiated by
being [plain] versus [extreme] outside of the tonal space. Odden opines that
tonal features are learned based on phonological patterns and not along with the
physical properties of sounds. The investigation, drawing on samples from the
Adamawa language called Tupuri, shows that voicing, like vowel height, is a
feature relevant to synchronic tonal phonology.

The fifth paper, “Downstep and linguistic scaling in Dagara-Wulé”, by Annie
Rialland and Penou-Achille Somé, is a description of the relationship between
linguistic scaling in Dagara-Wulé (an African tone language), and musical
scaling, based on the downstep sequences in the eighteen key scale of a
xylophone. Downstep is studied in many languages, and is generally analyzed
through musical terms such as intervals, register, and key-lowering. The study
shows that both kinds of scaling share the similar property of equal steps,
which is explicable via ‘semitones’.

The second part of the book, “The representation and nature of phonological
features”, consists of nine papers related to phonological features in different
languages, which differ due to variation in laryngeal features like voicing, and
also due to differences arising out of individual sound segments. The
investigations are in the framework of theories based on acoustic and perceptual
properties. Speech is analyzed as a set of distinctly observable (phonemes)
features, which can be broken up into phonological features. The individual
phonological features combine to make the phoneme system and create a systematic
pattern of sounds which can be studied both diachronically and synchronically.
Phonological features establish a sound and meaning inter-relationship by their
associated physiological and anatomical composition in speakers.

The first paper in this part, “Crossing the quantal boundaries of features:
Subglottal resonances and Swabian diphthongs”, by Grzegorz Dogil, Steven M.
Lulich, Andreas Madsack, and Wolfgang Wokurek, is a description of features
based on Stevens’(1972) quantal model of features. The study discusses the role
of subglottal resonances in the production and perception of the Swabian dialect
of German, with special reference to two diphthongs and spectrographic evidence
of data from 12 speakers of German. The results show that movements of formants
lead to subglottal regional crossing in the case of one of the two diphthongs
studied. In other words, F2 frequency relates to the subglottal point at or near
the beginning of the diphthong. Earlier findings of the difference between the
two diphthongs were temporal (Geumann, 1997; Hiller, 2003). This study shows
that both spectral and temporal cues independently contribute to the contrast
and concludes that tone is different than segments because of its greater
diversity and autonomy.

The second paper, “Voice assimilation in French obstruents: Categorical or
gradient?”, by Pierre A. Hallé and Martine Adda-Decker, is an investigation of
voicing assimilation in French consonant clusters, using a corpus of French
radio and television speech. The paper looks at categoricity versus gradiency
in natural assimilation. By categorical definition, in discrete accounts of
voicing assimilation, there are two phonetic categories, voiced and voiceless.
The voicing assimilation process is a switch from one category to the other. By
a gradient account, assimilation is viewed as phonetic shift of one of the two
categories. It is hypothesized that glottal pulsing is the main cue to obstruent
voicing. Word-final and word-initial obstruents are quantified using duration,
and the v-ratio (i.e. voiced portion) within consonants is computed and analyzed
in terms of v-ratio distribution versus a theoretical hypothesis on
assimilation. V-ratio is the proportion of voicing relative to total duration of
an obstruent (e.g. in “trouvent que” and “avec des”). The paper concludes that,
compared to other acoustic parameters, voicing assimilation as a single feature
operation, [voice], affects the process the most. Other cues appear less
affected. In other words, voicing assimilation in French consonant clusters may
be complete or partial.

The third paper, “An acoustic study of the Korean fricatives /s, s′/:
Implications for the features [spread glottis] and [tense]”, by Hyunsoon Kim and
Chae-Lim Park, explores the distinction between the two fricatives /s/ and / s′/
in phonetic terms and examines whether laryngeal characterizations of these
fricatives --frication, aspiration, fundamental frequency and voicing-- are also
acoustically supported. The most striking feature differentiating the two
fricative sounds is the duration of frication. The study observes that the
duration of frication is longer in /s′/ than in /s/, and that aspiration occurs
during the transition between a fricative and a following vowel, regardless of
the phonation type of fricatives.

The next paper, “Autosegmental spreading in Optimality Theory”, by John J.
McCarthy, reports the results of a study on vowel harmony within the framework
of Optimality Theory (OT). The study proposes Serial Harmony (SH), which is
parallel to OT and deals with specific constraints that favor ‘autosegmental
spreading’ and a derivational ‘Harmonic Serialism’(HS) system for the
phonological processes concerned. HS is a version of OT, in which the feature
GEN (Generic) is limited to making one change at a time. Finally, McCarthy
argues that theories based on OT make incorrect typological predictions that SH
does not.

The fifth paper in this part, “Evaluating the effectiveness of Unified Feature
Theory and three other feature systems”, by Jeff Mielke, Lyra Mogloughlin, and
Elizabeth Hume, compares six different theories in describing natural and
unnatural classes of sounds: (1) Preliminaries to the Analysis of Speech
(Jakobson, Fant, and Halle 1952); (2) The Sound Pattern of English (Chomsky and
Halle 1968); (3) Problem Book in Phonology (Hall and Clements 1983); (4) Unified
Feature Theory (UFT, Clements and Hume 1995); (5) Unified Feature Theory with
binary place features; and (6) Unified Feature Theory with full specification of
all features. The study claims that “UFT is distinct from the other theories in
its use of privative features and its emphasis on feature organization” (224).
It is observed that the UFT of Clements and Hume (1995), in terms of binary
place features, is more efficient than the other theories in classifying sounds
of phonologically active classes in world languages, which can be accounted for
by a small set of distinctive features.

The sixth paper, “Language-independent bases of distinctive features”, by Rachid
Ridouane, G. N. Clements and Rajesh Khatiwada, is based on the theory of
distinctive features of speech sounds measurable by their acoustic parameters.
The aim of the investigation is to show that existing distinctive features are
not phonetically inadequate for phonological purposes. Hence, acoustic features
as measured are universal and language independent. The study attempts to
explain the feature [spread glottis] and to define the feature in articulatory
and acoustic terms.

The seventh paper, “Representation of complex segments in Bulgarian”, by Jerzy
Rubach, addresses the question of treating palatalized and velarized consonants
as simplex (i.e. involving a single articulator) or complex (i.e. involving two
articulators) segments, using both their primary and secondary articulatory
characteristics. The paper studies data from Bulgarian along three geometric
theories: ‘Articulator Theory’; ‘Unified Feature Theory’; and ‘Modified
Articulator Theory’. The study finds that palatalization and velarization of
coronals and labials are treated as secondary articulation and are dealt with as
complex segments.

The eighth paper in this section, “Proposals for a representation of sounds
based on their main acoustic-perceptual properties”, by Jacqueline Vaissière,
deals with five ‘reference’ vowels and the system of defining them, as relating
to the articulatory and acoustic explanations proposed by Stevens’ (1972)
‘Quantal Model of Distinctive Features’. The study’s author discusses the
preference of explaining phonetic features using notation along the lines of
Stevens’(1989) theory over Jones’(1918) articulatory system of describing
cardinal vowels.

The last paper of the volume, “The representation of vowel features and vowel
neutralization in Brazilian Portuguese (southern dialects)”, by W. Leo Wetzels,
is a detailed discussion of the functional features of mid vowels, which are
considered along a gradient scale in the 4-height vowel system in Brazilian
Portuguese (BP) (along with their corresponding glides). It is observed that
there is a tendency to move from a 7-vowel system to a 5-vowel system in BP.
Wetzels considers the link between vowel neutralization and a contrastive
glottal aperture tire (a phonotactic feature) through a process of
marked-unmarked feature substitution, which is context-dependent. The five
vowels are represented by /i, u, a, έ and ό/, where the latter two are created
by assimilatory neutralization.


The book provides useful insights into phonetic and phonological perspectives of
language research, including the basics of data collection, methods of
recording, and selecting equipment. The issues discussed range from complex
phonological details of articulatory features and acoustic parameters, on the
one hand, to tonal features related to morphological structures on the other.
The collection is a valuable tool of individual resources for anyone interested
in an in-depth study of various phonetic and phonological theories, along with
their assumptions and interpretation. The exhaustive treatment of the underlying
forms of features with special reference to certain African languages, both in
terms of tones and features, makes the book an important contribution to the
field of phonology.

Hyman’s account of tones, which links them to morphological features, and
Odden’s article on features of voicing and vowel height that influence tone,
inspire us to further explore other features. Relating tonal languages with
music in terms of downstep, and comparing linguistic scaling with musical
scaling, is fascinating. Earlier works have worked on F0 as the basis of
comparison between the two fields. Mielke’s comparison of six systems with the
most frequent combination of phonologically active classes (p. 231) and
evaluation of UFT as the most effective system is compelling and convincing.
This is because UFT can account for the smallest of distinctive features to
describe sound patterns, modifying the original explanation of natural classes.
The article on representation of vowel height and vowel neutralization is yet
another interesting article on vowel height and syllable structure. What makes
the article interesting is the discussion of the 7-vowel system in relation to
syllable stress, showing a contrast between upper and lower mid vowels in
Brazilian Portuguese. Apart from defining the contrast among mid vowels with
degrees of aperture, it argues against vowel neutralization being dissociated
from the tier defining contrast. In sum, the volume illustrates the
inter-relatability of features remarkably well and is a valuable addition to the
list of reference for researchers working on phonological perspectives of tonal

Most of the chapters (i.e. Pt. I - 1,4 & 5; Part II - 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 & 9) are
followed by explanatory notes with additional references on related issues
discussed in the chapters, which is an added advantage. Overall, the book is
rich in content and the references at the end of each chapter are of immense
help to students of phonetics and phonology.


Clements, G. Nick.(1978).Tones and Syntax in Ewe: In: Donna Jo Napoli
(ed.)Elements of Tone, Stress and Intonation, 21-99.Washington:Georgetown
University Press.

Clements, G.N. and Hume, E.(1995). The internal organization of speech sounds.
John A. Goldsmith (ed.) The Handbook of Phonological Theory, 245-306. Oxford:

Geumann, Anja (1997). Formant trajectory dynamics in Swabian diphthongs.
Forchungsberichte des Instituts für Phonetik und Sprachliche Kommunikation der
Universtät München 35:35-38.

Goldsmith, John A. (1976). Autosegmental Phonology. Ph.D. dissertation. M.I.T.,
New York: Garland Publishing.

Hiller, Markus.(2003). The diphthong dynamics discussion in Swabian. In: van de
Weijer, van Heuven, and van der Hulst (eds.)The Phonological Spectrum.
Amsterdam: John Benjamin.

Jones, D.(1918). An Outline of English Phonetics. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Stevens, K. N. (1972). The quantal nature of speech; Evidence from
articulatory-acoustic data. In: P. B. Denes and E. E. David Jr.(eds.), Human
Communication: A Unified View, 51-66. New Yori:McGraw-Hill.

Stevens, K.N. (1989). On the quantal nature of speech. Journal of Phonetics

Dr. Seetha Jayaraman is a Lecturer at Dhofar University, Sultanate of Oman, where she teaches English language to undergraduates. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, comparative linguistics, and articulatory and acoustic phonetics.