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Review of  Phonetics

Reviewer: Jessica Payeras
Book Title: Phonetics
Book Author: Peter J Roach
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 13.1700

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Roach, Peter (2001) Phonetics: An Introduction to Language Study. Oxford
University Press, paperback ISBN 0-19-437239-1, 128 pp, GBP 7.90, Oxford
Introductions to Language Study.

Jessica Payeras, Universit� du Qu�bec � Montr�al

This book forms part of a series of introduction to different disciplines
of linguistics. Its main purpose is to provide a complement to academic
introductions to linguistics and to ease the transition of students and
non- specialists in the understanding of complex ideas.

This book, which deals mainly with Phonetics, has exactly the same four
sections that all the other books in the series: Survey, Readings,
References and Glossary. Survey deals as its name suggests with a global
vision of the main issues which concerns the area study, in this case,
Phonetics. Here we find the basic scope and concerns of Phonetics and its
main concepts, explained in a simple but not in a simplistic fashion. In
other words, language is simple, explanations and definitions, direct.
Moreover, the exposition of ideas stimulate thought and invite a critical
evaluation from the part of the reader. The second section of the book,
Readings has been designed to present the reader with texts extracted from
the specialized literature and provide useful questions to focus on
specific issues and compare across different texts that deal with the same
ideas. The Reference section provides the reader with more specialized and
annotated readings that should be covered to complement the general
description accomplished in the first part. The fourth and final section
is the Glossary which explains certain terms that have highlighted in the
Survey section. In other words, the glossary acts as a cross-reference to
the survey, explaining in detail concepts mentioned in the Survey. They
work together very well like a book on a foreign language and a
dictionary. Concepts are indexed in alphabetical order with valuable
information as the secondary concepts related and the pages in the book
where these concepts are discussed.

Survey which is also the heart of the book is divided into ten chapters.
In the first one, entitled ''The science of speech'', the author deals with
three main issues: the speech chain, Phonetics by itself and Phonetics in
relation to Linguistics. The speech chain is explained in the same logical
way that the three events occur: the production of sounds, the traveling
of sound in the form of vibrations and the reception of sounds from the
part of the listener. Phonetics is explained as a complex discipline
which uses a transcription system to detail sound segments (consonants and
vowels). Finally in the last section of chapter one, important
characteristics of sounds are presented like the notion of contrast and
the spoken side of language with which Phonetics deals in a clear,
scientific and measurable way.

In chapter two, ''The making of speech sounds'', Peter Roach takes us
through the speech and breathing mechanisms. The larynx, the vocal tract
are very detailed using simple language. The explanations are also backed
up by diagrams which help in the comprehension of new information. The
last part of chapter two takes care of the description of speech

In chapter three, ''classifying speech sounds'', separate sections are given
for consonants and vowels. In the vowel section, we are also confronted
with transcription conventions. A cardinal vowel diagram is also supplied.
The consonant section deal exhaustively with the following criteria of
classification: voicing, place of articulation, manner of articulation and
airstream. Descriptions and examples are not limited to English and this
description makes the chapter very interesting.

Chapter four, ''Tone and tone languages'' deals with languages that are
characterized by distinctive use of pitch control such as Kono (from
Sierra Leone). These languages are also known as tone languages and are
spoken in Asia (Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese), south and west Africa
(Hausa, Yoruba and Zulu) and some American indigenous languages (Mixteco,
Zapotec and Navajo). This is of course not the case of most European
languages which do not exploit this function of tone. Specific
characteristics such as lexical and grammar use of tone, tone levels and
contours, tones and context and tones and pitch accents are surveyed.

Chapter five, ''Suprasegmentals'' deal with what is generally studied under
prosody. These suprasegmentals can be described as properties of speech
which affect at least a syllable and can be extended to many words. Among
the many features that fall under this category are pitch, loudness, tempo
(articulation rate), voice quality, etc. The main ones that are dealt with
here are stress and intonation. Stress shows up in syllables that have
prominence, and as a direct consequence of this, are louder and longer. In
some cases, difference in the position of the stress syllables are
responsible for difference in function: in English, imPORT (verb) and
IMport (noun) and in Spanish, T�Rmino 'terminus', terMIno 'finish' and
termiN� 'I terminated'. A generous part of this chapter deals with
intonation which can be defined as the melody of speech. The units of
analysis for intonation come in the form of variations of pitch.
Intonation has varied functions, mainly three: to signal modality in the
distinction between utterances, questions and exclamations, to assign
emphasis to certain elements and to convey emotions and attitudes of the
speaker. That is why, intonation is directly linked to the discourse
functions of speech. Rhythm and other suprasegmental features like tempo
and voice quality are dealt with in the last sections of the chapter.

Chapter six, ''Acoustics of sounds'' introduces the techniques of spectral
analysis of signals. To complement this information, we are presented in
the next section with the four different types of acoustic patterns:
periodic sounds, aperiodic sounds, mixtures of periodic and aperiodic and
finally silence. All the sounds in the world fall under one of these
categories. Next, each of the following types of vowels and consonants are
described from the acoustic point of view: vowels, fricatives, plosives,
nasals, affricates, approximants. Finally, suprasegmental characterization
of pitch through fundamental frequency, intensity and duration are briefly

Chapter seven deals with ''Sound in systems''. Rather than concentrating on
phonological systems which would require a separate book altogether, this
chapter gives a general but essential description of vowels and consonants
as group of sounds. Examples of consonant and vowels inventory are
provided for a variety of languages including Hindi and Korean.

Chapter eight ''Connected speech and coarticulation'' looks closely at three
events that occur rather frequently in many languages: assimilation,
coarticulation and elision. Assimilation is what happens when one sound
becomes phonetically similar to an adjacent sound. Three main types of
assimilation are described: (i) voice assimilation (the devoicing of a
voiced segment), (ii) change in place of articulation of a consonant (for
example, in English, word- final alveolars like /t,d,n/ will have a
tendency to adapt their place of articulation towards the same place of
articulation of the adjacent word-initial consonants). The third type of
assimilation affects manner (one sound changes the manner of its
articulation to become similar in manner to a neighboring sound).
Coarticulation is not easy to define or describe because of the different
nature of articulators involved in sound production. For example, tip of
the tongue and vocal folds are light and mobile while tongue body and soft
palate are heavier and much more difficult to move. To conclude the
chapter, the author looks at elision, which has to do with the
disappearance of one or more sounds in connected speech. Examples from
English and Japanese are presented.

Chapter nine ''Variation'' deals with regional, social and style variation.
In the section where regional variation is dealt with, important terms
such as dialect and accent are discussed. Social variation has many
faces: class variation (middle or low classes), context variation (people
speak differently in different social situations) and sex and or group
variations (differences between how men and women talk and social groups
like nurses, army, etc). Other factors like age and the dangers of corpus
created in laboratories are also discussed.

Chapter ten ''Conclusions'' ends on a positive and encouraging note as to
the rich variety of sources not only of journals and books but of programs
that allow us to conduct our own studies and the phonetics web sites that
discuss and teach many interesting sides of Phonetics.

The objective of this book is to serve as an introductory manual on
Phonetics in a simple and direct manner and this achieved from the first
page. I would best characterize this book by saying that it is like a
walking guide along different concepts of Phonetics. The four sections:
Survey, Readings, References and Glossary are very well integrated and
allows flexibility for the different levels of previous knowledge from the
reader. Concepts that require further reading are presented as such and
the glossary makes it easy to consult them along the way.

The pitfall of many so-called introductory manuals is that they are so
complex in the descriptions and diagrams presented that they induce
apprehension on the part of a nonspecialists. This book does not
intimidate anyone and invites itself to be read. It could be very easily
integrated into a introductory class on Phonetics. The simplicity of the
language and of the descriptions do not make the content weak. On the
contrary, the subjects are discussed in a serious and thorough way so as
to invite reflection from the reader.

Ladd, Robert (1996). Intonational Phonology. Cambridge University Press.
Jessica Payeras did her Ph.D. thesis on discourse intonation of
spontaneous speech in Colombian Spanish at the Universit� du Qu�bec �
Montr�al in 2001. She firmly believes in the use of spontaneous material
in the phonetic and phonological characterization of different varieties.
She is now teaching Spanish in the Language Department of the same
university and is presently designing Spanish as a second language courses
which integrate Phonetics and Discourse Intonation.