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Review of  Vowels and Consonants

Reviewer: Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich
Book Title: Vowels and Consonants
Book Author: Sorry, No Book Author Data Available!
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): New English
Issue Number: 16.2657

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Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2005 22:18:07 +0200
From: Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich
Subject: Vowels and Consonants: An Introduction to the Sounds of
Languages, 2nd ed.

AUTHOR: Ladefoged, Peter
TITLE: Vowels and Consonants
SUBTITLE: An Introduction to the Sounds of Languages (Second
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2005

Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich, Department of Foreign Literatures and
Linguistics, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


This book was written as an introductory textbook. Its aim is to
familiarize students with no background in phonetics with the ways of
characterizing the sounds of human languages. The book consists of
sixteen chapters and is accompanied by a CD where examples
referred to in the text can be heard. The 1996 version of the IPA chart
is included before the first chapter. A glossary of useful terms used in
the text follows Chapter 16. The CD also includes material relating to
Ladefoged's (1993) "A Course in Phonetics". (I will not refer to this
material in the review.)

Chapter 1 "Sounds and Languages" is an introductory chapter. A
theoretical evolutionary orientation to the study of human sounds is
briefly presented. A working definition of language as 'a system of
sounds subject to various evolutionary forces' (p.1) is given and later
the main purpose of language "to convey information" (p.5) is added.
The work of phoneticians is introduced. The articulatory and cognitive
constraints on human sounds are briefly reviewed. The three methods
used to describe sounds which are discussed in the text are named:
IPA symbols, acoustic characteristics and articulatory characteristics.
In this chapter, early concepts in acoustics: pitch, loudness and quality
are introduced.

Chapter 2 "Pitch and Loudness" discusses the first two acoustic
characteristics in detail. First, tone is discussed. The phonemic use of
tone variation is exemplified by Chinese and Cantonese (Note that the
term 'phoneme' is not used.). The (syntactic/semantic/pragmatic) use
of tone changes are exemplified by English. The examples can be
heard on the CD and their spectrograms and pitch patterns can be
seen. The waveforms shown in the Figures in the text are not
repeated on the CD. Throughout the chapter the objective, scientific
nature of acoustic measurement is noted, coupled with the variability,
between and within speakers, of the sounds measured. The function
of the vocal folds and the articulatory basis of pitch variation are
described. A video of vocal fold vibration is included on the CD, as
well as three color stills (shown in the text in black and white). There is
no audio accompanying the vocal fold video or pictures. Loudness
variation is explained and its minor role in meaning variation briefly
discussed. Stress variation is attributed primarily to pitch variation.

Chapter 3 "Vowel Contrasts" begins with the inadequacy of English
orthography as a representation of English vowels. The phonemic
versus phonetic description of vowels in emphasized, although
again, 'phoneme' is not mentioned, but rather, 'categories of
contrasting sounds' (p.26). The vowels represented by the same IPA
symbol in several languages are brought and can be heard on the
CD. The vowels of each language are given as a group; the vowels of
the different languages represented by the same symbol are not
presented consecutively. The rest of the chapter focuses on the
different vowels of different dialects of English, particularly comparing
American and British English.

Chapter 4 "The Sounds of Vowels" deals with the third acoustic
characteristic – quality. The concept of overtones is introduced as
distinguishing between vowels. Formants are introduced and
explained. The CD audio is used to demonstrate how formant
differences can be heard. Spectrograms are introduced.

Chapter 5 "Charting Vowels" While still in the acoustic part of the text,
this chapter begins with experience of the articulatory basis of
differences between vowels. Formant charts are used to show the
characterization of vowels based on two, and in some instances,
three, formants. Differences between men's and women's vowel
productions in different English dialects are charted.

Chapter 6 "The Sounds of Consonants" Stop, approximant, nasal,
fricative and affricate consonants are described in terms of their major
articulation patterns and their acoustic characteristics as illustrated by

Chapter 7 "Acoustic Components of Speech" serves as a summary of
the nine acoustic components of speech sounds previously presented.
The acoustic characteristics are given their auditory (perceptual)
correlates. The analysis of speech into these components allows
computerized synthesis of speech sounding close to human.

Chapter 8 "Talking Computers" The aim of computer synthesis of
speech is given as a very close approximation of human speech,
including coarticulatory effects (this term is not used), stress and
intonation. Computer programs that convert orthography to speech
must account for the lack of one to one correspondence between
grapheme and phoneme in languages like English, and also take into
account conventions like abbreviations. Different methods of building
up a synthesis from a phonetic description are described (parametric
and concatenative approaches). The results of examples of the
different systems are demonstrated on the CD. Computerized speech
synthesis is also seen as a potential model of human speech

Chapter 9 "Listening Computers" shows the other side of speech
synthesis – computerized interpretation of speech. The failure to
produce a successful computerized interpretation of speech sounds is
seen as an inadequacy of our model of speech. The process is one of
matching patterns to a large store. However, the basic difference
between inexact people, and exact computers, makes it difficult to
design a computer that will interpret acoustic descriptions in the same
manner as phoneticians interpret spectrograms. Computers use
probability to choose interpretations of sound sequences.

Chapter 10 In "How We Listen to Speech", the idea is presented that
the perceptual differences between sounds are not linear. There are
boundaries between similar sounds at which we begin to perceive the
sounds differently. These are exemplified for voicing on the CD.
Unfortunately, I was unable to play example 10.2. Furthermore,
speech is not analyzed and interpreted sequentially, rather chunks of
speech sounds are interpreted together, automatically and temporal
sequence of sounds is difficult to accurately determine. Tasks
investigating this hypothesis are reported and demonstrated on the

Chapter 11 "Making English Consonants" begins the section on
articulatory phonetics. Articulation is defined as controlled movements
of the vocal organs for a specified purpose. The relative lack of
precision in articulatory versus acoustic phonetics is noted. First, a
description of the articulatory apparatus (vocal folds and superior) is
given and illustrated diagrammatically. The traditional definitions of
place and manner of articulation are given and diagrams of the
articulatory postures for some English consonants are shown. Next
the characterization of English consonants by place-manner-voicing is
related to the IPA chart (or a partial version of this chart).

Chapter 12 "Making English Vowels" presents the characterization of
vowels by tongue height as an approximate description. The
differences in tongue height are related to the acoustic characteristics
previously presented. This is more easily applied for the front vowels
than for the back vowels. The anatomy and function of the tongue
muscle are discussed in some detail with that of the lips also
mentioned. The difficulty in accurately describing the positions of the
articulators has resulted in phoneticians historically taking first formant
frequency as tongue height, and second formant frequency as tongue
backness/lip rounding.

Chapter 13 "Actions of the Larynx" takes us one step down
anatomically to the structure and function of the larynx. The
movements of the laryngeal cartilage are related to pitch changes,
differences between vowels, voicing as well as voice qualities.
Phonetic voicing differences between languages are discussed with
the concept of Voice Onset Time. These are illustrated on the CD.
Unfortunately, I was unable to play the Spanish examples. The larynx
as an articulator is exemplified in the text and on the CD for glottal
stops (Hawaiian), 'breathy stops' (Hindi), breathy-voiced vowels
(Gujartati), 'creaky-voiced' vowels (Jalapa Mazatec), 'tense-voice'
(Mpi), ejectives (Quechua), and implosives (Sindhi,Owerri-Igbo). A
brief mention of methodology used in collecting information about
sounds of unknown languages is given here.

Chapter 14 "Consonants Around the World" begins with an
introduction about disappearing languages, explaining the important
of fieldwork with little spoken languages. It then surveys the
consonants of a variety of languages, pointing out the consonants or
consonant features most common among languages. The IPA chart is
used as the reference first for places of articulation and then for
manners of articulation. Examples of languages which have each
sound are brought and can be heard on the CD. (I was unable to hear
some of the Hungarian examples.) The discussion includes both the
articulatory (teaching the reader how to make the sound) and acoustic
descriptions of these sounds. Other methods of phonetic fieldwork
(e.g. palatography) are exemplified.

Chapter 15 "Vowels Around the World" is the vowel counterpart of the
consonants described in Chapter 14. The number of vowels and the
number of consonants in a language are not related. Languages of
the world may have between three and twenty four vowels. Features
of vowels discussed include: vowel height, lip rounding, backness,
vowel length, nasalization and quality. Both articulatory patterns (how
to make the sound) and the acoustic features (formant features) are
presented. Examples from a variety of languages illustrating the
different vowel characteristics can be heard on the CD.

Chapter 16 "Putting Vowels and Consonants Together" In this
chapter, Ladefoged presents his theory of how speech and speech
sounds are represented in the brain, expanding idea briefly presented
previously in the book. The main idea is that people do not store or
produce individual sounds but rather sound combinations such as
syllables and words, despite the breakdown into individual sounds
which has been discussed in the preceding fifteen chapters. Support
for this theory is brought from slips of the tongue and from
orthography as an invention (as opposed to a discovery of a natural
phenomenon). The chapter goes on to discuss the IPA symbols and
their use. From here the concepts of phoneme and phonological
features are introduced.


This is a very readable book presenting complex concepts in a friendly
way. The constant cross-references within the book and the
coordination of the two major orientations – articulatory and acoustic -
make for a unified text where concepts are continuously reinforced.

The variety of languages presented and the use of the CD to allow
auditory as well as visual (spectrographic, IPA symbol) examples
serves to make the topics discussed both very clear and interesting.
The CD is an excellent supplement to the written text. It includes
examples of many languages as well as opportunities to experience
experiments in phonetics. The exact references to the CD in the text
make for easy incorporation of the CD examples into reading the text.
Unfortunately, a small number of the examples could not be played on
my copy of the CD.

The detailed explanations of how to produce sounds of various
languages, including rare languages, promoted a deeper
understanding of these sounds. I found the anatomical explanations of
the articulatory mechanism useful, although I would have been happy
to see something on respiration as the source of the airstream for
speech. The chapters on computerized speech further deepen the
reader's understanding of speech sounds.

There is very little on phonology, however, as this is a textbook of
phonetics this is perhaps not a real criticism.

I found the order of the presentation of the topics sometimes
surprising. Articulatory phonetics is discussed only in the latter half of
the book but already from the earliest chapters the reader is referred
to "how sounds are produced". It is not clear to me why the first
feature to be discussed is tone.

As an introductory text, it is certainly written with clarity appropriate for
students with no background in phonetics or any related field.
Considering the framework of the introductory course I am about to
begin teaching, I find this text at the level of the preliminary course
which precedes my course. However, the book is perhaps too detailed
for this preliminary course. On the other hand, the subjects covered
are in almost sufficient detail for my introductory course but, the book
is less structured than the type of text I would want to follow. (Less
structured and practical than say, Ladefoged's (1993) 'A course in
Phonetics'.) As a teaching aid for me and as a supplementary
reference for my students, I expect to find both the text and the
accompanying CD very useful.

Leah Gedalyovich is currently assisting in research into Hebrew G-SLI
at the Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics, Ben-Gurion
University of the Negev. She combines research with part-time work
as a speech-language pathologist in pre-school and school settings.
She is about to commence teaching an introductory course in
phonetics and phonology. Research interests include normative first
language acquisition (primarily of Hebrew), language disorders, the
interaction of semantics and pragmatics and the clinical application of
linguistic theory.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0631214127
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 216
Prices: U.K. £ 19.99