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Review of  The Internal Organization of Phonological Segments

Reviewer: Michael C. Cahill
Book Title: The Internal Organization of Phonological Segments
Book Author: Marc van Oostendorp Jeroen van de Weijer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Galice
Issue Number: 16.2680

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Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2005 15:15:17 -0500
From: Mike Cahill
Subject: The Internal Organization of Phonological Segments

EDITORS: van Oostendorp, Marc; van de Weijer, Jeroen
TITLE: The Internal Organization of Phonological Segments
SERIES: Studies in Generative Grammar 77
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Mike Cahill, SIL International


This volume is a collection of eleven papers selected from presentations
at the first Old-World Conference on Phonology held in Leiden in January
2003. As the editors note, the rise of Optimality Theory (OT) in the 1990s
had the most benefit for subdisciplines of phonology concerned with
conflicts. OT excels in matters of alternations and variation, but ignores
matters of representation. The papers in this volume are an explicit
attempt to complement OT in the area of representations.

After a valuable introductory chapter in which the editors summarize the
contributions, the papers are grouped into three areas: five general
papers on Feature Geometry, and three papers each on specifics of Nasality
and Laryngeal Features in various languages. I will summarize and comment
on each paper, than give an evaluation of the book as a whole.

PART 1, on Features and feature geometry, begins with ''Optimal Geometries''
by Christian Uffman. OT does not explicitly deal with the question of
representations, but Uffman proposes that representations still have a
positive role to play, even within OT. In particular, Feature Geometry
(FG) can act as a representational filter on GEN, the generator function
of OT. He first points out that there is no generally accepted theory of
segment interaction within OT (even the most common phonological processes
of assimilation do not have an agreed-upon analysis), and asserts that
representations are compatible with OT, unlike some other researchers'
proposals, such as strict locality proposals. Far from complicating the
phonology, representations can simplify OT by inherently filtering out
impossible configurations and thus simplifying the set of constraints that
need be considered. He introduces five general constraints that refer to
FG structure, relating them to non-structural constraints already in the
literature and showing the economy of constraints that results. One result
of this approach is that Uffman can do away with constraint proposals that
explicitly enforce assimilation (e.g. AGREE) in favor of the interaction
of the more basic markedness and faithfulness constraints. For example,
for voicing assimilation, he invokes a constraint *[+/- voice], penalizing
every separate [voice] autosegment, and incorporates structure by the
constraint FAITH (Onset). Uffman also illustrates how the theory would
work with long-distance consonant voicing in Kera, vowel epenthesis in
loanwords, even in languages with multiple strategies, and in the long-
distance voicing dissimilation process known as Dahl's Law. He ends with a
proposal that other phenomena such as vowel harmony, traditionally
problematic in OT, would be handled more readily by incorporating FG
structure into OT.

The next paper is ''Variability in feature affiliations through violable
constraints: the case of [lateral]'' by Moira Yip. Her position on the
internal organization of speech segments is that they have no internal
organization. She argues that [lateral] has been shown to be a dependent
of different nodes in FG in different languages, and that this argues
against a universal configuration of FG. Yip argues that OT handles these
phenomena easily by rankable co-occurrence constraints such as
*LateralDorsal. She thereby avoids what she terms the ''excessive rigidity''
of a fixed FG. Yip's constraints generate the inventories found in
languages: laterals' preference to be sonorants and the common place being
coronal. She uses these constraints to give an an account for [Nl] -> [ll]
in Selayarese but [nl] in Chukchi, as well as patterns from Sanskrit,
Polish, Flemish, Yanggu Chinese, Tahltan, and Toba Batak. Yip goes beyond
Padgett (2000) who replaces FG with feature classes. Yip maintains that in
an OT approach, not even feature classes are necessary. Are there then any
representational restrictions at the GEN level of OT? The answer is
Two typological predictions that she notes are unattested do weaken the
force of the paper: that labial laterals exist, and that assimilation
should create velar dorsals. Also, it is surprising that Yip spends so
little time and cites such ambiguous evidence for [lateral]'s existence,
considering the detailed arguments raised against its existence by Walsh
(1997) and others, who deal with some of the same data Yip cites. If
[lateral] does not exist, then this might explain why other researchers
attempting to find an invariant position for it in FG have come to
conflicting conclusions.

The next paper is ''The geometry of harmony'' by Don Salting. Salting
supports FG within OT, rather than an unrestrained system of featural co-
occurrence constraints. He proposes an entirely non-SPE system of height
features, more abstract rather than purely phonetically based, which are
connected to geometry (his ''Nested Subregister Theory'') to account for
vowel harmony. Vowels are assigned features according to their systemic
properties, so /e, o/, for example, do not always have the same featural
specifications from one language to another. In this proposal, an Aperture
node has two daughters, and each of these also has two, making four height
categories (degrees of openness), somewhat reminiscent of tone feature
proposals by Yip and others. He demonstrates five phonological strategies
languages use when there is a gap in the inventory - transparency,
opacity, new segment, ''clean-up'', and epenthesis. He glosses over some
details and differences between languages in his OT analysis by using a
general constraint HARMONY in judging whether the harmony has occurred,
and a longer version of this article would profit from an unpacking of the
HARMONY constraint. Salting extends his Nested Subregister theory to vowel
place as well, with four degrees of backness, phonologically defined for
each language. One consequence of this approach is that the opacity of /a/
comes as a result not of a [low] feature, but its marked Place.

The fourth paper of this section is ''Piro affricates: Phonological edge
effects and phonetic anti-edge effects'' by Yen-Hwei Lin. In this well-
documented contribution examining Piro (Aawakan, Peru), the basic question
is whether affricates have a contour representation of [cont] or not,
though the focus is not on the specific representation within FG. The
author cites past analyses of affricates as phonological contour segments
and as phonological stops. Following other researchers, he treats alveolar
and palatoalveolar affricates [ts, tʃ] as strident, and the palatal
affricate [tç] as non-strident. Using a derivational OT approach (e.g.
Kiparsky 2000), he proposes that affricates are strident stops at the
lexical level, but at the postlexical level, they are contour segments
with ordered [-cont], [+cont] features. The relevant co-occurrence
constraints are ranked differently at the lexical and post-lexical levels.
The most important conclusion is the basic nature of affricates as stops,
though not the strongest version of the Stop hypothesis. The importance of
a derivational model of OT is demonstrated, as is the importance of the
feature [strident] in the analysis of affricates.

The fifth and final paper of this section is ''On the internal and external
organization of sign language segments: some modality-specific properties''
by Els van der Kooij and Harry van der Hulst. The question ''What is a
segment in a sign language (SL)?'' is the central point examined here, and
the authors, using data from Nederlandse Gebarentaal (a Dutch SL), propose
that a sign is a single segment. The feature tree of a sign has daughters
of Articulator and Location, and under Articulator is Handshape and
Orientation. Under Handshape, Orientation, and Location, there will be one
or two features. (The exact identity of these features is not generally
agreed upon. They omit an explicit Movement feature, seeing this as
redundant once the others are specified.) But since a sign (=segment) has
internal temporal structure, this segment can be viewed as dominating a
syllabic level. If this is so, then syllables in SLs are not
suprasegmentals, but are segment-internal, a reversal of the dominance
relationship in spoken languages. An alternative view, that of a sign
being a complex segment like an affricate or prenasalized stop, is
discussed as a reasonable alternative, especially given the ''intuitive
oddness'' of the intrasegmental syllable proposal. Their conclusion is that
these alternatives may turn out to be mere terminological variants: the
real point is the specific structure they propose. In a survey of signs
they see that linear order of features is largely predictable and so needs
no lexical representation, with a few exceptions.

Part 2 has papers on Nasality, and begins with ''On the ambiguous segmental
status of nasals in homorganic NC sequences'' by Laura Downing. NC
sequences labeled as prenasalized stops have no consistent phonetic
differences from those analyzed as sequences, and no language has an
unambiguous contrast between prenasalized segments and NC clusters, so
phonological evidence must be the determiner. In Bantu languages, a long
vowel preceding NC is generally taken as evidence that the input mora of
the nasal has been re-associated to the preceding vowel. The author
proposes a different solution, that the N and preceding vowel share the
mora, and N is ambisyllabic, linked to both syllables. She supports this
by showing that in a variety of languages, pre-NC lengthening can occur
without resyllabification of the N. (Reasons for the lengthening could
well include enhancement of the prominence of the vowel relative to the
nasal without invoking syllables at all.) She offers cross-Bantu evidence
from reduplication and tone assignment that N is syllabified as a coda. A
fairly detailed OT analysis is offered with constraints to account for the
association of moras and segments. She then evaluates evidence that has
been previously cited for NC as single segments (Bantu has only open
syllables, word-initial NC, extragrammatical tests such as language games
and pauses) and shows that these have less force and value than sometimes
supposed. The conclusion is that Bantu languages, at least, have no unit
prenasalized stops, but that cases of NC are clusters, with a particular

The next paper is ''Areal and phonotactic distribution of N'' by Gregory
D.S. Anderson (''N'' representing the velar nasal here). The author has a
database of 512 genetically balanced languages, and shows that while /N/
is common in Australian languages, Southeast Asia, and a band across
Africa, it is rare in European ones and not very common in American ones.
Word-initial /N/ is more restricted, and other areal phonotactics are
presented. This is an interesting paper, but it seems unrelated to the
theme of the book.

The last paper in this section is ''Cryptosonorant phonology in Galice
Athabaskan'' by Siri G. Tuttle. Galice, an extinct language documented in
the 1950s and earlier, has a phoneme that sometimes appears as [d] but
acts as a sonorant; this is the ''cryptosonorant'' of the title. Two
morphemes, the second person singular subject and the perfective morpheme,
evidently consist of an autosegmental [nasal] feature, which nasalizes
both the appropriate prefix vowel and changes /d/ to [n]. Sometimes the
nasal vowel is separated from the initial nasal consonant by an oral
vowel, and this is the challenging pattern to account for. The author
builds on Rice's (1993) geometrically represented proposal for Sonorant
Voice so that /d/, as a Sonorant, can bear nasality. She proposes that
only unlinked [nasal] can spread (nasality from stems does not), and
proposes an OT analysis aligning the phonological feature [nasal] to a
left edge of a SYLLABLE, and the morphological feature 2sg Subj to the
left edge of the STEM. The gapped configuration of the [nasal] feature
falls out of the interaction of these constraints. The author seems
unclear on whether autosegmental representations are necessary or not: she
uses them for illustrative purposes, but for the formal tableaus, they are
nowhere in sight, and the constraints make no mention of them. The
contribution to ''internal structure of segments'' thus seems ambiguous. It
is more of a reinforcement of the notion that in at least some languages,
obstruents may have features more commonly associated with sonorants.

Part 3, on Laryngeal Features, begins with ''On the phonological
interpretation of aspirated nasals'' by Bert Botma. He observes that
besides the normal unmarked voiced nasals, some languages have voiceless,
laryngealized, or breathy-voiced nasals. Interesting, while a language may
have both laryngealized and another marked nasal, no language (at least of
the 12 he presents) has both voiceless and breathy-voiced nasals, and he
proposes that these comprise a single phonological category, which he
terms ''aspirated nasals.'' He gives a useful review of Element-based
Dependency Theory, and then proposes a structure for ''aspirated nasals.''
This Dependency structure includes the elements |L|, showing intrinsic
voicing, and |H|, showing voicelessness or aspiration or breathy voice in
the theory. The structure does not express linear order, so several
phonetic realizations are possible. However, no language appears to have a
contrast in these realizations, lending support to the assertion that
these are manifestations of a single phonological representation. He
amplifies on this with data from a number of languages. The author
discusses diachronic evidence showing that aspirated nasals come from a
historical *sN sequence, and that his structure accounts for this nicely.
He then concludes with a discussion of the interaction of tone with the
|H| and |L| elements, concluding that there |H| is involved in both High
tone and aspiration, but the relation is not straightforward.

The next paper is ''The representation of the three-way laryngeal contrast
in Korean consonants'' by Hyunsoon Kim. In this, the author examines the
well-known lenis-fortis-aspirated contrast in Korean, first giving
examples of one class changing to another in appropriate environments. She
reviews the extensive literature on proposals on how to represent these
contrasts in terms of features. She cites a recent MRI study that measured
several dimensions of articulatory movement with these contrasts, and
found two independent patterns for the coronal stops and affricates.
First, four measures (including closure duration and glottal height)
varied from short to long/high in the order lenis, aspirated, and fortis.
In contrast, glottal width varied from narrow to wide in a different
order: fortis, lenis, and aspirated. As a result of these, Kim proposes
that all Korean stops are singletons (no contrastive length) and use
features [spread glottis] (s.g.) and [tense]. Stops are specified as
follows: lenis are [-s.g., -tense], fortis are [-s.g., +tense], and
aspirated are [+s.g., +tense]. (The Jacobsonian feature [tense] is
redefined somewhat.) These specifications account for the fact that fortis
and aspirated form a natural class around the feature [+tense], and lenis
and fortis form a natural class around [-s.g.]. She illustrates this by
data from ''intensified expression'' and French and Japanese loans as an
illustration of the first class, and English loans illustrate the second
class. Specifically, [constricted glottis] is not motivated in Korean.

The final paper is ''Diachronic evidence in segmental phonology: the case
of obstruent laryngeal specifications'' by Patrick Honeybone. The author,
after an overly long introduction, notes two traditions. The first,
perhaps ''standard tradition,'' describes the difference between /p,t,k/
and /b,d,g/ with the feature [voice]. The second tradition asserts that
there are two types of languages: Type A (e.g. English, German) has
aspirated voiceless stops, little if any voicing in ''voiced stops,'' and
assimilation to voicelessness, while Type B languages (e.g. Dutch,
Spanish) have unaspirated voiceless stops, fully voiced voiced stops, and
assimilation to voicing. The assertion is that in Type A languages the
transcription above is not correct, and thus the featural difference in
stops is not [voice] in these languages. The diachronic evidence comes
from an apparent merger of ''voiced'' and ''voiceless'' stops in some non-
standard German varieties to voiced stops, and ''voicing of fricatives''
from Old English to some varieties of Middle English. These seem
counterexamples to the claimed markedness universal that voiced obstruents
exist only if there also exist voiceless ones. However, this apparent
problem disappears if the second tradition is adopted, that is, if the
difference is not [voice] at all, but [spread]. In this case, the starting
point is aspirated vs. unaspirated obstruents, and one set loses its
aspiration. This ''delaryngealization'' is predicted to occur, and is now
seen as a natural development. This is a fascinating article, but again
seems to have more to do with specific features than how they are


This book is a welcome contribution to phonology, raising the question of
representations and featural organization that many phonologists assume is
irrelevant. A majority of the authors allow that in this era dominated by
OT, there is still a place for representations to make a fruitful
contribution (though Yip argues against this). As such, it deserves
consideration and further research to respond to the claims advanced here.

The volume is attractively bound, but some editing errors such as
misspellings, miscapitalization, misnumbering of sections, and
unalphabetical ordering of references (each of which happened multiple
times) mar the volume.

It includes a helpful language index, containing over 300 languages
referred to in the papers. The author index is welcome but has the curious
characteristic of listing co-authors not as individuals, but as a unit,
e.g. Kisseberth does not get a line of his own, but is included
in ''Kenstowicz, M. & C. Kisseberth.''


Kiparsky, Paul. 2000. Opacity and Cyclicity. The Linguistic Review 17:351-

Padgett, Jaye. 2000. Feature classes in phonology. Language 78.1:81-110.

Rice, Keren. 1993. A reexamination of the feature [sonorant]: sonorant
obstruents. Language 69.2: 308-344.

Walsh, Laura. 1997. The Phonology of Liquids. Ph.D. dissertation,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst.ʃʃ

Mike Cahill has done on-site linguistic investigation in the Konni
language of northern Ghana for several years, including application to
literacy and translation work. He received his Ph.D. from Ohio State
University in 1999, and is primarily interested in African phonology,
cross-linguistic patterns in tone, and labial-velar stops and nasals. He
currently serves as SIL's International Linguistics Coordinator.