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Review of  Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonology

Reviewer: Joaquín Romero
Book Title: Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonology
Book Author: Timothy L Face
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Cognitive Science
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 17.359

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Date: Sat, 28 Jan 2006 13:12:43 +0100
From: Joaquín Romero
Subject: Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonology

EDITOR: Face, Timothy L.
TITLE: Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonology
SERIES: Phonology & Phonetics
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Joaquín Romero, Department of Anglogermanic Philology, Universitat
Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain.


This book presents a selection of papers from the Laboratory
Approaches to Spanish Phonology conference, held at the University
of Minnesota in September 2002. The collection of papers is edited by
the conference organizer, Timothy L. Face, who is also the author of
one of the papers. The volume follows the philosophy of the
conference in that it is an attempt to present a sample of current
research in the phonetics/phonology interface of Spanish and it
follows the example of the now consolidated Laboratory Phonology
series of conferences and edited volumes. Following a brief
introduction by the editor, the individual papers are presented in three
major parts. Part 1 deals with Intonation, Part 2 is entitled Syllables
and Stress, and Part 3 is presented under the heading Segmental
Constraints. Following is a summary of each of the papers, with a brief
critical evaluation stressing the major contributions as well as any
possible shortcomings.


Conxita Lleó, Martin Rakow & Margaret Kehoe, Acquisition of
language-specific pitch accent in Spanish and German monolingual
and bilingual children.
The paper by Lleó, Rakow and Kehoe investigates the acquisition of
some basic intonational patterns by monolingual and bilingual
children. A comparison is made between monolingual Spanish and
German children, on the one hand, and Spanish/German bilinguals,
on the other hand, in terms of their acquisition of the basic patterns of
prenuclear accents in broad-focus declarative utterances. The results
show that, while the monolingual children seem to show no difficulty in
acquiring the correct intonational pattern at an early age, the
acquisition of these patterns in the bilingual children is more subject-
dependent. One of the bilingual children seemed able to differentiate
the patterns of the two languages, while the other used a variety of
patterns in either language. These findings are taken as evidence that
the acquisition of intonational patterns follows along similar paths to
other prosodic features. They also give indirect evidence that
unmarked patterns of intonation (H*L) seem to develop earlier than
marked patterns (L*H). A drawback of the study is the very limited
number of subjects that participated in it, which seems more suitable
for a pilot study than a full-fledged one, especially since no mention is
made in the paper of any possible further experiments. All in all,
however, the paper provides interesting data of an aspect of L1
acquisition that is still largely unknown, especially as concerns
bilinguals, and it opens numerous possibilities for further research in
this topic.

Pilar Prieto, The search for phonological targets in tonal space: H1
scaling and alignment in five sentence-types in Peninsular Spanish.
Pilar Prieto's contribution focuses on the description of sentence initial
peaks as a function of sentence type. She compares the tonal scaling
and alignment of five types of sentences in peninsular Spanish:
statements, yes-no questions, wh-questions, imperatives and
exclamatives. The main theoretical assumption in this paper is that
variations in pitch range are not exclusively paralinguistic, they can
also convey linguistic information, in particular, information about
sentence type. Results confirm this hypothesis, showing that the
scaling of initial tones is consistently higher in questions (both
absolute and wh) than in statements. Similarly, imperatives and
exclamatives show consistently higher initial tones than the other
sentence types. In terms of tonal alignment, the results show a clear
distinction between late H1 peaks for statements and questions, and
an early H1 peak for imperatives and exclamatives. The author argues
that these results evidence some shortcomings in the traditional
autosegmental description of pitch accents. She proposes that certain
extra features are needed to refine both tonal scaling and alignment,
such as [delayed peak] and [raised peak]. While this proposal might
be in agreement with current work in the phonology of intonation, it
seems unnecessarily abstract and categorical. A more phonetically
based approach might consider the possibility of looking at tonal
scaling as gradient, so pitch accents need not be categorically
described by specific features, but rather determined dynamically in
relation to the overall tonal structure of the utterance.

Erik W. Willis, Dominican Spanish absolute interrogatives in broad
In his paper Erik Willis sets out to show that the intonational contours
of broad-focus absolute interrogatives in Dominican Spanish differ
from previously reported Caribbean Spanish patterns. Standing
accounts of the intonation contour of these types of sentences in
Caribbean dialects mention a pattern with an initial rise which is
followed by a high plateau and ends in a fall. Instead, Willis provides
experimental evidence that Dominican Spanish absolute interrogatives
show an overall rising contour, with a characteristic upstepped
prenuclear low pitch accent and a final plateau. These results are
obtained from both laboratory speech and a spontaneous speech
sample, which corroborates the validity of the findings as a faithful
representation of Dominican Spanish intonation. Despite the rather
narrow scope of this study, the author makes an interesting
observation regarding the pragmatics of specific intonational contours,
which suggests that the same pattern can be used in different dialects
for different communicative purposes. In addition to possible
implications for crossdialectal intelligibility, this point raises interesting
issues having to do with the potential phonological nature of intonation
contours and the existence of intonational universals.

David Eddington, A computational approach to resolving certain
issues in Spanish stress placement.
In his paper, David Eddington advocates for an analogically-driven or
exemplar-based approach to phonological processing. Eddington
investigates the relevance of this theory in reference to the aspects
that determine the position of word stress in Spanish. Using materials
from a Spanish frequency dictionary, he runs a series of
computational simulations with two different analogical learning
modeling techniques (Tilburgh Memory Based Learner and Analogical
Modeling of Language). The results show that phonological notions
such as syllable weight and the CV tier do not play an important role in
the assignment of word stress in Spanish. Instead, what seems to
determine whether word stress in Spanish will be antepenultimate,
penultimate, or final, is the phonemic makeup of the word. Similar
results are obtained from a different experiment in which native
speakers of Spanish were asked to assign stress to a series of written
nonce words. These results evidence the need to move away from
models of phonological processing that are excessively mentalistic
and abstract. At the same time, however, one should be cautious in
drawing conclusions based on simulation data and nonce word data.
For example, it is rather striking that, as illustrated in Table 2, two
nonce words with identical phonemic makeup—'dagola' and 'dalona'—
obtain opposite values for percentage of antepenultimate vs.
penultimate stress. In a case like this, more detail about exactly how
these tests were administered (i.e., the instructions that the
participants received, the time allowed for the test, how the words
were presented, etc.) is crucial in order to validate the findings

Timothy L. Face, Perceiving what isn't there: Non-acoustic cues for
perceiving Spanish stress.
The second paper in Part II is by Timothy L. Face, the editor of the
volume, and it deals with the role of non-acoustic factors in the
perception of stress in Spanish. The paper presents the results of a
series of experiments that test whether factors such as syllable
weight, lexical similarity, lexical regularity and morphological category
play a role in determining stress placement. The experimental
methodology is based on the use of synthesized trisyllabic nonsense
words in which the acoustic cues that are known to correlate with
stress are kept constant, i.e., pitch, duration and intensity; listeners
are asked to indicate which syllable bears the stress. Contrary to the
results found in Face (2000), the current study finds little evidence to
support the role of syllable weight in the perception of Spanish stress.
Instead, it is argued that it is the presence vs. absence of a word-final
consonant that determines whether the word will be perceived as
having final vs. penultimate stress. Other results point at the important
role that the lexicon plays in the perception of Spanish stress. All in all,
the results of Face's study are taken as evidence that stress
placement in Spanish relies on many different factors other than just
acoustic cues. In particular, a great deal of weight is given to the role
of lexical patterns existing in the speaker's mind that influence the
choice of stress pattern in nonsense words. One possible criticism has
to do with the rather sparse presentation of the results as simple
overall percentages, with little or no explanation of any possible within-
group variation. In particular, as refers to the experiment dealing with
lexical similarity, it is surprising that all the words in the list should
behave the same way. One of the words in this list, 'capita', which is
supposedly unequivocally reminiscent of 'capital' or 'capitán', can
actually be a real word, as in the common expression 'per capita'. It
would have been interesting to see whether this particular item
behaved the same way as the rest.

Sharon Gerlach, Effects of environment on L2 epenthesis: Evidence
for transfer of ranked constraints.
Vowel epenthesis in Spanish is the subject of Sharon Gerlach's
contribution to this volume. In this study the author combines
experimental data with a theoretical account within the optimality
framework. The experimental study looks for patterns of epenthetic /e/
in L2-English productions of native Spanish speakers in word-
initial /s/+stop sequences. The dependent variable in the study is the
preceding context, identified as 'vowel', 'consonant' or 'pause'. The
results show some interesting patterns with respect to the dependent
variable, but also, for example, in the separation of the subjects
between 'epenthesizers' and 'non-epenthesizers'. Unfortunately, the
paper does not investigate what factors might underlie this distinction.
It does explore in detail, however, the effect of context and it
concludes that, contrary to prior belief, a preceding consonant does
not necessarily favor epenthesis over a pause. Preceding vowels, on
the other hand, seem to hinder epenthesis, which is in accordance
with previous research. The paper then moves on to providing an
optimality-theoretic account of the phenomenon taking as a basis the
interaction between resyllabification principles and the constraints
governing the shape of onsets in Spanish. Independently of the
validity of this analysis, it presents a simplistic view of the reality of the
phenomenon by reducing it to an all-or-nothing situation. This is
supported by the fact that no explanation is provided as to the criteria
used to decide whether epenthesis was present or not in the
experimental data. A more thorough analysis would likely reveal a
gradient phenomenon, which would probably not make for such an
elegant theoretical analysis, but would definitely be closer to reality.

Mark Waltermire, The effect of syllable weight on the determination of
spoken stress in Spanish.
Mark Waltermire's paper uses some of the data in Face (2000) to
further investigate the role of syllable weight in the assignment of
stress in Spanish. The study consists in the analysis of the results of a
series of written questionnaires aimed at obtaining a glimpse into
native Spanish speakers' intuitions as to the placement of stress in
disyllabic and trisyllabic words. The data are subjected to a probability
analysis that explores the effect that the presence or absence of final
consonants will have in determining final vs. penultimate vs.
antepenultimate stress. The results overwhelmingly confirm Face
(2000)'s findings that the presence of a coda consonant in the final
syllable favors final stress, whereas a light (codaless) final syllable
induces penultimate stress. They also show, however, that the
interaction between syllable weight and stress placement is more
complex than that. Thus, his findings point at an intricate pattern of
dependency between syllable weight and stress that can hardly be
handled by traditional rule-based approaches. It is surprising,
however, to see such a strong claim for the role of syllable weight in
the same volume where Face admits that his own claim in this sense
in Face (2000) was misled by a flaw in the experimental design.

Travis G. Bradley, Gestural timing and rhotic variation in Spanish
In this paper, Travis Bradley deals with the phonetic variation of
rhotics in preconsonantal position in Highland Ecuadorian Spanish. He
provides acoustic data that show how homorganicity with the following
consonant results in an assibilated pronunciation of -r-, while when
the following consonant is not coronal, the -r- is realized as the
expected flap followed by a so-called svarabhakti vowel. This variation
is explained within the theory of Articulatory Phonology in terms of
gestural alignment. In the homorganic situation, the supralaryngeal
gestures for -r- and for the following consonant are produced with the
same articulator, which results in a process of gestural blending. In the
heterorganic configuration, the -r- and the following consonants do
not share a supralaryngeal gesture and therefore are pronounced in
sequence. The temporal coordination between the two is responsible
for the svarabhakti vowel. This simple explanation provides a lot more
insight into the nature of this type of consonant variation than
resorting to categorical rules of epenthesis and assimilation.
Surprisingly, Bradley seems to miss this generalization when he
questions the adequacy of the gestural account to explain why
assibilation doesn't result from homorganic clusters. Bradley then
provides a phonetically-motivated OT analysis of the phenomenon ,
which makes for an interesting exercise but unfortunately does not
add much insight into the nature of the process.

Manuel Díaz-Campos, Acquisition of sociolinguistic variables in
Spanish: Do children acquire individual lexical forms or variable rules?
Manuel Díaz-Campos contributes to this volume with a study about the
acquisition of sociolinguistic variables by Venezuelan children. He
investigates whether children of different age groups have acquired
the stylistic and sociolinguistic variation that is associated with
intervocalic /d/ deletion in Venezuelan Spanish. One of the goals of
the study is to test whether acquisition of variation is done on a case-
by-case basis or, more generally, by rule. The study includes a series
of independent variables or factors such as the dictionary frequency
of the lexical items used in the design, the frequency within the corpus
and the age group of the participants. The dependent variable is the
presence vs. absence of alternation in the pronunciation of
intervocalic /d/. Even though the results are presented in a somewhat
confusing manner-the interaction between the age variable and the
frequency variables is not quite explained—the outcome of the
experiments show that the factors having to do with frequency
(dictionary or corpus) play a crucial role in predicting the
pronunciation of intervocalic /d/, whereas age does not seem to be a
significant factor. The weight of the frequency variables is taken by
the author to support the hypothesis that variation is not acquired by
rule, but on a case-by-case basis.

Marta Ortega-Llebaria, Interplay between phonetic and inventory
constraints in the degree of spirantization of voiced stops: Comparing
intervocalic /b/ and intervocalic /g/ in Spanish and English.
The last paper in this collection presents a study by Marta Ortega-
Llebaria in which the author looks for evidence of the theoretical
assumption that a particular phonological inventory imposes
constraints on the phonetic realization of specific vowels and
consonants. She compares the degree of lenition in intervocalic /b/
and /g/ in Spanish and English. Since English distinguishes
phonologically between /b/ and /v/ while Spanish has only /b/, it is
hypothesized that Spanish will allow for more variability, i.e., more
lenition, in the production of /b/ than English. On the other hand,
since neither language contrasts /g/ with a voiced velar fricative, both
should exhibit similar degrees of lenition in /g/. The results of an
acoustic study show that, indeed, Spanish /b/ exhibits more lenition
than English /b/, while /g/ shows more similar degrees of lenition in
both languages. In spite of the clear results, two considerations can
be made regarding this study. First, treating voiced stop lenition as
essentially the same phenomenon in Spanish and English, though
probably appropriate from an articulatory point of view, ignores the
fact that in Spanish this is a generalized phonological process,
whereas in English it could be considered a reduction typical of casual
speech. Second, the more variable realization of /g/ could also be
related, on the one hand, to the specific nature of tongue-body
kinematics and, on the other hand, to the difficulties in sustaining
voicing in velar stops, which has been proven to cause incomplete
stop closures in a variety of languages.


Taken as a whole, this volume is a welcome contribution to the field of
laboratory phonology and, in particular, for those of us who are
interested in the phonetics/phonology interface of Spanish. I believe
the editor needs to be congratulated not only for having put this
volume together, but also for kick-starting the series of conferences
on Spanish laboratory phonology, now heading towards its third

The selection of papers is representative of a wide variety of interests
within the general field of the phonetics/phonology interface, touching
upon well-known segmental and suprasegmental issues, but also
providing novel data from acquisition and variation studies. One
possible criticism as far as the selection of papers is concerned could
be the excessive concentration on prosody, with seven out of the ten
papers dealing with prosodic issues. This might simply be a fair
representation of the papers that were presented at the conference,
but perhaps a more balanced distribution between segmental and
suprasegmental issues might have been more appropriate for a
volume of these characteristics. Also, the three parts in which the
volume is divided are not very well balanced, especially part 2, where
three of the four papers are about essentially the same thing and
draw on data from each other excessively. Perhaps this is due to the
editor's personal interests, but it seems a shame that other papers
were left out. On the other hand, part 2 presents an in-depth
treatment of the relationship between stress and syllable structure, but
again this might not be the best philosophy for this type of volume.

From a typographical point of view, the book is reasonably free of
typos and other editorial mistakes. There are, however, a few errors
that are confusing for the reader, since they detract from a
straightforward understanding of the text. For example, in Lleó,
Rakow and Kehoe's paper, the explanation of Figure 12 makes
reference to the intonational pattern of the word 'Wasser'
(in 'Wasserflugzeug') but the figure shows only the second part of the
word i.e., 'Flugzeug'. In Prieto's paper, Figure 7 appears as belonging
to speaker GH but the text refers to it as MN. Also, in Bradley's paper,
the introduction to Section 5 refers to the coming sections as 4.1, 4.2
and 4.3 instead of 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3, respectively.

I would like to make one final observation regarding the use of
experimental methods and the presentation of data in some of the
papers in this volume. As is unfortunately rather common in some of
the work currently being done on laboratory phonology, it seems that
some times the experimental data is viewed simply as a complement to
the theoretical phonological analysis. Because of this, there can be a
certain lack of rigor in the gathering, analysis and presentation of
experimental results. Some of these problems have been pointed out
above with respect to the specific papers. In my opinion, this lack of
experimental rigor can in some cases undermine the theoretical
statements that are based on the experimental data. In other
instances, as in those papers that present OT analyses of the data,
the distance between the experimental results and the assumptions
made in the theoretical analysis represents such a leap of faith and
such a simplification of the physical reality that one wonders why the
authors bothered to gather experimental data at all. I believe two of
the pending issues in some laboratory phonology work are the
excessive dependence on formalism and the weakness in the
treatment of experimental data. The continuation of series like the one
initiated with this volume are the best guarantee that these issues will
be resolved in future work.


Face, Timothy L. (2000) The role of syllable weight in the perception
of Spanish stress. Hispanic Linguistics at the Turn of the Millennium,
ed. by Héctor Campos, Elena Herburger, Alfonso Morales-Font and
Thomas J. Walsh, 1-13. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Joaquín Romero is an Associate Professor in the Department of
Anglogermanic Philology at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in
Tarragona, Spain. He received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from the
University of Connecticut in 1995. He is currently a research affiliate at
Haskins Laboratories, in New Haven, Connecticut. He is interested in
speech production and in the phonetics/phonology interface of
segmental issues, with special concentration on the relevance of
temporal aspects in processes of assimilation and articulatory