restricted access The sound structure of English: An introduction (review)
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Reviewed by
Chris McCully. 2009. The sound structure of English: An introduction. Cambridge Introductions to the English Language. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp. viii + 233.

The sound structure of English is meant to be an introductory textbook in phonetics and phonology requiring no prior knowledge of the topic. The eleven chapters of the book take the beginner from noticing contrastive features of consonants to understanding phonological theories. The text is reader-friendly and engages the student with active learning techniques, such as easy analyses, exercises, and analogies. Each chapter starts with a useful summary of notions and ends with exercises, a list of key terms, and further reading suggestions.

Chapter 1, the introduction, begins with a discussion of the difference between the written and the spoken systems of English, for instance by drawing the reader’s attention to homophones and digraphs pronounced as single sounds. It continues with the notions of speech as a system, an explanation of the difference between accent and dialect, as well as phonology and phonetics.

Chapters 2 to 4 deal with consonants. Chapter 2 presents a thorough discussion of contrastiveness and introduces the notions of sounds and noise. The discussion leads to the IPA, minimal pairs, sound distribution, and to the idea of consonant classification, which is the subject of Chapter 3. In this chapter, the author takes the reader through the notions of voicing, place, and manner to (re)create a consonant classification. Chapter 4 deals with the distribution of consonants, namely complementary, contrastive, or restricted distributions, and the concept of allophony. These notions are then used to identify whether the glottal stop is an allophone of /t/.

The syllable is the topic covered in Chapters 5 to 7. As the basic structure (onset, nucleus, coda) of the syllable was introduced in Chapter 4, Chapter 5 takes a closer look at vowels as the nucleus of the syllable and their distribution in stressed and unstressed syllables. This leads to the discussion of monosyllabic content words and function words (referred to as “lexical” and “non-lexical” here). This chapter ends with a discussion of stress in compound nouns as well as primary and secondary [End Page 162] stress. Chapter 6 resumes the discussion of syllable structure to introduce the notions of rhyme and sonority. The chapter concludes with an overview of the typology and universals of syllable structure. The last chapter on syllables takes the discussion of syllable structure further by elaborating on the structure of the onset, the coda, and the nucleus. This chapter also discusses light and heavy syllables and explains the Principle of Maximal Onset and the notion of ambisyllabicity.

Chapters 8 to 10 focus on vowels. A substantial part of Chapters 8 and 9 is used to establish the inventory of short and long vowels, respectively. In Chapter 8, the comparison of thirteen varieties of English is used to reconstruct the vowel trapezium. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the phonological status of the schwa. Chapter 9 deals with long vowels, including diphthongs. It resumes the discussion of long vowels and diphthongs having two X-slots in the nucleus, introduces the notion of “pure vowels” and the question of whether the second X should be considered a consonant or a vowel. Once the inventory of long vowels is established, the production of diphthongs is looked at across a few varieties of English. The chapter ends with a brief description of triphthongs. Chapter 10 presents diachronic and synchronic variations on vowels, covering topics such as the Great Vowel Shift, splits and mergers, asymmetries, and rhoticity.

The final chapter of the book covers several theoretical approaches to the study of the sound structure of English, namely generative phonology, Distinctive Feature Theory, and Optimality Theory. Guiding the reader through a discussion of coda-final consonants, the author introduces the notion and use of distinctive features. This leads him to introduce, with examples of assimilation, the notions of phonological rules and of generative phonology. At the end of the chapter, Optimality Theory is applied in three case studies: neutralisation (syllable-final consonant devoicing in Dutch), onsets (structure of syllable onsets in English), and intrusive ‘r’ in English.

The sound structure...