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  • The syllable: Views and facts ed. by Harry van der Hulstm, Nancy Ritter
  • Ingo Plag
The syllable: Views and factsHarry van der Hulstm and Nancy Ritter. (Studies in generative grammar 45.) Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1999. Pp. xvii, 777.

After a period of long neglect and denial, the syllable as a phonological unit has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. The present volume presents twenty-one articles on syllables and syllabic structure, most of them originating from the International Conference on the Phonology of the World’s Languages (June 1996, Pézenas, France). The range of languages dealt with in considerable detail is impressive, covering both well-described and hardly known languages (Arabic, Danish, Dschang, Dutch, Finnish, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Irish, Kihehe, Latin, Leurbot Gaelic, Luganda, Mandarin and Shanghai Chinese, Norwegian, Polish, Tujetsch Romansch, Vedic, and Western Koromfe).

Most of the papers provide descriptive overviews of syllable-related phenomena in the pertinent language and discuss possible analyses from a specific theoretical viewpoint. The theoretical questions touched upon in these discussions are also quite varied and include the following: Are syllables necessary elements in phonology? How do segmental and syllabic properties interact? Where do phonological features reside? Where is the place of phonotactics in phonology? How can syllabic boundaries be determined? What is the nature of subsyllabic constituents? How do morphology and syllabification interact? The majority of papers discuss these problems from the point of view of government phonology (GP), a theory that, somewhat ironically, does not recognize the syllable as a phonological unit. In [End Page 606] the only primarily theoretically-oriented paper in the volume, the editors develop their own version of GP, ‘head-driven phonology’. Another large proportion of papers employs the mora as central element; only three papers present optimality theoretic approaches to the syllable. The papers in this volume are mostly written by renowned experts, and their quality is generally very good, a point which also holds for the editing and for the subject and author indexes provided at the end of the book.

I would raise only two points of criticism. First, given the volume’s subtitle, I had expected more papers like Wiebke Brockhaus’s ‘The syllable in German: Exploring an alternative’, in which competing analyses from different frameworks are compared and evaluated. In their useful introductory chapter, ‘Theories of the syllable’, for example, the editors raise interesting arguments against certain theories which I would have liked to see taken up and answered by scholars working in the pertinent frameworks. Second, the underrepresentation of OT papers makes the volume less state-of-the-art than it could have been. Given that OT has spawned much of the current interest in the syllable, it is somewhat of a disappointment to see so few OT papers in the volume.

These reservations aside, this volume will provide any linguist working on the syllable with an abundance of intriguing syllable-related phenomena from diverse languages and a lot of food for thought.

Ingo Plag
University of Siegen


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