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  • Introducing phonetic science
  • John H. Esling
Introducing phonetic science. By Michael Ashby and John Maidment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. viii, 222. ISBN 0521004969. $27.99.

This general introductory phonetics text draws on years of basic phonetics teaching practice at University College London. It covers the auditory, articulatory, and acoustic aspects of phonetics in a balanced way and is suitable for students in linguistics or clinical programs. It has eleven chapters, moving from sounds as spoken by real people, voice, place of articulation (POA), manner of articulation, and vowels to an instrumental view of voice analysis, airstream mechanisms, coarticulation, phonological processes, suprasegmentals, and perception.

The pattern of study for students using this text is clearly established in the first chapters. The text begins from the perspective of phonetic notation, with a reproduction of the chart of the International Phonetic Association (IPA) (3), which I have to confess pleases me a great deal. When I was Secretary of the IPA (1995–2003), we received many requests to print the IPA chart in phonetics or linguistic texts, but most would append them somewhere at the end of the book. This text makes the chart (like the periodic table for chemistry) the starting point of how to deal with the description of speech—consistent with the authors’ approach to phonetics as an example of how speech is reduced to writing (a topic also dealt with in Ch. 1 rather than being stuck at the end of the book). It has to be noted that the IPA chart is the 1996 version; the chart was updated in late 2005 to incorporate the addition of one new symbol, but the authors did not know this in advance, and the new chart could easily be linked from their website.

Other things that are introduced in Ch. 1 and that please me to no end include: an example of Alexander Melville Bell’s visible speech, a note on transcribing pathological speech, an example of the context in which fieldwork is done, the use of glottal stop as one of the first examples of things to transcribe, a handy list of the consonant and vowel symbols for English (Standard British in this case), a note on the status of prosody, and an introduction to acoustics.

Just to explain my perspective in viewing this text, I would place it in the category of a second-year text—to be used in an introductory phonetics course after students have already taken one term of general introductory linguistics. The last chapter of the text leads directly into a course such as auditory and perceptual phonetics and to further courses in acoustics.

Here is why I think that what is introduced in Ch. 1 is exactly what should be treated early on: When I teach second-year introductory phonetics, I always have an early lesson on how Alexander Melville Bell (the elder) represented speech iconically. Perhaps I do this because Alexander Graham Bell (1906)became a Canadian phonetician (who did his own fieldwork on Mohawk, by the way, and is honored today by a museum in Nova Scotia that is the only one I know dedicated to a phonetician); but it is also to show how iconic systems are inadequate to represent what contemporary alphabetical systems do.

This text is discovery-oriented, whether drawing data from fieldwork or exploring how to render those sounds in writing. Students often ask me about transcribing speech in clinical circumstances, and I find it is useful to deal with the question early, as Ashby and Maidment have done on the website that accompanies their book (4). Introducing early on (4) the concept of working with a consultant in the field (a speaker of Divehi in the Maldives) is the way I feel that phonetics should be approached. The field is the original source of our data, and explaining the context in which phonetic symbolization is applied I find more worthwhile than just saying, ‘Here’s the symbol, and this is the sound it makes’.

Then, starting transcription practice with a couple of vowels and glottal stops is more appealing to me than starting with a list of words in English and their transcription...


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