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Reviewed by:
  • Experimental approaches to phonology
  • Marie Huffman
Experimental approaches to phonology. Ed. by Maria-Josep Solé, Patrice Speeter Beddor, and Manjari Ohala. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 465. ISBN 0199296820. $65.

This book is a satisfyingly diverse and interesting collection of papers on experimental approaches to phonology. As a de facto festschrift for John J. Ohala, the book is intended to reflect [End Page 950] his influence on ‘the empirical methods that shape phonological inquiry’ (xi). Since Ohala has been consistently involved in big ideas, his influence ranges widely and there are many types of experimental inquiries that have been influenced by him. This book is a thoughtfully planned and organized collection of papers on a diverse set of topics.

The papers are divided into five parts, under loosely organizing titles that strain at times to capture the diverse character of the papers they represent. Due to practical space limits the book cannot present a comprehensive view of the wide range of fields it touches on, leaving coverage feeling a bit uneven at times. However, it is a rich and stimulating collection of papers worth reading.

Part 1, ‘Theory and background’, begins with the conceptual introduction to the book, given in ‘Methods in phonology’ by John J. Ohala, a very short sketch of critical questions and principles that should guide experimental investigations of these questions. Ohala remains neutral on these matters, resisting any urge to nudge the field toward one or the other direction (or method) of inquiry. ‘Elicitation as experimental phonology’, by Larry Hyman, is an elegant demonstration of a complex set of tonal patterns in Thlantlang Lai, which can be found through systematic investigation of noun paradigms. The chapter demonstrates what is possible with one-to-one linguist/consultant ‘field’ (or office) work, at least when the linguist is a particularly talented practitioner of this analysis method. ‘Decisions and mechanisms in exemplar-based phonology’, by Keith Johnson, discusses the grounding of exemplar-based theories in cognitive psychology and presents varied illustrations of how such representations could account for systematic and/or abstract generalizations about language. ‘Beyond laboratory phonology’ by Klaus Kohler uses examples of F0 alignment with articulation to argue that if (communicative) function, time, and the listener are given a central place in the study of speech, a more rational set of descriptive and theoretical constructs will emerge. ‘Area functions and articulatory modeling as a tool for investigating the articulatory, acoustic and perceptual properties of sounds across languages’, by Jacqueline Vaissière, illustrates application of Shinji Maeda’s articulatory model to fine acoustic and articulatory details of French. The discussion relies on a new phonetic notation system, a proposed alternative to the IPA, which, though provocative, is likely to be unfamiliar to many readers and as such slows one’s ability to assimilate the material. The paper is a solid reminder of the vast extent of language-specific differences even in sounds that we might comfortably transcribe with the same symbol.

Part 2, ‘Phonological universals’, consists of a varied collection of papers exploring phonetic evidence for phonological universals. ‘Phonological universals and the control and regulation of speech production’, by Didier Demolin, reports on a detailed analysis of physiological data—measurements of both intraoral and subglottal pressure—arguing for the independence of control mechanisms for the two. This independence suggests new explanations for common patterns in tonal declination and segment lenition. ‘Issues of phonological complexity’, by Ian Maddieson, is a brief illustration of how a language database like UPSID can be applied to questions about patterns within language inventories, specifically questions of compensation in phonological complexity. ‘Linking dispersion-focalization theory and the maximum utilization of the available distinctive features principle in a perception-for-action-control theory’, by Jean-Luc Schwartz, Louis-Jean B, and Christian Abry, adds a notion of local salience to a computational approach to perceptual conditioning of the crosslinguistic distribution of vowels and consonants in phonetic space.

Part 3, ‘Phonetic variation and phonological change’, is in some ways the conceptual heart of the book and is the best single collection...


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