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Reviewed by:
  • Phonology and language use by Joan Bybee
  • Manfred Krug
Phonology and language use. By Joan Bybee. (Cambridge studies in linguistics 94.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xviii, 238. ISBN 0521533783. $28.

This book is by no means confined to phonology and is thus far more comprehensive than its title might suggest. However, this should come as no surprise since the author has covered in her monographs all major areas of linguistic organization. Even more important for understanding the orientation and structure of the present book, however, is that for Bybee, who has been a pioneer in the field of grammatic(al)ization, interactionist approaches (combining phonology, morphology, semantics, and syntax) have long been at the center of attention. Only prima facie, therefore, is B returning to the field from which she started out in 1976 (An introduction to natural generative phonology, New York: Academic Press, 1976). After a period during which her focus was on typological work (Morphology: A study of the relation between meaning and form, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1985; The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994, written in collaboration with Revere Perkins and William Pagliuca), it is only logical that she now adopt a rather different, viz. distinctly functional, perspective of phonology.

One theme that has persisted for the past 25 years of her work, though, is frequency of use, and it is one which has probably become her main interest in more recent years (witness also the collection of papers that she edited with Paul Hopper in 2001: Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure, Amsterdam: John Benjamins). Not surprisingly, therefore, this issue figures prominently in the present book, too.

Seen against the backdrop of her earlier work, the multidisciplinary approach in the individual chapters is an almost natural consequence. The interaction between phonology and other levels is treated systematically: Ch. 1, ‘Language use as part of linguistic theory’ (1–18), and Ch. 2, ‘A usage-based model for phonology and morphology’ (19–34), outline the principles of a usage-based framework that strives for a more complete understanding of language and language change. Taken together, the first two chapters present a fine review of recent research on storage, processing, frequency effects, and categorization from a cognitive, prototype-oriented (more exactly, exemplar-based) perspective.

Ch. 3, ‘The nature of lexical representation’ (35–62), discusses the role of phonology and phonetic variation in lexical representation. One of the main points made in this chapter and the book in general is that phonetic variation should play a much greater role in discussions of phonology than in the past. The fourth chapter, ‘Phonological processes, phonological patterns’ (63–95), identifies strong constraints on sound change that are triggered by universal tendencies. These primarily relate to the compression and reduction of articulatory gestures. In particular, high-frequency items are shown to be common sources of sound change so that their behavior supports lexical diffusion theories. Like the second chapter, the fifth (96–136) focuses on ‘the interaction of phonology with morphology’, treating in some detail morphologization and the role of type and token frequency in productivity.

Perhaps the most ambitious parts of the book are Ch. 6, ‘The units of storage and access: Morphemes, words, and phrases’ (137–66), and Ch. 7, ‘Constructions as processing units: The rise and fall of French liaison’ (167–88). It is here that Bargues for the rigorous exploitation of phonological facts as evidence of morphological and syntactic structure. Importantly, [End Page 794] her arguments exceed the usual programmatic remarks in that they are based on the consideration of solid empirical evidence. The book ends with a highly suggestive and inspiring chapter, ‘Universals, synchrony, diachrony’ (189–215), where she presents a host of theoretical arguments that for the most part fall out from the preceding chapters. What they reveal is that diachronic trajectories of phonological change are much more regular—some are actually universal— than synchronicphoneme inventories could ever be. Indeed, it is shown that diachronic universals generally underlie observable synchronic structure.

In sum, the accumulated knowledge of 25 years of thorough empirical work and decent linguistic theorizing combine here in...


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