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  • Phonological typology by Matthew K. Gordon
  • Paul V. de Lacy
Phonological typology. By Matthew K. Gordon. (Oxford surveys in phonology and phonetics.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. ix, 363. ISBN 9780199669011. $50.

Gordon’s Phonological typology (PT) is a survey of the crosslinguistic variation found in selected phonological phenomena. There is an emphasis throughout on explaining such variation, resulting in a book that is highly theoretically informed. There are also many discussions of within-language frequency of phonological categories—something rarely found in work of this type. Overall, PT is a masterful work, written by a highly qualified author: G has many publications in theoretical phonology and has presented extensive typological research as evidence for his theories.

It is important to say what PT is not. It does not propose any new theories, and it is not a textbook. PT is also not a handbook—it does not provide deep exploration of individual topics. Instead, PT bridges the gap between a textbook and a handbook: it provides an overview of topics and serves as a jumping-off point for deeper study in either handbooks or original sources. Accordingly, much of the book presupposes a strong foundation in phonological theory, so undergraduates would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to understand the discussions without help. While it is a survey, PT is not merely a catalogue of generalizations. There is continual emphasis on explanation, and on the many sources of explanation for typological asymmetries, with an excellent overview in Ch. 2. PT presents constant reminders that theories play a necessary role in typological exploration.

PT also has a social goal: to encourage better communication between typologists and theoretical phonologists. Over the past three decades, a great deal of work in theoretical phonology has involved typological research, often driven by predictions of proposals expressed in optimality theory (OT; Prince & Smolensky 2004). At the same time, phonology has been less prominent among typologists, leading to what G calls ‘the impoverished position of phonology in typology’ (5; see also Hyman 2007). PT provides a way for typologists to gain quick insight into the crosslinguistic variation of many phonological phenomena, as well as to understand theoreticians’ motivations for their typological work. In a sense, PT is a theoretician reaching out to typologists. To a lesser extent, it also encourages theoreticians to take note of work in typology; PT discusses many databases and descriptions that will help inform theoretical work. By contrast, PT does not provide extensive discussion of the methods used by typologists in their work—not even on such basic issues as how to provide a balanced sample of languages in a typology, and how such balancing might be relevant to theoreticians. So, while PT is a bridge between typologists and theoreticians, it is mainly one-way.

I believe PT will be at its most useful in advanced undergraduate phonology classes and introductory graduate courses. The chapters cover syllables, segmental processes, stress, tone and intonation, [End Page 481] and prosodic morphology. All presuppose familiarity with fundamental phonological concepts; some basic information is provided, but it is rather telegraphic (e.g. the one-page introduction to the syllable: pp. 83–84). In other words, students should be provided with a strong understanding of the syllable before tackling PT’s ‘syllable’ chapter, and the same advice applies for every other chapter in the book. Each chapter is fairly self-contained, and so chapters could be profitably assigned as individual readings. For the student, the value of each chapter is that it provides a high-level overview of broad topics, but with enough depth to identify interesting aspects, and adequate references to launch the student toward deeper exploration.

A great strength of the book is its focus on within-language frequency. For example, there is discussion of the within-language relative frequency of short vs. long vowels, singleton vs. geminate consonants, geminate consonants of various manners of articulation, syllable types, and many others (52ff.). It is rare to see such within-language relative frequencies discussed, even though—as G notes—they often follow the same patterns as found crosslinguistically.

Any survey faces a basic conundrum: breadth or depth? In terms of...


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pp. 481-484
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