Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003 21:09:06 +0200 From: Trudy & Kevin Agar-Mendousse Subject: Phonetics.
Roach, Peter (2001), Phonetics. Oxford University Press, Oxford Introductions to Language Study.
Reviewed by Kevin Mendousse, University of Auckland (New Zealand) and University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV, France).
Peter Roach's Phonetics forms part of a series of introductory books to language study, all of which are organised into the following four sections: Survey, Readings, References and Glossary.
Its stated purpose is to serve as a complement to academic introductory texts whose degree of technicality can be quite daunting to the novice reader. As the series editor Widdowson points out in the preface, it is presumably "an advantage to have a broad map of the terrain sketched out before one considers its more specific features on a smaller scale, a general context in reference to which the detail makes sense" (p. vii). In that respect, Roach's book is primarily intended for novice students in phonetics and non-specialists alike.
The Survey section (pp. 1-69) offers a summary overview of the main features of phonetics, laying out the discipline's general scope, basic concerns, principles of enquiry and key concepts. The Readings section (pp. 71-97) serves as a transition to critical reading by quoting short selected texts from major works in phonetics and providing the reader with insightful questions as to the how and why of phonetics. The third section, References (pp. 99-105), offers an annotated list of more specialised readings for a closer look at each of the Survey chapters, while the fourth and final section, Glossary (pp. 107-114), indexes key words along with their definitions and simultaneously cross-references their related concepts.
The Survey is divided into ten chapters, including a paragraph-long conclusion (Chapter 10). Chapter 1, "The Science of Speech" (pp. 3-10), begins with a brief account of the speech chain, reviewing the basic mechanisms involved in the production of speech sounds by the speaker, their movement through the air in the form of acoustic vibrations and their reception by the listener. It also provides a rationale for the study of phonetic transcription and sound systems (vowels and consonants) as well as for the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) with reference to the notions of contrast, phoneme and allophone. A revised and updated chart of the IPA (pp. 8-9) complements the introduction.
In Chapter 2, "Making Speech Sounds" (pp. 11-16), Roach goes on to describe the breathing system and the vocal tract, covering both laryngeal and supralaryngeal features. A detailed contextual analysis of the articulatory processes involved in the production of the word "sand" supplements the presentation of the aformentioned features while illustrating the need for their phonetic description and classification. A diagram (p. 16) of the articulator movements for the production of the same word summarises the discussion, allowing the reader to see the overall unity beyond the multiplicity of articulatory events that occur both simultaneously and successively in speech production.
In Chapter 3, "Classifying Speech Sounds" (pp. 17-24), Roach justifies the use and need for a taxonomy of sounds (phonemes and allophones alike), which leads him to outline a general classification of vowels and consonants. The concept of cardinal vowels and the vocalic features of openness, frontness and rounding are introduced here, as are the consonantal features of voicing, place of articulation and manner of articulation along with their various airstream mechanisms. Diagrams of both the vocalic space (p. 19) and the place of articulation for consonants (p. 21) lend visual support to the discussion.
Chapter 4, "Tone and Tone Languages" (pp. 25-29), deals with those languages that make distinctive use, through controlled adjustment of the vocal folds, of pitch variations such as pitch level and/or movement. Specific characteristics and uses of pitch are surveyed here with particular reference to lexical and grammatical tones, tone levels and contours, contextual variations and pitch-accents.
Chapter 5, "Suprasegmentals" (pp. 31-38), broadens the tonal discussion of Chapter 4 to include other prosodic features like stress, intonation, rhythm, tempo and voice-quality, while providing a rationale for their study by highlighting the important part they all play in the communication and understanding of ideas, emotions, etc.
In Chapter 6, "Acoustics of Speech Sounds" (pp. 39-46), Roach furthers his investigation of speech sounds to include their spectral definition, showing how any one segment can be broken down into waveforms of different frequencies. The reproduction of the acoustic waveforms and spectrograms of both the word "see" (pp. 40-41) and the sentence "She bought some chairs and a table" (p. 45) illustrates the explanations. Acoustic notions of (a)periodicity, amplitude, formant as well as the source-filter theory are introduced here. In an extension of Chapter 3 and its articulatory account of speech sounds, Chapter 6 develops the segmental classification of vowels and consonants (fricatives, plosives, nasals, affricates, approximants) in relation to their acoustic pattern that can be one of four possible types: periodic, aperiodic, a mixture of both or silent. A very brief characterization of the acoustics of the suprasegmental feature of pitch through fundamental frequency, intensity and duration complements the description.
Chapter 7, "Sounds in Systems" (pp. 47-51), links phonetics to phonology by focusing on the contrastive function of speech sounds and showing how languages differ in what constitutes their phonemic repertoire and/or in the phonotactic constraints that govern their syllable structure.
Chapter 8, "Connected Speech and Coarticulation" (pp. 53-62), broadens the phonetic account of individual speech sounds to their analysis in connected speech where they are no longer seen as discrete and independent sound units but as a sequence of interacting segments that have potential effects of assimilation, coarticulation and elision on one another. Three cases of assimilation are reviewed (assimilation being defined as what happens when one sound becomes phonetically similar to an adjacent sound), along with a discussion of the mechanical and biological causes of such processes: (i) assimilation of voice, (ii) assimilation of place and (iii) assimilation of manner. Having said that, Roach then moves away from ideas that are traditionally associated with assimilation like phoneme change or sounds influencing adjacent sounds, in favour of coarticulation processes known to have anticipatory and perseverative effects that expand much further than from just one segment to its neighbour. Finally, with reference to laboratory findings, Roach argues that elision is not a separate process from assimilation but rather an extreme result of coarticulation whereby two sounds are produced so closely in time to each other that in-between sounds are inaudible but never completely lost nor deleted as far as production is concerned. There is indeed strong empirical evidence supporting the underlying presence of articulatory features pertaining to the so-called "missing segment".
In Chapter 9, "Variation" (pp. 63-68), Roach demonstrates the degree of variation that can occur within the phonetics and phonology of any one language as a result of differences such as regional (dialect, accent), social (status, context, gender), stylistic (communication needs) and age variation.
Chapter 10, "Conclusion" (p. 69), ends the Survey section on a positive note by emphasizing the living and dynamic side of speech as well as the thriving and exciting nature of phonetics as a field of study. Roach points to the wealth of material available, not only in journals and books but also on the Internet, on any aspect of phonetics, speech research, and pronunciation teaching as indicative of the relevence of phonetics today.
Roach's Phonetics clearly and accurately lays down the basic concerns, fundamental units and key concepts in phonetics, while presupposing no prior knowledge of linguistics. The four clear-cut sections of the book allow for flexibility in the reading, and the recommended references for each of the Survey chapters present the interested student with material for further study and investigation. The excerpts selected from the more specialist literature and the questions asked in the Readings section are interesting, relevant and often thought-provoking.
Overall, the book is an insightful work that provides the reader with a broad overview of the field of phonetics, with sporadic reference to phonology, while stimulating thought and encouraging both introspection and reflection through numerous and diverse examples taken from languages across the world, with a wide range of references to European, African, Asian and indigenous American languages and dialects.
The writing is always clear, effective and very readable; the explanations are self-contained, accurate, simple and sometimes humorous but never simplistic. Symbols and terminology are introduced progressively, as they are needed, which renders them less daunting to the novice reader and enables her to see beyond them. Having said that, the glossary is a welcome addition to an introductory text in phonetics that, necessarily, comprises a certain amount of jargon.
By avoiding the common pitfall, found in many introductory texts, of confusing the novice reader at the outset with a mass of new concepts, terms, notational practises and complex phonetic descriptions and diagrams, Roach makes his book easily accessible to the target readership, therefore achieving the objectives stated in the preface. The book should thus serve as a very useful tool in the context of an introductory class in phonetics.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Kevin Mendousse is currently teaching in the French department at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), and has recently submitted a PhD thesis in linguistics at the University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV, France), where he taught English phonetics and phonology for several years. His main research interests include articulatory and acoustic phonetics, phonological theory and morphophonological representation, speech perception and, more generally, psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology.