Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Style, Mediation, and Change

Edited by Janus Mortensen, Nikolas Coupland, and Jacob Thogersen

Style, Mediation, and Change "Offers a coherent view of style as a unifying concept for the sociolinguistics of talking media."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Intonation and Prosodic Structure

By Caroline Féry

Intonation and Prosodic Structure "provides a state-of-the-art survey of intonation and prosodic structure."

Review of  The Sounds of Language

Reviewer: Avizia Long
Book Title: The Sounds of Language
Book Author: Elizabeth C. Zsiga
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Issue Number: 24.3294

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting

The primary purpose of this book is to provide an introduction to the linguistic study of phonetics and phonology. As it is an introductory text, it is intended for undergraduate and beginning graduate students of linguistics, regardless of their particular language(s) of study. A secondary (but equal) purpose of this book is to serve as a pedagogical resource for instructors.

This book is comprehensive in terms of content, covering nearly all topics related to phonetics and phonology over 20 chapters. It also contains exercises and problem sets at the end of each chapter, along with references for further reading and ancillary materials online ( In the following paragraphs, I provide very brief summaries of each chapter.

Chapter 1, “The Vocal Tract,” covers in detail all parts of the vocal tract as well as the tools and methods researchers have used to see it. This material is presented primarily in prose, with accompanying figures containing diagrams of the different parts of the vocal tract discussed. Tools and methods discussed include x-rays, ultrasound, and MRI, and photos resulting from the use of each of these tools are included in figures.

Chapter 2, “Basics of Articulation: Manner and Place in English,” describes how speech sounds are made and introduces phonetic transcription, with a focus on English. Consonant sounds are covered first, followed by vowels. With regard to the discussion of consonant sounds, the presentation of information is divided by place and manner of articulation, following the arrangement of the IPA chart. For both consonants and vowels, charts are included that provide several examples of each English sound organized by phonetic symbol, and additionally, by distribution (i.e. word initial, medial, or final position) for consonants.

Chapter 3, “A Tour of the Consonants,” covers pulmonic and non-pulmonic consonants cross-linguistically, and concludes with English positional variation. The discussion of pulmonic consonants is divided into three sections: (1) stops, nasals, and fricatives; (2) laterals, trills, taps, and other approximants; and (3) contour and complex segments. Non-pulmonic consonants are organized by implosives, ejectives, and clicks. Throughout this chapter, several examples are provided, as well as photos demonstrating pulmonic consonant sounds.

Chapter 4, “A Map of the Vowels,” first discusses how vowels and consonants are related, and then covers how vowel systems are described across languages. The text covers key dimensions of vowel quality, including height and backness, rounding, and the tense/lax distinction. A discussion of nasality, length, and tone are also included. Several examples are provided in several languages, including French, Turkish, Vietnamese, and European Portuguese, as well as an oral diagram and MRI image to exemplify tongue root position and orality versus nasality, respectively.

Chapter 5, “Anatomy, Physiology, and Gestural Coordination,” covers the anatomy and physiology of respiration and the vocal tract, introduces and describes gestural coordination, and concludes with the purpose of and steps for palatography. The author clearly guides the reader through anatomy and physiology using a combination of images and instructions for the reader to follow in order to better understand the process of respiration and the functioning of the larynx and tongue. Coverage of gestural coordination is brief, and mainly serves to demonstrate how the parts work as a whole. The steps for palatography are detailed and accompanied by images so that the reader may also try this on his/her own.

Chapter 6, “The Physics of Sound: Pendulums, Pebbles, and Waves,” defines sound and covers the specifics of sound propagation, intensity, and resonance. Key concepts covered include harmonic motion, complex waves, decibels, and resonance. The chapter concludes with an introduction to Source-Filter Theory, where the vocal tract is likened to a resonating system, so that the text may transition to speech analysis (Chapter 7).

Chapter 7, “Looking at Speech: Waveforms, Spectra, and Spectrograms,” first provides an overview of the tools and methods for conducting speech analysis, both historically and currently. Tools include the kymograph (famously used by Daniel Jones), sound spectrographs, and contemporary tools that digitize speech. The second half of the chapter is dedicated to explaining the composition of waveforms, spectra, and spectrograms. Several figures of spectrograms are included throughout in order to exemplify English words containing a diverse range of consonant sounds.

Chapter 8, “Speech Analysis: Under the Hood,” covers the “mathematics” of sounds (including a discussion of sinusoid waves, harmonics, and basic formulas for wavelength and frequency), as well as the “behind the scenes” of speech analysis using a computer, including RMS amplitude and autocorrelation pitch analysis.

Chapter 9, “Hearing and Speech Perception,” covers the anatomy and physiology of the ear, neuro-anatomy, and relevant issues related to speech perception. Presentation of material for the anatomy and physiology of the ear is very detailed and includes several diagrams to present the same information visually. Regarding neuro-anatomy, the author includes information on how the brain has been studied, followed by parts of the brain that are fundamental to speech perception (e.g. auditory nerve, cochlear nuclei, etc.). Issues related to speech perception discussed in this chapter include non-linearity (i.e. non-linear mapping from acoustics to perception), inherent variability in speech production, and cue integration.

Chapter 10, “Phonology 1: Abstraction, Contrast, Predictability,” discusses why abstraction is necessary for the study of sound patterns, as well as historical and current methods for phonemic analysis, including Structuralism and Behaviorism.

Chapter 11, “Phonotactics and Alternations,” covers phonotactic constraints as well as the types of alternations present across languages at the segmental level. The discussion of phonotactic constraints is tied into theoretical perspectives (generative and psycholinguistic) of what it means to know a language, and also covers borrowings. Alternations discussed include assimilation, dissimilation, lenition, debuccalization, fortition, and several others (see p. 233 for a complete list with definitions and examples, cross-linguistically). Several examples are provided throughout in several different languages.

Chapter 12, “What is a Possible Language? Distinctive Features,” provides a detailed overview and background of formalism, highlighting how distinctive features (i.e. discrete characteristics that distinguish classes of sounds) fit into respective analyses. These features are organized by manner, laryngeal, and place distinctions for consonants, and by tongue and lip articulation for vowels. Several examples are provided throughout, as well as several charts to visually represent different combinations of distinctive features covered in the text.

Chapter 13, “Rules and Derivations in Generative Grammar,” introduces generative grammars and the notion of underlying and surface representations. It also provides several examples of how to write rules using the notation found in ‘The Sound Pattern of English’ (i.e. SPE notation, Chomsky & Halle, 1968). This chapter also introduces autosegmental representations and Feature Geometry. Several example analyses are presented and explained, which are helpful for viewing how to use the associated notation.

Chapter 14, “Constraint-based phonology,” introduces Optimality Theory (OT) (Prince & Smolensky, 1993/2004) and walks the reader through several exercises employing OT analysis at the segmental level. The exercises are presented visually and explained thoroughly, and reflect a wide range of languages.

Chapter 15, “Syllables and Prosodic Domains,” introduces suprasegmental aspects of speech, focusing on the syllable, word, and phrase levels. All information is accompanied by several diagrams and examples in a variety of languages.

Chapter 16, “Stress,” introduces the notion of linguistic stress and discusses respective correlates cross-linguistically, including length, pitch, loudness, and clarity of articulation. The last half of this chapter focuses on stress in English, dividing the discussion by nouns, verbs and adjectives, and words with affixes.

Chapter 17, “Tone and Intonation,” is the last chapter dedicated to suprasegmental phonology, and provides an overview of tonal and intonational representations and tonal alternations across languages. The discussion of tonal alternations is organized geographically (the Americas, Africa, and Asia), and several examples and figures are included to exemplify key concepts discussed. The chapter concludes by defining intonation and introducing the notation used to describe intonational contours.

Chapter 18, “Diachronic Change,” discusses language change and uses the example of Proto-Indo-European to cover historical reconstruction. The discussion of language change includes causes and effects of change, as well as types of change evidenced in English (e.g. lenition, fortition, epenthesis, etc.). The changes evidenced in English are exemplified through four versions of a biblical text.

Chapter 19, “Variation,” primarily covers variation in the English language by geographic location (North America, England, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) and introduces frameworks that examine linguistic variation (e.g. variable rules from sociolinguistics and Stochastic OT). Key concepts relevant to variation presented in this chapter include dialect, register, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, gender, and identity.

Chapter 20, “Acquisition and Learning,” covers first language and second language acquisition, exploring topics related to the context of learning, production, perception, and current theoretical frameworks. Tools and methods for analysis are included and discussed, including contemporary psycholinguistic methods, such as event-related potentials (ERPs). Second language perception and production are covered using studies examining the learning of a wide variety of languages.


This book provides an updated introduction to the linguistic study of phonetics and phonology. The author indicates in the preface to the book that it is intended to serve as an introductory text for undergraduate and/or beginning graduate phonetics and/or phonology classes. To that end, this book meets the goal of serving as an introductory text on several counts. First, the presentation of all content is very approachable, with language that is suitable for a true beginner to phonetics and phonology. This is a particularly strong point of this book, given that original sources covering theory (e.g. Chomsky & Halle, 1968; Prince & Smolensky, 1993/2004) are not necessarily approachable for a beginning student. This book also meets the goal of serving as an introductory text by offering several ancillary resources both inside and outside of the text. As indicated in the summary above, at the end of each chapter are references for further reading and several exercises that do not appear in other texts. Additionally, more exercises are provided for each chapter on the companion site available through the publisher. Lastly, regarding the goal of this book, examples are offered for all content in several languages. This is another strong point of the book, and further allows readers to observe firsthand how the theoretical frameworks covered are applied across typologically distinct languages. Overall, this book accomplishes the goal of serving as an introductory text, and would serve as an excellent companion to other texts that focus on specific languages (e.g. ‘The Sounds of Spanish,’ Hualde, 2005 and books within that series). Although it is directed toward instructors of phonetics and phonology, it may also serve as a resource for instructors of introductory linguistics courses who often incorporate a phonetics and/or phonology component into their program of studies.

Another strength of this book is the coherent presentation of theory (once presented) throughout. This is first evident in the preface to the book, where the author presents student readers with several questions to consider while reading the text. These questions challenge student readers to think not only about what sounds are, but also how sounds fit together more broadly into the act of communication, and more generally “what phonetics and phonology is all about.” Phonetics and phonology are treated separately throughout the text, while areas of overlap are discussed. Once relevant frameworks are introduced, they are continually referenced where applicable throughout the text. For example, the chapters covering rule-based (Chapter 13) and constraint-based phonology (Chapter 14) are not only applied to segmental phonology, but also suprasegmental phonology. Similarly, areas of overlap between constraint-based phonology and variation are covered in the chapter on variation (Chapter 19). These are only a couple of examples of how the content of the text -- particularly, relevant theoretical frameworks -- is coherently interrelated throughout.

Although the text has a primarily introductory purpose, the author provides a clear sense of remaining challenges related to the study of phonetics and phonology and often indicates “where we stand” theoretically and empirically. This is another aspect of this book that makes it a strong introductory text - it aids the beginning reader in making connections and understanding where theoretical perspectives converge and diverge. It also shows how the study of phonetics and phonology has been applied to other fields of linguistics, including language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and historical linguistics. These connections and applications are evident throughout each chapter of the second half of the book, and are useful for beginning readers.

A final note related to the intended use of the text is the author’s explanation of how to use the text for instruction. I found this information particularly useful in that it can guide instructors on the core readings for a one-semester or two-semester phonetics and/or phonology course.

Overall, this book represents a strong introductory text to the study of phonetics and phonology in a classroom setting. I believe the most compelling aspect of the text is the quantity and quality of information included -- there is as little or as much content as an instructor may need in order to provide a resource for beginning or advanced students, and all information is presented in a coherent, approachable manner. This is particularly the case for the first four chapters and those chapters covering theory. I believe this text can stand on its own in a course dedicated to the study of phonetics and/or phonology or certain chapters can be easily adopted in courses that may only touch on phonetics and/or phonology (or aspects of this field of study) for a few weeks.


Chomsky, Noam and Halle, Morris. 1968. The Sound Pattern of English. New York: Harper and Row.

Prince, Alan and Smolensky, Paul. 2004[1993]. Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hualde, José Ignacio. 2005. The Sounds of Spanish. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Avizia Yim Long is a PhD student of Hispanic Linguistics at Indiana University. Her research interests include second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and phonetics and phonology.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781405191036
Pages: 496
Prices: U.S. $ 49.95

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781405191043
Pages: 496
Prices: U.S. $ 99.95

Format: Electronic
ISBN-13: 9781118340530
Pages: 496
Prices: U.S. $ 99.95