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Review of Quantity and Prososdic Asymmetries in Alemannic
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 11:45:40 +0200 From: Stefan Werner Subject: Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic
AUTHOR: Kraehenmann, Astrid TITLE: Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic SUBTITLE: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives SERIES: Phonology & Phonetics 5 YEAR: 2003 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
Stefan Werner, University of Joensuu, Finland
The monograph presents a comprehensive analysis of a Swiss German dialect which exhibits several exceptional features in its sound system. Phonetics and phonology of the Thurgovian dialect are examined in detail, both from a synchronic and a diachronic perspective, and interpreted on the background of language typology and modern theories of phonology. In particular, the rare phenomenon of word-initial lexical geminates undergoes detailed scrutiny and is used to point out deficiencies of moraic theory.
Thurgovian is a Swiss German dialect spoken in a small area in the North-Western corner of Switzerland. It exhibits several rare and extraordinary geminate consonant patterns that make it an intriguing research object both for phonetics and phonology. Astrid Kraehenmann's book is a revised version of her doctoral dissertation for which she received a prize from the City of Konstanz in 2001.
The book opens with a short introduction including an overview of the Thurgovian dialect's setting within Germanic languages and some general information on geminates. The author also states the three main goals she has set for her work: to show causal relationships in the historical development of Thurgovian, to show the interplay between phonology and phonetics in its consonant system and to justify the analysis of its phonological quantity oppositions in terms of length rather than weight.
In the first chapter, theoretical constructs central to the author's analysis are presented. The main emphasis lies on the representation of geminates, and moraic theory (Hyman 1985, Hayes 1989) in particular is discussed at some length. Chapter 2 systematically describes the current sound system of Thurgovian whose wealth of lexical quantity oppositions is especially interesting: in addition to vowel quantity, quantity contrasts for fricatives and sonorants appear word-medially and -finally, for stops in all positions, including word-initially, e.g. singleton [t] vs. geminate [tt] at the beginning of the two words corresponding to German "Dank" ('thank') and "Tank" ('tank'), with the geminate in the place of the German aspirated voiceless [t] and the singleton in the place of unaspirated voiced [d]. After the synchronic presentation, the third chapter details on almost forty pages the diachronic development from Old High German to present-day Thurgovian, stressing the role of Open Syllable Lengthening in the understanding of differences between the evolution of Standard German and that of Thurgovian which has preserved much more of the old quantity opposition system.
Chapter 4 produces phonetic evidence in the form of the author's recordings of elicited Modern Thurgovian speech. 213 words covering all consonant quantity contrasts were read aloud by four male native Thurgovian speakers in the following way: in the first part of the production task, the subjects were primed with short written contexts on a computer screen containing the target word and had to repeat it as soon as it appeared on the screen on its own; in the second part the subjects were primed with a written question on the screen and then presented with the initial-consonant target word which they had to insert into the empty slot of an appropriate answer sentence provided on a sheet of paper; this setup was repeated with different contexts and final-consonant target words in the third part. Also position of the word in the phrase was varied (phrase-final vs. phrase-medial). The whole task was recorded twice for each speaker. Of the 213 stimulus words, one third were filler items, the relevant rest of the material (after rejection of failed productions a total of 2722 tokens) was transferred to an acoustic signal analysis program for segmentation of the waveforms and duration measurements.
Analysis of variance results for the influence of segmental context and underlying quantity on the measured durations together with their phonological interpretations make up the bulk of this central chapter. The main findings include a clear direct relationship between phonological quantity and segmental durations, empirical verification of the geminate distribution rules of Chapter 2, evidence interpretable in favor of the X-slot theory (Levin 1985) and the absence of a correlation between vowel and consonant durations. An additional perception experiment showed that word-initial stop quantity contrast can only be discriminated when preceding context is included in the stimuli - which is to be expected since stop occlusions are silent and thus their duration can only be judged (by means other than articulography) if there is something non-silent immediately before them.
The fifth chapter is devoted to a broad discussion of syllable weight and stress patterns in the light of the Thurgovian data. The most important theoretical point made is that moraic theory cannot account for the observations because it represents weight and length by the same unit whereas in the data weight is determined purely by position and the geminate-singleton distinction relies solely on a length opposition. Also, Thurgovian initial and final geminates follow exactly the same patterning as their medial counterparts (manifesting a clear distinction between sonorants and obstruents), thus contradicting moraic theory's assumption of different behavior at word edges.
In her final Conclusion section, the author summarizes her findings and emphasizes the aspect of asymmetry in several of them. There is the asymmetrical distribution of geminate fricatives and stops versus geminate sonorants where the former occur both after non-branching and branching nuclei but the latter only after non-branching nuclei, and there is the asymmetry of geminate fricatives and sonorants which only occur word-medially and -finally versus the geminate stops which also occur word-initially. The third asymmetry concerns neutralization of geminates, degemination, which in final position only takes place if the preceding nucleus is branching, or, using the slot terminology; the two geminate slots can be syllabified in a coda but not in an onset.
This book is of potential interest for a rather wide selection of language and speech researchers. Although its main focus lies on phonology, there is also much material for phoneticians to dwell upon. In addition, dialectologists, historical linguists and language typologists will all find something relevant to their fields. The amount of data analyzed is very impressive. Of course, collection of more realistic spontaneous speech data might give us a wealth of new insights but as a systematic approach to word-internal structure analysis the author's method of eliciting single words is well justified.
As a phonetician, I would have appreciated an even more explicit account of the acoustic measuring procedures (e.g. now it is not clear what the exact amplitude threshold criterion for the marking of a stop's occlusion boundary is - not that this could endanger the validity of the geminate analysis, though) as well as information about possible access to the data. But I am at a loss for pointing out any major flaws of this book which is also carefully edited and includes all necessary and hoped-for appendices and indices.
Finally, one of the greatest strengths of this book lies in its author's unveiled excitement about her object of research. Her keen interest in the Thurgovian dialect and obvious fascination with its peculiarities also inspire the reader to follow her thorough examinations with a stronger involvement. Kraehenmann's book certainly lives up to the Phonology and Phonetics series' intention of stimulating discussion across specialty boundaries.
Hayes, Bruce (1989) Compensatory lengthening in moraic theory. Linguistic Inquiry 20(2), pp. 253-306.
Hyman, Larry (1985) A Theory of Phonological Weight. Dordrecht: Foris.
Levin, Juliette (1985) A metrical theory of syllabicity. PhD dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Stefan Werner has been teaching phonetics, linguistics and language technology at the University of Joensuu in Finland since 1986. His research interests include intonation modeling, production and perception of quantity, and speech technology.