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Review of  The MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders

Reviewer: Steven B. Chin
Book Title: The MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders
Book Author: Raymond D Kent
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 15.1231

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Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004 13:28:35 -0500
From: Steven B. Chin
Subject: The MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders

EDITOR: Kent, Raymond D.
TITLE: The MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders
YEAR: 2004

Steven B. Chin, Indiana University

If, as Chomsky (1965) proposes, "linguistic theory is
concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a
completely homogeneous speech community..." (p. 3), then
Raymond D. Kent's "The MIT Encyclopedia of Communication
Disorders" (hereinafter "the Encyclopedia") addresses
the status of the non-ideal speaker-listener and a
heterogeneous speech community.

The editor, Raymond D. Kent, is professor of
communicative disorders at the University of Wisconsin
at Madison. Professor Kent specializes in speech
production and the acoustics of speech, particularly in
the area of speech intelligibility and speech quality
affected by neurogenic disorders in children and adults.
He is the author of Application of Research to
Assessment and Therapy (Thieme-Stratton, 1985);
Functional Anatomy of Speech, Language, and Hearing
(Allyn and Bacon, 1990); The Acoustic Analysis of Speech
(Singular Publishing Group, 1992); The Speech Sciences
(Singular, 1997); and Clinical Phonetics (Allyn and
Bacon, 2003); as well as over 100 journal articles and
chapters. His knowledge on a wide range of topics is
encyclopedic, making him a fitting editor for this

This 618-page volume contains 184 articles organized
into four broad categories: voice, speech, language, and
hearing. These loci of human spoken communication and
disorders of spoken communication are standard and to an
extent institutionalized, at least in the United States.
First, they are the broad specialties generally
reflected in faculties of academic departments in
colleges and universities that deal with communication
disorders. In name, at least, some of these concentrate
on disorders (e.g., Department of Speech Pathology and
Audiology, University of Minnesota), some on general
scientific aspects (Department of Speech and Hearing
Sciences, Indiana University), and some on both (e.g.,
Department of Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and
Disorders, University of Kansas). Second, as Kent points
out, the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing
Research (JSLHR), an official organ of the American
Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), has the
three main editorial categories (including separate
associate editors) of speech, language, and hearing.
Third, the National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communication Disorders (NIDCD, a U.S. federal entity,
has three main research program areas: (1) Hearing and
Balance; (2) Voice, Speech, and Language; and (3) Smell
and Taste. Research pertaining to human communication
are subsumed in the first and second areas.

Note that in the foregoing, "communication" is by-and-
large limited to spoken communication (and, to some
extent, manual or signed) by humans. Written
communication and reading disorders are generally not
addressed in academic departments such as those just
mentioned, in journals such as JSLHR, or in recent
strategic plans for research emanating from the NIDCD.
This concentration on spoken communication and disorders
of spoken communication (with some exceptions, for
example, "Alexia")is also evident in the content and
organization of the Encyclopedia.

Each of the 184 articles (95 on Voice, 127 on Speech,
179 on Language, and 154 on Hearing) is written by an
expert in the relevant field, and each article is
signed. Most authors are affiliated with academic
institutions in North America, although a number of them
are affiliated with various hospitals in the United
States, including a fair number of Veterans Affairs (VA)
hospitals. Specialists in linguistics, or at least
phonetics, may be familiar with authors such as Louis
Braida ("Frequency compression") and Kenneth Stevens
("Voice acoustics"), but I suspect that many, if not
most, of the authors of this volume will be unfamiliar
to linguists and phoneticians. This is a real shame,
because disorders of communication raise many
theoretically interesting questions regarding the
structure of language, particularly with respect to the
limits on structural variation in "ideal" speaker-
listeners and "completely homogeneous" speech

The editor indicates in the introduction that two
further principles guided the content and structure of
the Encyclopedia. First, each of the four categories of
Voice, Speech, Language, and Hearing were balanced for
articles dealing with Basic Science, Disorders (nature
and assessment), and Clinical Management (intervention
issues). Obviously, this is necessitated by the nature
of the field of communication disorders, unlike a field
like theoretical linguistics, which admits to not much
more than "Basic Science." This guiding typology is not
explicit in the structure or content of each section.
More explicit, however, is the separation of disorders
in adults from disorders in children.

Articles in the Encyclopedia are of relatively uniform
text length and include black-and-white or gray-scale
graphic materials (illustrations, graphs, spectrograms,
etc.). For some reason, the lack of color illustrations
always makes a work seem to me more scientific, which of
course this one is. Each article is followed by a list
of references cited in the article as well as, in most
cases, a list of further readings. The reference lists
of cited works contain for the most part primary
literature appearing in journal articles, whereas the
lists of further readings contain mostly secondary
material, including books and book chapters.

Within each of the sections Voice, Speech,, Language,
and Hearing, the articles are arranged alphabetically by
their titles. The Encyclopedia contains a table of
contents, listing, again in alphabetical order, the
articles in each section. The table of contents really
is a sine qua non for determining whether the
Encyclopedia contains an article on a topic of interest.
The reason for this is that the titles of the articles
reflect what seems to be the very democratic approach of
letting authors title their own articles. There are very
straightforward titles, such as "Stuttering,"
"Discourse," and "Presbyacusis." There are also some
not-so-straightforward titles like "Speech disorders
secondary to hearing impairment acquired in adulthood"
and "Phonological awareness intervention for children
with expressive phonological impairments." These are, in
fact, the titles of perfectly fine articles, but titles
such as these make it difficult to follow specific lines
of inquiry on the basis of the titles alone.

For example, there are several articles in the Language
section dealing with various aspects of aphasia. Some of
these articles have titles that begin with the word
"aphasia," such as "Aphasia: The classical syndromes"
and "Aphasia, Wernicke's." However, there are also
articles dealing with aphasia that are not as easy to
find, such as "Phonological analysis of language
disorders in aphasia" and "Phonology and adult aphasia."
The situation is due in large part, of course, to the
tripartite set of concerns, quite legitimate concerns,
of basic science, diagnosis, and clinical management. It
is also helped very much by the inclusion of a name
index and a comprehensive subject index. If one is
looking for everything in the volume about aphasia, for
example, it would probably be better to look in the
index rather than in the table of contents.

Given the participation of the editor and so many other
experts on this project, it would have been nice to have
an overview article for each of the sections on voice,
speech, language, and hearing, outlining for each area
its delimiting factors and major concerns. I mention
this because, given my current line of research, I was
interested to see what the Encyclopedia had to say about
"deafness." There was a main index heading for
"deafness" that contained several subheadings, for
example, "in children, assessment and intervention for,"
"language acquisition with for English," "Scheibe," and
so forth. But there was nothing like "defined" or
"characteristics of." I was reminded of the time in
college when I found my neighbor, a geology major one
month away from graduation, going frantically through
all of his books and four years of class notes looking
for, he told me, a good definition for the word "rock."

I do not want the last two paragraphs to give any
impression other than that I found this a great work of
reference and a great work of science. It is both
comprehensive and authoritative, and it will serve
professionals in the field, as well as those in closely
related fields, admirably.


Chomsky, Noam. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax.
Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Kent, Raymond D. (1985). Application of research to
assessment and therapy. New York: Thieme-Stratton.

Kent, Raymond D. (1997). The speech sciences. San Diego
CA: Singular Publishing

Kent, Raymond D., and Charles Read. (1992). The acoustic
analysis of speech. San Diego CA: Singular Publishing.

Perkins, William H., and Raymond D. Kent. (1990).
Functional anatomy of speech, language, and hearing.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Shriberg, Lawrence D., and Raymond D. Kent. (2003).
Clinical phonetics. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Steven B. Chin is assistant scientist in otolaryngology-
head and neck surgery in the Indiana University School
of Medicine. His research examines atypical speech and
phonological development, and his current projects deal
with phonological development in children who use
cochlear implants.

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