Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Svantesson, Jan-Olaf; Tsendina, Anna; Karlsson, Anastasia; Franzen, Vivan. TITLE: The Phonology of Mongolian SERIES: The Phonology of the World's Languages PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2005
Amy LaCross, Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona.
In The Phonology of Mongolian, Svantesson et al. offer one of the most comprehensive descriptions and analyses of the phonetics and the phonology of Khalkha Mongolian as well as its major dialects and language family to date. Using a formidable array of both synchronic and diachronic sources, the authors not only provide a thorough analysis of the phonetics and phonology of Modern Khalkha, as spoken in the capital of the Republic of Mongolia, but also a complete historical analysis of the sound changes in Old and Middle Mongolian to present and the languages of its respective language family.
Chapter 1: Vowels.
These chapters offer a thorough acoustical analysis of the phonemic inventory in Khalkha Mongolian. The data in these chapters is based on fieldwork done by Svantesson in Ulaan Baatar with three male native speakers. Though it would perhaps be helpful to base the resultant analyses on a larger number of speakers, the authors are to be commended on the completeness of the information provided in a variety of charts detailing duration of long and short vowels, formant frequencies, and F1-F2 vowel plots. The authors also provide acoustical analyses of the phonetic bases for vowel harmony, palatalized vowels, and a brief description of the four diphthongs.
Chapter 2: Consonants
This chapter offers an acoustical analysis of the consonantal inventory based on the analysis of the same three speakers from the previous chapters as well as another speaker, a middle-aged woman recorded in Moscow. Beginning with stops and affricates, it clarifies questions left by the analysis of Ramstedt 1902 and others with a description of the contrastive role of aspiration in Khalkha. Of interest and in contrast to previous descriptions of the language, Svantesson et al. include an aspirated and non-aspirated stop series (/pʰ/, /tʰ/, etc. with /p/, /t/, etc.) rather than the voiced and voiceless series commonly used in other descriptions of the language. Their attention to positional effects is particularly compelling in the exploration of pre- and post-aspiration effects. The authors include brief descriptions of stops in other Mongolian dialects including Buriad and Kalmuck. Continuing the analysis, the authors go on to provide brief descriptions of the fricatives, nasals, liquids, glides and palatalized consonants present in the inventory. The authors briefly mention the tendency of one of their speakers to devoice /ɮ/. The authors further note (using the spectrogram and waveform of another speaker as illustration): ''The lateral fricative /ɮ/ is rather voiceless for some speakers, but at least its first part is usually voiced. Before an aspirated consonant it becomes completely voiceless and has more high-frequency noise'' (p. 16, caption for Fig. 2.5). However, in my experience with the language, the voiceless /ɬ/ is much more widely instantiated than indicated by the authors and perhaps deserves a more formal treatment.
Chapter 3: Phonemes
This chapter offers an analysis of Mongolian segmental phonemes. One of the strengths of this chapter, and indeed of the book, as the authors themselves note, is that it offers an alternative analysis to that of many Western authors like Ramstedt (1902), Poppe (1951, 1970), and Street (1963), offering instead an analysis more in line with hitherto less accessible Chinese, Russian, and Japanese scholars. The authors offer a description of the vowel and consonant phoneme inventories, with special emphasis on positional effects and alternations and the effects of vowel harmony on phoneme distribution. The authors continue with a look at loan-word phonology effects on the many Russian, Chinese, Tibetan, and English words that have entered the lexicon.
Chapter 4: Writing Systems
The main purpose of the chapter appears to be a brief explanation of the phonemic correlates of the Cyrillic letters used in Mongolian orthography. The bulk of the historic information and description is located in Chapter Ten. One of the book's attributes is the attention paid to the writing systems of the Mongolic language family. The inclusion of all data sets in IPA as well as the Cyrillic throughout the book is particularly helpful. This chapter includes information on both Cyrillic and Modern Written Mongolian (the traditional, vertically written phonemic script). A brief section on Cyrillic Buriad and Kalmuck is also included, with a small comparative chart of Mongolian, Buriad, and Kalmuck orthographic forms. The clear descriptions of the near phonemic spelling allowed by the Cyrillic alphabet offer an excellent argument for the appropriateness of the Cyrillic alphabet for Mongolian, a point which has been the subject of some debate.
Chapter 5: Phonological Processes
Working with the assumption of privative features, the authors focus on an auto-segmental analysis of vowel harmony in this chapter, with some attention to velar nasal assimilation and reduplication at the end of the chapter. Vowel harmony is perhaps the best known phonological process in Mongolian and has been well documented and studied by a variety of scholars around the world. Svantesson et al. submit an excellent, and perhaps most importantly, phonetically grounded analysis of the phenomenon. The chapter is complete with superb data sets illustrating the domain of the phenomenon and the role of transparency and opacity.
Chapter 6: Syllabification and Epenthesis
Continuing the auto-segmental analysis, the authors examine syllable structure and type. Syllable type is illustrated by four full data sets: monosyllabic words, word-initial syllables, word-internal syllables, and of course, word-final syllables. Codas, sonority and epenthesis conditions are clearly illustrated with a full table detailing possible permutations for two consonant codas. A section on the syllabification conditions governing monomorphemic forms as well as a section on a schwa-zero alternation for epenthesis in derived and inflected words. (As a side note, the word for 'garlic' is misspelled twice in two different data sets and as such is used improperly as an example of a complex coda.)
After a look at the cyclic nature of syllabification, its implications for the verb suffix '-(ə)x,' the authors present an examination of the phonemic status of glides, a section which offers a logical argument for the complementary distribution of glides in Mongolian, referencing the historical development of Old Mongolian. The chapter concludes with a several-page data set illustrating final consonant combinations.
Chapter 7: Prosody
This chapter, complete with waveform and spectrogram information, details the focal accent, boundary signaling, and word stress. It also examines the existence of a 'final prominence tone' present in many Mongolian utterance. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the chapter is the summary discussion of prevailing and contrastive views on Mongolian word stress. The authors provide a fairly succinct account of varying analyses. Of interest however, is the authors' conclusion that no unified phenomenon of word stress exists in the language. One would like here to see concrete evidence and a clear exploration of the discrepancies which could support such a statement.
Chapter 8: Old Mongolian
This chapter offers one of the most comprehensive and readable historical descriptions of Old Mongolian available. With sections on Uigur Mongolian, Sino-Mongolian, Arabic Mongolian, and 'Phags-pa Mongolian, the authors provide a thorough examination of the relationship between these languages, their respective writing systems and their contributions to modern Mongolian. Data sets and comparative orthographic charts add much to these sections. The chapter continues with a comprehensive analysis of the phonology of Old Mongolian, including sections on vowels, and positional effects. Data sets are complete with comparative tables detailing forms within the Mongolic family. Incidentally, the authors should be cautioned that the wording of some sections may lead the reader to believe that /l/ and /r/ do not occur word initially in modern Mongolian, which while true for Old Mongolian, does not hold true today. The chapter concludes with an extensive data set of Old Mongolian vocabulary, complete with IPA transcriptions and the Classical Written Mongolian script.
Chapter 9: The Mongolic Languages
In this chapter, the reader is introduced to the many dialects and languages in the Mongolic language family. In additional to Mongolian, Buriad, Oirad, Kamniagan, Dagur, Shira Yugur, Monguour, Santa, Bonan, Kangjia, and Moghal are each at least briefly examined and compared. Criteria for Mongolian dialect division are given, as well as maps and brief demographic notes. The main appeal of this chapter lies in the complete phonemic inventories given for each language as well as the extensive comparative form charts concluding the chapter.
Chapter 10: Development of the Modern Mongolic Languages
This chapter provides a new alternative to the works of Poppe (1955, 1960) who has largely influenced the diachronic analysis of Mongolian. Drawing on his and many others' work, this chapter is an extensive and valuable resource on the development and sound change of each of the major Mongolic languages detailed in the previous chapter. Presented together in a concise and comprehensive way, vowel shifts, vowel splits, and mergers, long vowels, the development of the i-diphthong, vowel harmony shifts, vowel assimilation, positional distribution changes, de-aspiration, politicization and word and syllable structure are examined in turn for each Mongolic language.
This volume presents a valuable new source for any linguist or scholar of Mongolian. This is perhaps one of the most comprehensive and succinct treatments of the language to date. Its strongest attributes lie in a mind-boggling array of sources (many of which were previously inaccessible to Western scholars), its combination of synchronic and diachronic analyses, the extensive and largely error-free data sets and its extreme readability.
Ramstedt, John C. (1902). Das schriftmongolische und die Urgamundart phonetisch verglichen. JSFOu 21: fasc. 2 (pp. I-IV, 1-60).
Street, John C. (1963). Khalkha Structure. Uralic and Altaic Series, 24. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Amy LaCross is currently a graduate student at the University of Arizona, the Department of Linguistics. She lived and studied Khalkha Mongolian in Baruun-Urt, Mongolia for two years. In addition to Khalkha Mongolian, her current research interests include speech perception and cognition, as well as acoustic and articulatory phonetics.