13.1041, Review: Gussmann (2002) Phonology: Analysis and Theory
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Subject: 13.1041, Review: Gussmann (2002) Phonology: Analysis and Theory
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Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2002 20:34:39 +0000
From: Zoe Toft <109299 at soas.ac.uk>
Subject: Gussmann (2002) Phonology: Analysis and Theory
-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------
Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2002 20:34:39 +0000
From: Zoe Toft <109299 at soas.ac.uk>
Subject: Gussmann (2002) Phonology: Analysis and Theory
Gussmann, Edmund (2002) Phonology: Analysis and Theory.
Cambridge University Press, xiii+234pp, hardback ISBN
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-159.html
Zoe Toft, SOAS, University of London
Phonology: Analysis and Theory, by Edmund Gussmann is an
introductory textbook which aims to provide an overview
of the field of phonology, such that might be covered
within one year of teaching, with minimal reference
to theory-specific mechanisms. The book is divided into
nine chapters, each with a summary and suggestions
for further reading, covering both primary sources for
data and further theoretical analyses in different
Chapter 1, 'Sounds and segments', examines the assumption
that the sound stream can be chopped up into independent
segments, such as an orthographic or IPA transcription
might lead us to believe. In fact, much of the chapter is
devoted to undermining this notion of segmental
independence, using data from Old and Modern English,
Muskerry Irish and Icelandic to show how certain
properties of sounds are often closely connected with
neighbouring sounds or with the position within the word.
Chapter 2, 'The melody and the skeleton', focuses on the
motivation for recognising a timing tier independent from
segmental material. Adoption of the skeleton-melody
distinction entails the theoretical possibility of (i)
skeletal positions without segments attached and also
(ii) melody unattached to skeletal positions, and examples
of both these types of phonological objects are examined.
Chapter 3, 'Domains and phonological regularities', starts
to explore the phonology-morphology interface. The author
shows that morpheme boundaries may, but do not necessarily
have to coincide with phonological domain boundaries.
Chapters 4, 'The syllable', and 5, 'More on codas',
introduce a layer of organization above the skeleton, that
of syllabic constituents. It is argued that constituent
boundaries cannot be assumed to coincide with word
boundaries. For example, each segment in a word initial
consonant sequence does not necessarily belong to one and
the same onset. The author also argues that word final
consonants are attached to onsets, not codas, and that
these are followed by empty nuclei.
In chapter 6, 'Some segmental regularities', the knowledge
gained in the preceding 5 chapters is drawn together and
used to investigate a variety of phonological processes
including vowel harmony (Turkish), vowel reduction (English
and Russian), spirantization (Icelandic) and final
Chapter 7, 'Syllable structure and phonological effects:
quantity in Icelandic', is devoted to an in-depth
exploration of a variety of aspects of Icelandic
phonology. New evidence is provided for the claim made
in chapters 4 and 5 that word final consonants actually
attach to onsets not codas, and the discussion concerning
what may or may not form a branching onset or a coda-onset
sequences is also further investigated.
Chapter 8, 'Segmental double agents', addresses the
phenomenon where one phonetic object is best analysed as
two phonological objects. We see, for example, how the
Russian labio-dental consonant sometimes acts like an
obstruent and sometimes like a sonorant. Rather than
trying to struggle with the Jekyll and Hyde nature of a
single segment, two phonological objects with one and
the same phonetic realization are proposed.
In the final chapter of the book, Chapter 9, 'Words and
feet: stress in Munster Irish', a level of phonological
organization above the level of syllabic constituents is
introduced. Stress placement in Munster Irish is variable
and a detailed set of data is worked through step by step,
gradually building up a detailed analysis of the
The book concludes with an appendix, the phonetic alphabet
of the International Phonetic Association, a bibliography
(pp. 227-232) and an index (pp. 233-234).
The book is very well structured, with the first 5
chapters providing an introduction to many key issues,
with the exception of subsegmental units on the grounds
that to do so would involve a considerable amount of
model specific machinery. Chapter 2, on the skeleton,
is particularly successful with a good mixture of
familiar and new data (including Finnish nuclear
simplification, Germanic and Turkish compensatory
lengthening) providing strong motivation for this
theoretical construct. Chapter 6 draws together all the
different aspects of representation so far considered and
provides some very interesting case studies, including
spirantization of obstruent sequences in Icelandic and
Russian vowel reduction. My only reservation about this
chapter is the amount of ground it covers. Given that this
book is designed to be 'covered within one academic year'
(p. ix), I think it would have been possible to extend
chapter 6 to include more, different phonological
processes such as umlaut, coalescence, dissimilation, and
In Chapter 7 students' skills are consolidated by
means of an extended investigation into certain aspects
of Icelandic. It becomes clear that the student must learn
to juggle several phenomena at the same time - an
invaluable skill for a student to develop! The analysis
itself of Icelandic quantity and syllabification is
extremely thought-provoking for those familiar with other
analyses of the same set of problem (e.g. Ito 1986,
Arnason 1980), although I believe it loses some of its
elegance in the details. For example, it is simply stated
that [lr], [mj] or [pn] sequences form rhyme-onset
sequences: Given that these sequences exhibit rising
sonority their proposed syllabification deserves some
explanation or at least comment from a cross linguistic
Chapter 8, on segmental double agents, provides an
extremely enjoyable and stimulating excursus into the
relationship between phonology and phonetics. It picks
up a thread that is woven throughout the book - that as
researchers we should always watch our assumptions. First
students learn not to assume that phonological and
morphological domains coincide. They then learn that
constituent boundaries do not necessarily coincide with
word boundaries. Finally, one more assumption is tested in
this chapter - that just because something sounds the
same, a uniform phonological analysis cannot be assumed.
Rather, as ever, evidence must be sought and provided in
favour of any analysis adopted.
With Chapter 8 I believe the author could have brought
the book to a close. Chapter 9, on foot structure, feels
as though it is an add-on, almost an afterthought: Perhaps
the author felt that an introductory textbook would be
incomplete without reference to metrical structure.
Unfortunately I think the cursory introduction to foot
structure is not successful, and unlike many of the other
chapters in this book I believe it could only work really
well with considerable additional support, either from
lectures or other reading material.
Each chapter comes with a good selection of suggested
further reading. I was particularly happy to see
references to data sources as well as to analyses in a variety
of frameworks. Given the aim of the book that the student
should 'try and see what qualifies as a phonological issue
and how it may be interpreted'(p.ix.), I think the book
could have benefited from the inclusion of problem sets at
the end of each chapter. Whilst it is true that many
introductory textbooks do not choose to provide problem
data sets, I believe this is a lost opportunity, both from
the point of view of the student and the teacher.
I think the book would also have benefited from inclusion
of more of the standardly used terms in phonology;
'phonemes', 'allophones', 'sonority', 'OCP' (Obligatory
Contour Principle), 'MOP' (Maximalization of Onset
Principle) are just some of the terms which are never
mentioned in this book. Whilst I do believe it is
important that students (and established researchers) be able
to critically think about competing theoretical approaches, I
do not believe that the best way to achieve this is to
avoid arming students with any terminology, however
historically weighed down with baggage such terminology
might be. Rather, students should be equipped with all
they need to read outside of the particular approach adopted
by the teacher.
To be fair, Edmund Gussmann clearly states his intention
'to avoid model specific machinery and theory internal
issues' (p.x) on the grounds that whilst 'models come and
go, problems remain'(p.xi). I wholeheartedly applaud this
reverence for data above theory, and yet it is my personal
feeling that a theory neutral approach is neither possible
nor desirable. Whilst Gussmann does indeed succeed in
avoiding much model specific theory, the cost, to my mind,
is high. Perhaps most seriously he is forced to avoid any
reference to subsegmental material; we find no discussion
of features, elements or any sort of unit smaller than the
'sound', although in description of Turkish vowel harmony
(ch. 6) some vague subsegmental units are introduced.
Without a notion of subsegmental material, the concept of
'natural classes' never arises, even though for many
phonologists this would be seen as a bedrock for
understanding phonological processes.
Attempts at theory neutrality also result in a high
number of stipulations when trying to 'explain'
phonological phenomena. For example, in chapter 4 on the
syllable, an onset cluster (in English) is stipulated as
containing an 'obstruent followed by a non-homorganic non-
nasal sonorant' (p.74). Whilst this is descriptively
adequate, a phonologist normally tries not only to
describe but also to explain. Unfortunately, in trying to
mention as few theory-dependent constructs as possible (e.g.
the sonority sequencing generalization or constituent
government), description and stipulation is sometimes all
we are left with.
In the preface to this book the author warns that
'...no specific theoretical doctrine / approach / theory is
explicitly adopted or adhered to, and hence practitioners
of any particular model may be disappointed or may want to
take issue with the particulars of what follows'.
Perhaps I am simply one of these such practitioners. Perhaps,
too, I was naive in my hope that this book would offer more of a
case for a theoretical position to challenge the current
near hegemony that exists in phonological theory.
Despite my misgivings about the (a-)theoretical premise
of this book, I found it very clearly written and refreshing to
read and shall be using it in future teaching. Many of the
data sets discussed are new and interesting, and any
approach that encourages students to think twice about
their assumptions rather than to uncritically adopt the
theoretical fashion of the day has to be a good thing.
Ito, J (1986) Syllable theory in prosodic phonology.
Doctoral dissertation. University of Massachusetts.
Arnason, K (1980) Quantity in historical phonology:
Icelandic and related cases. Cambridge: Cambridge
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Zoe Toft is a PhD student at the School of Oriental and
African Studies, University of London, where she is
researching syllables without vowels, such as those
containing 'syllabic' consonants and also 'empty headed'
syllables, from both a phonological and phonetic
perspective. For the last three years she has jointly
taught introductory phonology courses to both BA and MA
If you buy this book please tell the publisher or author
that you saw it reviewed on the LINGUIST list.
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