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Understanding Phonology

by Carlos Gussenhoven

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901244,936 (3.38)2
This skilfully written text provides a broad, yet up-to-date, introduction to phonology. Assuming no previous knowledge of phonology or linguistic theory, the authors introduce the basic concepts and build on these progressively, discussing the main theories and illustrating key points with carefully chosen examples. A wide range of phenomena are covered: speech production, segmental contrasts, tone, quantity, prosodic structure, metrical relations and intonation. The main theories, including feature geometry and Optimality Theory are introduced, and their contributions to our understanding of phonology, as well as their shortcomings, are discussed objectively. Students will welcome the range of language from which the authors draw their examples and problems, and the originality of the presentations, discussions and examples.… (more)
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» See also 2 mentions

One can only be what one is in this life (a truism, but one that it took me a long time to accept, because I wanted to be everything), and one can only evaluate ("review", in the idiom") a technical text from one's own (generalist, in this case) vantage point. That being said, this book is meant as an intro text for the undergrad, so the massive density of the material and uncompromising representation of its complexity that Gussenhoven and Jacobs give us leads to two conclusions: 1) it really is crazy what different ways of engaging with the world the sciences and arts bring us (and linguistics is squarely in the sciences camp--I have ZERO idea why it's so often found in faculties of humanities, when the dominant model is let's face it still structuralism via Chomsky), and 2) nevertheless, it would have been kind of them to dumb it down a little.

The book is,of course, intended to be used as a text, in conjunction with classroom instruction. And the parts I was familiar with from class, like the stuff about optimality theory and evaluating phonemes for unitary and binary features, was great--edifying; the material may be dense but the prose is clear and the arguments well-presented. It's just legitimately difficult stuff. And a lot of it not really relevant anymore, right? Dare I say superseded? I know OT is just a theory, but we don'treally need to spend that much time on rules and changes and this Sound Patterns of English stuff, do we? I guess especially at the beginner-pedagogical level, there's a resistance to throwing out stuff that does what you want it to do when what you're doing is something actual, not just imaginary--even if there's something else that works better.

Yeah, this book had its uses. ( )
  MeditationesMartini | May 14, 2009 |
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This skilfully written text provides a broad, yet up-to-date, introduction to phonology. Assuming no previous knowledge of phonology or linguistic theory, the authors introduce the basic concepts and build on these progressively, discussing the main theories and illustrating key points with carefully chosen examples. A wide range of phenomena are covered: speech production, segmental contrasts, tone, quantity, prosodic structure, metrical relations and intonation. The main theories, including feature geometry and Optimality Theory are introduced, and their contributions to our understanding of phonology, as well as their shortcomings, are discussed objectively. Students will welcome the range of language from which the authors draw their examples and problems, and the originality of the presentations, discussions and examples.

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