Experimental phonetics and sound change

Experimental phonetics and sound change. Ed. by Daniel Recasens, Fernando Sánchez Miret, and Kenneth J. Wireback. (LINCOM studies in phonetics 5.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. Pp. 138. ISBN 9783862880003. $144.99 (Hb).

Reviewed by Joseph F. Eska, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The articles included in this book were originally presented at a workshop on sound change held at the University of Salamanca in May 2009. The foreword informs readers that ‘[a]ll papers in this book share the common belief that progress in the understanding of the causes of sound change can only be achieved through analysis and evaluation of articulatory, acoustic and perceptual data’ (5).

In their article, ‘Speech rate and articulatory reduction in Italian alveolar and velar nasal + stop clusters’ (7–33), Silvia Calamai and Irene Ricci investigate the temporal and articulatory aspects of the production of nasal + alveolar plosive and nasal + velar plosive groups as a function of speech rate. They find that the articulation of the nasal changes with the place of the plosive and that the plosives reduced in faster speech. They note that assimilation of the nasal occurred even in slower speech and that careful articulation could occur in faster speech. Chiara Celata, in ‘Rhotic retroflexion in Romance: Acoustic data for an articulation-driven sound change’ (35–60), examines the retroflection of /t(ː)r/ groups in the Sicilian dialect of Italian. She says that this group is realized as [ʈ(ː)ʂ] by some speakers and that this is the result of a diachronic process whereby the rhotic could be realized as retroflex [ɽ] followed by articulatory blending and affrication which led to [ʈʂ].

In his article, ‘Experimental analysis of some acoustically driven phonetic changes in Medieval Spanish’ (61–70), Juan Felipe García Santos argues that the sixteenth-century change of /b/ > /v/ in Castilian Spanish was due to lenition and that the currently ongoing change of /j/ > /x/ is a manifestation of the same diachronic process. In their article, ‘A perceptual study of the articulatory and acoustic factors triggering dark /l/ vocalization’ (71–82), Daniel Recasens and Aina Espinosa argue that the realization of dark /l/ as /w/ in Majorcan Catalan may be triggered both by alveolar contact loss and acoustic equivalence in F2, and suggest that both articulatory and acoustic cues play a role in sound change.

Fernando Sánchez Miret, in ‘The effect of word final unstressed high vowels on stressed vowel duration and its consequences for metaphonic diphthongization in Southern Italian’ (83–97), presents preliminary evidence that mid open [ɛ] and [ɔ] undergo dipthongization when they co-occur with final high vowels in Northern Calabrian Italian. In his article, ‘A reexamination of the palatalization of Latin /kt/ in the light of phonetic research’ (99–114), Kenneth J. Wireback argues that the palatalization of Latin /kt/ in the Romance languages is the result of gestural blending and regressive assimilation. Finally, Marzena Żygis demonstrates, in ‘On changes in Slavic sibilant systems and their perceptual motivation’ (115–38), that acoustics and perceptual cues play a large role in determining the configuration of sibilants in some Slavic languages.

This book should be read by all historical linguistics, phoneticians, and phonologists interested in the mechanics of sound change. It does an excellent job of demonstrating how experimental data can be employed for evaluating analyses of sound change.