Acoustic and auditory phonetics

Acoustic and auditory phonetics. 3rd edn. By Keith Johnson. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Pp. 222. ISBN 9781405194662. $44.95.

Reviewed by Alejandrina Cristia, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

The instrumental measurement of speech is now a standard feature of language research. Keith Johnson’s Acoustic and auditory phonetics is an excellent introductory textbook to both theory and practice behind this subfield of linguistics research. The following paragraph summarizes the key technical concepts introduced in each chapter.

The first half of the book is grouped under the heading ‘Fundamentals’. Ch. 1, ‘Basic acoustics and acoustic filters’ (7–24), provides a brief, non-technical introduction to waves and filters. In Ch. 2, ‘The acoustic theory of speech production’ (25–48), the properties of tubes are introduced, which is vital within a source-filter description of speech. Ch. 3, on ‘Digital signal processing’ (49–81) walks the reader from the basic concepts of digital signals to spectrograms. A broad-strokes introduction to some key aspects of ‘Basic audition’ is provided in Ch. 4 (82–99). Finally, Ch. 5 on ‘Speech perception’ (100–28) emphasizes the crucial role of language experience with a few psycholinguistic phenomena, in addition to introducing some wide-spread techniques for measuring perception.

The second half of the book centers on ‘Speech analysis’. Ch. 6, ‘Vowels’ (131–51), highlights the strengths and weaknesses of tube models compared to perturbation descriptions of speech; adaptive dispersion compared to quantal theory; and acoustic compared to auditory representations. Ch. 7, ‘Fricatives’ (152–68), breaches the importance of aerodynamic considerations, revisits tube models and quantal theory, and underlines the importance of considering auditory constraints and linguistic experience when assessing perception. In Ch. 8 (169–85), both source and filter are revisited using ‘Stops and affricates’ as a case study by introducing different phonation types and investigating the variation in vocal tract configuration (and, consequently, in acoustic properties) that occurs at different points in the production of stops and affricates. Finally, the extension to coupled resonators is done in Ch. 9, ‘Nasals and laterals’ (185–205).

This third edition is thoroughly instructional. There are numerous illustrations that clarify the main text, as well as boxes elaborating on tangential aspects which have commanded the attention of the author’s students. Chapters end with a list of relevant references (each followed by a one-sentence summary); a ‘sufficient jargon’ subsection, listing the 10–20 key terms covered in that chapter; and between four and twelve exercises, some of which are solved at the end of the book. There is also a brief glossary, which includes entries for specific sounds.

As for the writing, complex phenomena are explained very clearly, with more technical passages immediately followed by metaphors that help non-specialists grasp the intuition behind a given concept or formula. Furthermore, acoustic and auditory phenomena are immediately made relevant, as apparently arcane facts are shown to relate to well-established psycholinguistic findings and crosslinguistic tendencies. This textbook will be immensely useful not only to students from linguistics, speech and hearing, cognitive sciences backgrounds, but also to researchers who would like to learn about (or brush up on) phonetics.