Reviewed by Christopher R. Green, Indiana University
Natural phonetics and tonetics serves as a detailed handbook for individuals of varied levels of experience with descriptive phonetics and phonology. Originally published in Italian, this book is best read alongside its companion volume, Luciano Canepari’s Handbook of phonetics, to which the author makes frequent references. The viewpoint of the author regarding the utility of precisely detailed phonetic description and the failure of most phonologists (and even some phoneticians) to provide them is abundantly clear from the foreword alone. In particular, C comments on the ambiguity that is introduced both in the practice of phonetic transcription and into the terminology that has been traditionally used to describe the many hundreds of sounds found in languages across the globe (Ch. 1).
Ch. 2 is indispensible for any linguist attempting to tackle this volume. It is within this chapter that the reader learns of the motivations and implementation of an entirely new system of phonetic transcription—the canIPA (Canepari international phonetic alphabet)—that effectively does away with the official (and other nonofficial) proposed versions of the IPA due to their stated impracticality and inability to provide adequately detailed descriptions of many sounds. C, in particular, rails against the widespread use of diacritics in the official IPA (Ch. 7), in favor of a one symbol, one sound approach. His descriptive ideals are further detailed in Ch. 3 in a discussion on the successes and confounds of language learning.
The truly worthwhile contribution of this handbook is its exhaustive set of figures—including orograms, labiograms, palatograms, laryngograms, and tonograms—that provide a visualization of articulatory and other physical attributes of a vast variety of sounds. These are included in a description of the entire phono-articulatory apparatus (Ch. 4) as well as more specifically for vowels and vocoids (Ch. 8), for consonants and contoids (Chs. 9–10), for sounds described as phonic peculiarities (Ch. 11), and for other micro- and macrostructures like tonemes, intonemes, syllables, rhythmic groups, and prominences (Chs. 12–13).
In the remaining chapters of this handbook (Chs. 15–22), C offers his ‘phonosyntheses’ of over 350 languages (both dead and alive) spoken around the world. Although an entire chapter is, perhaps understandably, devoted to his own language (i.e. Italian), the reader may be surprised by the inclusion of only twenty-five languages (out of approximately 2,000) for the entire African continent and fifty-one (again, out of approximately 2,000) for the entire Asian continent, in their respective chapters.
In sum, Natural phonetics and tonetics is replete with detailed information and will be a valuable handbook to many linguists. One should be cautioned, however, of the oft-stated (and amusing) reminder by the author, that ‘If going through [the chapters of this book] means nothing at all to someone […] let it be at that! After all, phonetics is not for everyone’ (271).