Transcription of intonation of the Spanish language

Transcription of intonation of the Spanish language. Ed. by Pilar Prieto and Paolo Roseano. (LINCOM studies in phonetics 6.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. Pp. 363. ISBN 9783862901845. $210 (Hb).

Reviewed by Nicholas Henriksen, Northern Illinois University

This book contains ten chapters on the intonation of ten dialects of Spanish within the tone and break indices (ToBI) framework of the autosegmental-metrical approach to intonational phonology. The majority of the chapters are based on presentations from the Fourth SpanishTone and Break Indices Workshop in 2009 in which the authors presented their acoustic findings and participated in an open discussion of Spanish ToBI labels so that a consensus could be reached for the dialectal data. Specifically, the dialects under investigation include Castilian, Cantabrian, Canarian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan Andean, Ecuadorian Andean, Chilean, Argentinean, and Mexican Spanish. The data elicitation protocol was uniform throughout, and all chapters are based on a common data collection protocol in which informants responded verbally to a series of controlled situations designed to elicit a wide range of intonational contours in a naturalistic setting. As a result, this book allows for a principled and well-organized cross-dialectal comparison of the intonational features of a variety of sentence types in Spanish, including statements, yes/no questions, wh-questions, echo questions, imperatives, and vocatives.

The introduction provides a brief history of the Spanish ToBI labeling system, a summary of each chapter, and an especially informative cross-dialectal comparison based on the results of the individual chapters. The subsequent ten chapters follow the same general structure. After providing relevant background information on the dialect in question, each author presents the full inventory of intonational units (i.e. pitch accents and boundary tones) with corresponding schematics. The acoustic findings for the various sentence types are then presented with clear figures showing the spectrogram, fundamental frequency output, orthographic transcription, and tone labels and break indices. The acoustic data and intonational analysis are presented in uniform order based on sentence type, facilitating easy reference from one chapter to the next.

The findings in this book are many, and a consistent result is that the revised ToBI for Spanish (Eva Estebas-Vilaplana and Pilar Prieto, La notación prosódica del español: Una revisión del Sp_ToBI, 2008) appropriately accounts for the wide array of intonational data that are presented. Specifically, the authors demonstrate at multiple points the need for a three-way contrast of rising accents (i.e. L*+H, L+H*, and L+>H*) and also the need for bitonal and tritonal boundary tones (i.e. LH%, HL%, HH%, and LM%). One finding worthy of mention is the evidence presented by Christoph Gabriel et al. on the tritonal L+H*+L nuclear accent in Argentinean Spanish, used in narrow focus and exclamative statements (293). An advantage of this book is that readers can access the actual sound files that were used for analysis at the website of the Interactive online atlas of Spanish intonation (

Many authors conclude their chapters by acknowledging that work still remains, especially in the area of perception, to determine whether the proposed phonological contrasts are borne out in the mind of the listener. Other dialectal areas (Andalusian, Cuban, or Central American  Spanish, i.e. non-Mexican Spanish) may be worth pursuing as well. Nonetheless, this book stands to serve as the empirical reference point from which a comprehensive intonational transcription system may be advanced in Spanish. Finally, this book’s very transparent effort to maintain uniformity in data elicitation, tone labeling, and expository style offers a clear publication model for intonation researchers in other languages who seek a common ground for amending and disseminating their current transcription systems.