Acoustics and free speech

The Sounds of Language. First edition - Vowels and Consonants. First edition
November 30, 2001

Students of linguistics and English language need an introduction to phonetics. But what counts as such an introduction can vary, as these two books illustrate. While there is some overlap, the texts would be suitable for quite different courses.

Introductory phonetics courses might variously be intended: to teach students to transcribe (their variety of) English; to connect this with basic phonological ideas; to teach all the articulatory possibilities used in languages, or at least all the symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA); and to teach acoustics and the interpretation of spectrograms. Henry Rogers's book tries to do all these things and a few more, whereas Peter Ladefoged's volume focuses on the third and fourth options.

Rogers has created an excellent work of reference, but his discussions are sometimes quite dense and some of the topics would benefit from more explanation. His book is bursting with practical information, featuring many useful exercises and quite novel appendices, including a list of allophones for English phonemes and a demystifying appendix on calligraphy in transcription.

Ladefoged's book lays no claim to such comprehensiveness and would probably be most suitable for a course on "topics in phonetics", perhaps following an introduction to English phonetics and/or basic transcription. It lucidly discusses issues that are not commonly covered in introductions to phonetics, including computerised speech synthesis and recognition, which ties in with a major focus on acoustics from the first chapter onwards. There are no exercises, but the book comes with a CD-Rom that features recordings of the sounds discussed in the book, accompanied by transcriptions, videos of aspects of articulation and the best way to learn the IPA that I can imagine: clicking on a symbol on the IPA chart causes the appropriate sound file to play.

Generously, the CD features material from Ladefoged's well-known Course in Phonetics , and everything on the CD is available free online.

Given all this, the two books can probably best be seen as complementing rather than competing with each other.

Patrick Honeybone is lecturer in English language and linguistics, Edge Hill College of Higher Education.

The Sounds of Language. First edition

Author - Henry Rogers
ISBN - 0 582 38182 7
Publisher - Longman
Price - £17.99
Pages - 350

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