Author: Patricia Ashby
Publisher: Hodder Education
Starting a course in phonetics is more daunting than the prospective student might think, but with the highly readable Understanding Phonetics she is in good hands. Patricia Ashby breaks a vast subject down into easy-to-manage sections, clarifies important distinctions and methodically covers the core principles.
Importantly, different areas of phonetics - articulatory, auditory and acoustic and their separate focuses - are clearly and concisely explained. Unlike some other texts, this book consistently engages with all three sub-levels and demonstrates their inter-relatedness; for example, spectrograms accompany the introduction of manners of articulation, showing how audible phenomena such as turbulence and silence are part of speech. Moreover, as Ashby proves by presenting multiple aspects in tandem, the interlocking sub-domains show that phonetics is not dry theory but something real and dynamic - human speech.
This book also deals soundly with the fundamental distinction between phonetics and phonology. The shady world of "phonology" cannot be disregarded even in a phonetics textbook, but this book blends the two well; throughout, phonological concepts and perspectives are named and explained, but not overdone.
My only criticism is that it may be easier to follow for those readers somewhat versed in phonetic concepts than for absolute beginners. The parallel explanations risk over-complicating concepts by introducing comparatively advanced content early on; this could undermine the otherwise excellent explanations of basic concepts. Also, the elusive phonetics-phonology distinction should be stated more explicitly; tagging a contrasting "phonological analysis" on to the end of "phonetic" paragraphs is not quite enough.
Each chapter is self-contained and well structured, with an opening paragraph explicitly stating the chapter's learning objectives and a closing paragraph of concise, bullet-pointed summaries; these will be useful when structuring independent learning. Each chapter also contains plenty of exercises to really connect the reader with the subject matter, testing different key skills: drawing diagrams, filling in the blanks, and using International Phonetic Alphabet notation. There are relevant diagrams and visual aids included to complement the text, but the layout is satisfyingly uncluttered. As well as the content within, the further reading suggestions and companion online resource offer excellent strategies to supplement your reading.
You may not "understand" phonetics by the end of this book, but the comprehensive content with clear explanations make it a tool that students can use with confidence. It is remarkable in its potential to facilitate connections across the breadth of phonetics, providing excellent foundations for the reader's future career as a phonetician.
Who is it for? Those who are starting a course in phonetics, or are looking for a systematic collection of the rudimentary elements as a reliable reference point.
Presentation: Effective in its simplicity, yet missing nothing.
Would you recommend it? Wholeheartedly.