The rain in Spain

English Sound Structure
April 12, 1996

John Harris's English Sound Structure is both about phonological theory and about English phonology. For this reason is to be very warmly welcomed because it fills a gap. Although much of the theorising in generative phonology is concerned with English data, there are few theoretically sophisticated course-books on English phonology for the intermediate or advanced student.

The book is structured in easy stages. The first chapter shows the place of phonology in linguistic theory. The second chapter introduces syllable structure and phonotactics. Chapter three focuses on sub segmental structure. Chapter four outlines the prosodic hierarchy (up to word level), and explains phonological licensing, before examining a range of phonological processes. Chapter five contains further exploration of syllable structure through a very close examination of the behaviour of "r" in various dialects. The book closes with an epilogue.

English Sound Structure admirably lives up to the claim in the blurb that it "is virtually unique among theoretical treatments of English phonology in drawing material from a wide range of dialects. This orientation derives from the view that phonological differences between grammars, no less than syntactic differences, are constrained by universal principles and occur within fixed bounds defined by a small number of parameters". The goal of drawing material from a variety of dialects to see how universal principles and parameters constrain phonological representations in English is more than adequately met. Though this is not a textbook on dialectology, an impressive range of dialects is covered - Southern Standard English (RP), Scots, Scottish English, African American English, Caribbean English, Australian English, General American English, Scouse, Cockney etc.

Another strength of the book, which, however, is not clearly flagged is the approach to phonology that is used. In addition to drawing on mainstream nonlinear generative phonology, the book also has a strong government phonology flavour. The government phonology-inspired treatment of subsegmental structure, phonological alternation and phonotactics is exemplary. As far as I know, it is the first textbook that introduces students to recent trends in government phonology. Another reason for putting it on your students' reading list.

My only note of hesitation concerns the omission of the prosodic aspects of English phonology. There is coverage of stress and metrical structure, intonation or the interaction between prosodic phonology and syntactic structure. This is puzzling since these topics have received consieable attention in phonological literature.

Apart from that, this is an excellent book. It is well written and thought-provoking. The end of chapter exercises are challenging, but by no means daunting. Students and linguists who work through the book will gain a real understanding, not only of English phonology but also of important issues in phonogical theory.

Francis Katamba is reader in linguistics, University of Lancaster.

English Sound Structure

Author - John Harris
ISBN - 0 631 18261 6 and 18741 3
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £50.00 and £17.99
Pages - 317

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