Review: Phonology; Phonetics: Hoole et al. (2012)

EDITOR: Philip  Hoole
EDITOR: Lasse  Bombien
EDITOR: Marianne  Pouplier
EDITOR: Christine  Mooshammer
EDITOR: Barbara  Kühnert
TITLE: Consonant Clusters and Structural Complexity
SERIES TITLE: Interface Explorations [IE] 26
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: J Joseph Perry, Cambridge University

This edited volume derives from presentations at the “Consonant Clusters and
Structural Complexity” workshop, Munich 2008.  The editors’ stated aim was to
encourage interdisciplinary contact among linguists working on the issues
included in the title, and this is reflected in the organisation of the book,
which is divided into four parts, entitled “Phonology and Typology”,
“Production: analysis and models”, “Acquisition”, and “Assimilation and
reduction in connected speech”. Because of the large number of papers in the
volume, I have generally restricted this review to the papers which I found
most striking, or which warrant discussion.

PART I — “Phonology and Typology”
“On relations between [sonorant] and [voice]”, by Rina Kreitman, takes a
typological approach to the question of the place of voicing in relation to
sonority.  She takes a sample of languages used in previous typological
surveys and 24 additional languages. She observes a series of implicational
universals:  SO > SS > OO > OS (S = sonorant, O = obstruent).  In general,
this hierarchy corresponds to the Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP, e.g.
Selkirk 1984), which asserts that (in unmarked cases) sonority should increase
towards a peak at the beginning of the syllable.  The only part of this
hierarchy left unexplained by the SSP is the ordering between
sonorant-sonorant and obstruent-obstruent clusters, which both have level
sonority. To explain this, Kreitman observes a number of asymmetries between
sonorants and obstruents observed elsewhere in the literature. Next, Kreitman
notes that the features [sonorant] and [voice] have often been claimed to be
linked, and the following section involves a similar typological survey of
(obstruent) voicing in clusters.  She first discusses the relative rarity of
onsets where the first segment is voiced and the second unvoiced.  This has
been claimed (e.g. Lombardi 1999) to be an impossible cluster type, but
Kreitman points to at least three languages in her survey have phonetic
evidence for clusters of this type, namely Khasi (Mon-Khmer), Tsou
(Austronesian) and Modern Hebrew.  Having established that all possible
voicing combinations do occur, she goes on to discuss the implicational
relationships between them.  From her survey she adduces the following
relations: VU > UV > UU, and VV > UU (V = voiced, U = unvoiced).  These
implicational relations are quite different from those involving sonority,
which would seem to constitute evidence against an explicit link between
voicing and sonority.   Kreitman’s final section proposes that no historical
stage should allow violations of the implicational universals discussed.

In “Limited consonants clusters in OV languages”, Hisao Tokizaki and Yasutomo
Kuwana discuss the proposed correlation between the complexity of syllable
structure and word order, specifically the order of verb and object, or head
and complement more generally, an observation for which they cite Lehmann
(1973) and more recent scholars.  They test this hypothesis with data from the
World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS), finding that the average syllabic
complexity of OV languages is of a similar order to VO languages, and also
find the same result for linguistic genera.  Comparing results for the
macro-areas defined by Dryer (1992), they find no evidence for the hypothesis.
However, they argue that if one considers more fine-grained distinctions of
syllable complexity one may find evidence of a correlation.  To this end they
consider consonant clusters and head-complement order in some languages of
China, observing that in their sample both the number of syllable-final
consonants and the degree of head-initial ordering increases from north
(Manchu) to south (Thai). Next, the authors assert that if one considers
degrees of head-finality, there is a correlation between the consistency of
head-finality and the number of segments per syllable.  They also propose that
the coda inventory is limited in OV languages, listing a number of OV
languages with restricted inventories.  They illustrate OV languages which
eliminate clusters from borrowed words word-internally, and OV languages which
have allomorphic alternations avoiding cross-morphemic clusters.  The fourth
section proposes an explanation for why one might expect OV languages to have
simpler syllable structure.  This rests on the notion that left-branching
structures have a stronger boundary between constituents than right-branching
structures. We expect that head-final languages will have more right-branching
structures, and that clusters are phonologically dispreferred over this weaker
boundary, while they are acceptable over a stronger one.  Unfortunately it is
not clear how this ties in to the asserted word-internal (lack of) syllable

In “Manner, place and voice interactions in Greek cluster phonotactics”,
Marina Tzakosta considers the utility of the traditional sonority hierarchy in
capturing the phonotactic restrictions which apply in Greek consonant
clusters.  She proposes that cluster well-formedness should be judged on the
basis of three scales, manner of articulation, place of articulation and
voicing.  The voicing and manner scales correspond what would be expected from
the traditional sonority hierarchy, while the place scale refers to the place
hierarchy discussed by Prince and Smolensky (2004 [1993]) — velar > labial >
coronal.  Using these scales, Tzakosta divides clusters into three categories,
which she labels perfect (a gradient category, despite the name), acceptable
and non-acceptable.  Perfect clusters are those which satisfy all three scales
non-vacuously, while non-acceptable clusters are those which violate the
voicing scale.  Acceptable clusters constitute the remainder.  Unfortunately
Tzakosta does not provide convincing evidence that perfect and acceptable
clusters constitute meaningful categories.  For instance, although her
acceptable clusters are often adjusted so that they have a greater distance on
one of the scales (e.g. vl > γl), she also provides examples in Greek of
changes in the opposite direction, turning a perfect cluster into a merely
acceptable one (e.g. pð > vð, θl > fθ). The distinction between non-acceptable
clusters and other clusters does seem to be meaningful in Greek (although not
universally, as the Kreitman’s paper would seem to show), and tautosyllabic
[+v][-v] clusters are forbidden throughout the language. Tzakosta gives
various examples of adjustments to clusters to increase distance along one of
the scales, in L1 and L2 acquisition (the latter by Dutch and Romanian
speakers).  Finally, she observes a constraint on heterosyllabic clusters —
they must be non-acceptable in her schema.  This would seem to be necessary,
but it is not clear that it is sufficient: the examples that she gives all
involve simultaneous violations of her manner scale.

PART II — “Production: analysis and models”
‘Articulatory coordination and the syllabification of word initial consonant
clusters in Italian’, by Anne Hermes, Martine Grice, Doris Mücke and Henrik
Niemann, investigates differences between the gestural organisation of s+C
clusters and plosive-sonorant clusters in Italian, couched within Articulatory
Phonology.  It is assumed (as in Nam and Saltzman 2003) that in the latter,
while the consonantal gestures are coupled in-phase to vocalic ones (i.e. they
are initiated simultaneously), the two consonantal gestures are coupled
anti-phase to one another (one is initiated after the other). The competition
between these couplings leads to a ‘C-centre’ effect: the centre of the
cluster is roughly the same distance from the vocalic target.  This implies a
shift of the rightmost consonant towards the vowel.  The purpose is to test
whether the articulatory timing of s+C clusters reflects the same coupling.
They recorded various tokens with single consonants, TR clusters, s+C clusters
and s+CC clusters from two speakers of Italian, and measured the distance
between the rightmost consonant of the cluster and the vocalic target.  While
the distance after TR clusters was significantly shorter than after single
consonants, there was no significant difference in the distance between s+C
clusters and single consonants, or between s+CC clusters and simple TR
clusters.  This is taken to imply that s+C(C) clusters in Italian did not form
a single branching onset.  This is contrasted to English, where Browman and
Goldstein (2000) found evidence for a c-centre effect in those clusters.

Fang Hu’s ‘Tonogenesis in Lhasa Tibetan — Towards a gestural account’, also
investigates gestural timing of tonal and consonantal gestures in Lhasa
Tibetan, with a view to providing an account of tonogenesis.  Hu discusses the
historical relation of tone to simplifications in syllable structure,
mentioning the just noted ‘c-centre’ effect and Gao’s (2009) observation of a
corresponding effect for lexical tone.  Hu investigates 8 categories of
Tibetan word, dividing them first into the traditional tonal register split of
high and low, derived respectively from voiceless and voiced initials.  He
then divides them into four categories based on syllable type: long syllables
(or those closed with a sonorant), short open syllables (which he calls
‘aspirated’, based on breathy voicing in the citation form), and two kinds of
checked syllables: those ending in a simple glottal stop, and those ending in
a cluster of a nasal and a glottal stop. He elicits citation forms from 3
female speakers in a frame (meaning ‘these characters are X’). As Hu notes, he
is not necessarily eliciting everyday Lhasa pronunciation, but rather a
‘learned’ pronunciation.  Moreover, his frame sentences use copulas like <yin>
where they would not be used in everyday utterances (he also uses a copula
<sa>, the provenance of which is not clear to me).  Consonantal and vocalic
gestures were recorded using an EMA system and the F0 of the audio recording
was taken to correspond to the tone gesture.  Hu briefly outlines the acoustic
F0 results, noting that low syllables show a rise, checked syllables a fall,
and other high syllables a roughly level contour. Hu points out that the
emergence of the high/low register distinction from a voicing contrast is
quite plausible phonetically, referring to Hombert, Ohala and Ewan (1979).
Finally, Hu discusses the gestural organisation of syllables in Tibetan.  He
argues that they show a ‘c-centre’ effect of the sort Gao observes in
Mandarin, with a vowel gesture starting after the consonantal gesture and
before the tonal gesture.  Interestingly, one speaker shows a significant
difference between the lag between C-onset and V-onset, and that between
V-onset and T-onset.  The same speaker shows significant effects of syllable
time and initial consonant on the lags.  Hu does explain this, but notes that
none of the speakers show a significant effect from the tonal specification of
the syllable.  Nonetheless, a c-centre effect is still clearly visible. Hu
argues that this competitive coupling may have been a driving force for
consonant cluster simplification in Lhasa Tibetan, though further research is

PART III — “Acquisition”
Natalie Boll-Avetisyan’s paper ‘Probabilistic phonotactics in lexical
acquisition’ is a study of the interaction between the acquisition of
phonotactic constraints and of the lexicon.  She discusses a number of
previous studies (Storkel 2001, Storkel and Rogers 2000, Gathercole et. al.
1999), which seem to show that children are more adept at recalling CVC
non-words if they have high phonotactic probability.  She points to criticisms
of Gathercole et. al. (1999) by Roodenrys and Hinton (2002), who argue that
lexical neighbourhood effects should be taken into account in these
experiments, and find in their own experiment (in adults) that phonotactic
probability does not seem to have a significant impact on recall accuracy of
non-words when such effects are accounted for.  In two other studies taking
these effects into account (Thorn and Frankish 2005 and Storkel et. al. 2006),
the former found a positive effect on recall accuracy, while the latter
observed a negative effect.  Boll-Avetisyan observes that all these studies
only concern CVC tokens, and therefore that the phonotactic probability they
investigate is only a question of lexical frequency, and that more directly
phonological factors such as markedness are not used.  She draws a division
between these two kinds of ‘sub-lexical representations’ (i.e. probability due
to questions of lexical frequency and probability due to grammatical
markedness), and proposes that the effects of phonological probability should
be “modulated by markedness constraints”. She consequently suggests that
structurally complex words should show stronger phonotactic probability
effects with respect to word recall.  To test this she measured reaction times
of adult Dutch speakers when asked to confirm that a certain non-word appears
in a preceding sequence of four, controlling for lexical neighbourhood
effects. The initial experiment found significant differences between
non-words with simple and complex syllable structure with respect to the
relative reaction time to words with high and low probability biphones, as
predicted.  However, the speech rate of low-frequency words with complex
syllabic structure was slower than high-frequency words, and it was suspected
that this might affect the results.  Another experiment was carried out with
the tokens adjusted to have the same duration for each degree of complexity.
This experiment was divided into two groups, with one group omitting words of
intermediate complexity.  When the groups were combined, they still show a
significant difference in the behaviour of words with simple syllabic
structure and complex syllabic structure, as above, showing a significant
interaction between the frequency of biphones and syllable structure.  As the
paper concludes, it seems clear from the results that, as predicted, the
effect of biphone frequency is modulated by syllabic complexity, but the
experiment does not explicitly show that this is due to markedness —
Boll-Avetisyan points to this is a topic of future research.  She argues that
the results indicate that the proposed division of types of sub-lexical
knowledge may well be correct, and discusses how this knowledge may be
acquired.  She reiterates the importance of controlling for speech-rate
effects.  Finally, she refutes the proposal that these effects may be due to
word-length rather than complexity, pointing to results of Frisch et. al.
(2000) which found no such effects in words which are long but simple with
regard to syllable structure.

PART IV — “Assimilation and reduction in connected speech”
In ‘Overlap-driven consequences of Nasal place assimilation’, Claire Halpert
investigates a phenomenon in Zulu nasal assimilation whereby stops triggering
nasal assimilation lose their laryngeal features, and a phenomenon (‘postnasal
hardening’) whereby fricatives become affricates in the same environment. As
in the papers of the second part of this volume, the approach is a gestural
account grounded in Articulatory Phonology, but it is explicitly embedded in
Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky (2004 [1993]). She confirms that the
processes in question are genuinely due to assimilation by observing that they
do not occur in clusters of /m/ (which does not assimilate) and the relevant
segments, except where [m] appears as a result of assimilation. Postnasal
hardening is attributed to the constraint enforcing assimilation (ASSIM)
demanding a single oral gesture between adjacent segments.  In this case, the
single gesture in question is taken to be that of an affricate, consisting of
complete closure with a ‘critical’ release.  She proposes that the loss of
laryngeal features, on the other hand, is due to a constraint *LONG, which
forbids the lengthening of gestures, in conjunction with an alignment
constraint (ALIGN) enforcing alignment between oral and laryngeal gestures,
and a ban on nasal segments with marked laryngeal features.  Since gestures
are forbidden from lengthening, it must be assumed that assimilation is
achieved by shortening the velar gestures, aligning them with the oral
gesture.  This predicts that clusters where assimilation occurs should be
shorter than those where it does not.  Halpert conducts a preliminary
experiment showing that this prediction holds for a Zulu speaker, that
underlying mC clusters differ significantly in length from singleton C, but
that derived mC clusters do not.  Finally, in other Bantu languages (viz.
Kinyarwanda, Pokomo and Sukuma — Kimenyi 1979, Sagey 1986, Maddieson 1991,
Huffman and Hinnebusch 1998) we see nasals and stops in clusters displaying a
single marked laryngeal gesture (specifically, aspiration).  She takes this to
be evidence for her account of overlap enforced by *LONG and ALIGN
constraints, arguing that these cases are identical to Zulu except that
aspirated nasals are permitted, meaning the laryngeal gesture is not deleted.

Finally, ‘The acoustics of high-vowel loss in a Northern Greek dialect’, by
Nina Topintzi and Mary Baltazani, is a preliminary acoustic description of
high vowel deletion in the Kozani Greek dialect. In this dialect, as in many
other Northern Greek dialects, unstressed high vowels /i/ and /u/ are
frequently deleted, often resulting in complex consonant clusters and
word-final consonants which are not found in Standard Greek.  Like vowel
deletion in many languages, Kozani Greek vowel deletion appears to be
gradient, including degrees of devoicing and frication.  Topintzi and
Baltazani report various effects on preceding consonants.  For instance, when
coronal [t] is followed by a deleted vowel, we appear to see increased
aspiration, and, less robustly, increased duration.  Unfortunately, they do
not test for significance.  Similarly, they report an increase in duration for
certain fricatives and sonorants, but again don’t test for significance, which
leads one to wonder whether the observed length increases are simply the
result of statistical noise.  They calculate the standard deviations for this
data, finding that for most segments, the standard deviations for duration are
larger when preceding a deleted vowel.  Again however, they do not explicitly
test the significance.  Next, they examine the influence of the vowel’s
environment on deletion.  They observe that nearly half of all deletions occur
either between voiceless consonants or following one word-finally.  Deletions
preceding a voiced consonant are relatively infrequent (constituting only 12%
of deletions in their data).  However, they do not discuss the frequencies of
consonants in the relevant positions, which could perhaps have some impact on
their conclusions.  They observe that /i/ proportionally deletes less
frequently than /u/, with unstressed /i/ being deleted 47% of the time,
compared with /u/ deleting 75% of the time.  They also contrast the positions
in which /u/ and /i/ delete, observing that /u/ generally seems to delete
pretonically, while /i/ tends to delete posttonically.  However, as the
authors note, instances of /u/ occurring in a position to delete are
relatively small in number, and so it seems possible that the reason for the
difference is a statistical fluctuation due to the small sample size — tests
of significance are again not carried out.  The same problem occurs in the
next observed apparent asymmetry between /i/ and /u/, where /u/-deletion tends
to occur in word-initial syllables, in contrast to /i/-deletion which tends to
occur medially.  A final asymmetry is that surface unstressed [u] tends to be
derived by raising of underlying /o/, while most unstressed [i] are indeed
derived from /i/ (and only a relatively small proportion from /e/). Again,
however, this could be ascribed to the relatively low frequency of /u/.

There is much of interest in this volume. For instance, Kreitman’s paper shows
convincingly that voicing and sonority pattern typologically different from
one another, suggesting that they should be treated independently — a result
which has quite wide-ranging consequences for both synchronic and diachronic
phonology.  This delinking of voicing and sonority suggests that lenition
processes such as that found in Modern Welsh (for details, see Hannahs 2013),
in which voiceless stops are voiced and voiced stops become fricatives, may be
more complex than one might expect if we assumed a monolithic sonority
hierarchy including voicing.

Most of the experimental studies are well thought out, with thorough
statistical analyses and interesting results. Boll-Avetisyan makes the
important observation that learners make use of abstract structural cues in
addition to simple measures of probability when acquiring non-words,
presenting an important argument for taking structural analyses into account
when constructing learning experiments of this type. The papers on
articulatory phonology in particular provide valuable insights into the
correspondence between phonological structure and its articulatory
realisation. The thorough experimental paper contributed by Hermes et. al.
provides convincing articulatory evidence for an independently motivated (but
not undisputed) phonological generalisation regarding Italian, namely that the
/s/ in s+C clusters lies outside the onset (Davis 1990).  Hu’s paper is
valuable not so much as a description of the tonal system of Lhasa Tibetan
(which is problematic to the extent that his data represents a ‘learned’
system rather than a natural one), but for its confirmation that effects
concerning the timing of tone in relation to onset consonants and vowels
observed in Mandarin (Gao 2009) also holds in Tibetan.

However, a few papers feel somewhat underdeveloped. Tokizaki and Kuwana, for
example, find that their hypothesised correlation (between OV word-order and
syllabic complexity) does not represent any kind of robust typological trend,
but nonetheless do not report this as a negative result. When they consider a
continuum of languages in China that they argue demonstrates a link between
the two properties, their evidence is both limited (restricted to one such
continuum) and selective. (Central Tibetan, for instance, has the same
inventory of final stops as head-initial Thai, but is consistently head-final
— if Tokizaki and Kuwana had selected different endpoints of their continuum,
they would have arrived at a quite different result.) Although they claim that
there is a correlation between the consistency of a head-final syntactic
pattern and syllabic complexity, this is not clear from simple inspection of
the data they provide, and they do not perform statistical tests of
correlation or significance. They also fail to adequately explain why the
correlation would be expected to hold. In sum, while the hypothesis of this
paper is interesting, there does not seem to be any data convincingly
supporting it, or any satisfying explanation for why it should come about.
This article in particular would have benefited from much greater rigour.

Topintzi and Baltazani also make extensive reference to quantitative data, but
do not investigate whether the trends they observe are significant. Since the
results are not sufficiently strong to determine significance by inspection,
the lack of explicit tests means that it is difficult to have confidence that
the trends exist, or if they are the result of statistical noise. Rather
different issues are found in Tzakosta’s paper, which does not demonstrate
that the categories she refers to are meaningful, and does not account for a
number of examples which would seem to contradict her hypothesis. The range of
approaches is, as the editors intend, very wide, but there is a noticeable
dearth of work in formal theoretical phonology, with only the contributions by
Ferré et al. (not reviewed here) and by Halpert making significant reference
to formal models. Other papers discuss such models only in passing. Despite
these criticisms, this volume will be of great use to anyone interested in the
typology, phonetic realisation and acquisition of consonant clusters.

Browman, Catherine P. and Louis Goldstein. 2000. “Competing constraints on
intergestural coordination and self-organization of phonological structures”,
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Davis, Stuart. 1990. “Italian Onset Structure and the Distribution of il and
lo”, Linguistics 28:43-55.

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Frisch, Stefan A., Nathan R. Large and David B. Pisoni. 2000. “Perception of
wordlikeness: Effects of segment probability and length on the processing of
nonwords”,  Journal of Memory and Language 42: 481-496.

Gao, Man. 2009. “Gestural Coordination among Vowel, Consonant and Tone Gesture
in Mandarin Chinese”, in Chinese Journal of Phonetics. Beijing: Commercial

Gathercole, Susan E., Clive R. Frankish, Susan J. Pickering and Sarah Peaker.
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consonant sequences”, Linguistics 18: 5-34.

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explanations for the development of tones”, Language 55: 37-58.

Huffman, Marie and Thomas Hinnebusch. 1998. “The phonetic nature of
‘voiceless’ nasals in Pokomo: Implications for sound change”,  Journal of
African Language and Linguistics 19: 1-19.

Kimenyi, Alexandre. 1979. Studies in Kinyarwanda and Bantu Phonology.
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implications”, Language 49: 47-66.

Levin, Juliette. 1985. A metrical theory of syllabicity. PhD Thesis, MIT.

Lombardi, Linda. 1999. “Positional faithfulness and voicing assimilation in
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Maddieson, Ian. 1991. “Articulatory phonology and Sukuma ‘aspirated nasals’”,
in Kathleen Hubbard, (ed.) Proceedings of the 17th Annual Meeting of the
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Morelli, Frida. 1999. The phonotactics and phonology of obstruent clusters in
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Nam, Hosung and Elliot L. Saltzmann. 2003. “A competitive, coupled oscillator
of syllable structure”, in Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of
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Prince, Alan and Paul Smolensky. 2004. Optimality Theory: Constraint
Interaction in Generative Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell. [Revised version of 1993

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Serial Recall of Nonwords?”, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning,
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non-linear phonology. PhD Thesis, MIT.

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in Morris Halle, Mark Aronoff and Richard T. Oehrle (eds.), Language Sound
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Steriade, Donca.  1982. Greek prosodies and the nature of syllabification. PhD
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Storkel, Holly. 2001. “Learning new words: Phonotactic probability in language
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Storkel, Holly and Margaret A. Rogers. 2000. “The effect of probabilistic
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Joe Perry is a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, currently
completing a thesis entitled ‘Tone and the Phonological Word in Gyalsumdo’,
treating tone in relation to the phonology-syntax interface in Gyalsumdo, a
Tibetan variety from Manang district, Nepal.

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