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Review of Perception of Castilian Spanish intonation

posted July 11th, 2012

Perception of Castilian Spanish intonation: Implications for intonational phonology. By Timothy Face. (LINCOM studies in phonetics 7.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. vii, 103. ISBN 9783862880461. $82.

Reviewed by John Ryan, University of Northern Colorado

Perception of Castilian Spanish intonation makes a case for why studies of intonation perception are necessary in explaining intonational contrasts in Castilian Spanish between (i) declarative versus absolute interrogative sentence types, and (ii) broad-versus narrow-focus sentence types. To do this, the author discusses the results of four experiments he has conducted, two for each of the areas specified above and the implications these have for current autosegmental metrical (AM) theory.

The book is organized into four chapters. Ch. 1 is introductory in nature and sets the stage for the remainder of the book in that it places the current study within the context of intonational and perception studies in general, and more specifically, in terms of those with a focus on Spanish. The chapter concludes with a brief summary of the book’s overall organization.

Ch. 2 is the first of two data chapters that is dedicated to the perception of contrasts in intonation, in this case between sentence types that are either declarative or absolute interrogative, in Castilian Spanish. Following a brief explanation of the differences in fundamental frequency (F0) that have been attributed to these sentence types, the author presents the data and his analysis of two experiments he conducted on the different phonological cues that might determine one or the other structure. Although results of both experiments suggest the primary cue in determining necessity is final F0 movement, other cues, as suggested by Experiment 2, may also play a role.

Ch. 3, the book’s second data chapter, turns the discussion over to perception of contrasts in intonation between sentences expressing broad versus narrow focus. Like the previous chapter, two experiments are conducted for this variable as well. Results of this second set of experiments confirm the need for perception studies as well as production studies in that it is not one intonational cue that determines focus type but rather a combination of cues that plays a role.

Lastly, taking into consideration the results of the four experiments that are presented in Chs. 2 and 3, Ch. 4 asserts two implications for AM theory. The first is that AM alone with its simple, binary tone distinction of H (high) and L (low) cannot accommodate the varied peak heights of Castilian Spanish that were indeed perceived by native speakers of the study. The second implication of these studies for AM is the generalizability of the latter’s compositional approach whereby resultant intonation is the sum of its various intonation contours. The author suggests that this may not apply in an across-the-board fashion for Castilian Spanish because of the redundancy in the various intonation contours found for one overriding cue that ultimately determines the type of sentence.

This book would be useful for anyone working in the area of intonation in phonological theory, particularly from the autosegmental-metrical perspective. It is also excellent reading for advanced students of Spanish phonology who exhibit an interest in the area of prosody.