David Deterding

Experimental Phonetics. Katrina Haywood. Harlow: Longman, 2000, 298 pp. ISBN 0-582-29137-2

This book represents a very welcome overview of the various areas of investigation that comprise experimental phonetics. It includes an introduction to the acoustics of sound waves, including the source-filter theory of speech production, an explanation of the use of spectrograms for the measurement of speech, one chapter each on the acoustic description of vowels and consonants, a summary of the various models of auditory perception, and a discussion of the techniques used in research into articulation. In all cases, the text on this wide range of topics is exceptionally clear, and it is an impressive achievement that so much material can be so meticulously presented in a single volume.

Some researchers may regret that the book concentrates almost entirely on segmental phonetics, especially as so much recent work in Singapore has focused on the measurement of suprasegmental aspects such as intonation and rhythm (Lim, 2000; Low et al., 2000; Deterding, 2001). The author herself expresses regret for this omission (p.18), but it is probably true that when the scope is already so wide, it was not advisable to try to cover yet one more area, especially such a large one as suprasegmental phonetics.

Haywood's book is a welcome replacement for the classic Fry (1979), which though it still constitutes a highly readable introduction to the principles of acoustics, is a little dated when it comes to the spectrographic description and measurement of speech. In comparison with other widely used authorities on speech, Haywood's book provides much more of a summary of a wide range of different research than Ladfoged (1996), and it focuses rather more on phonetics and a little less on acoustics than Kent and Read (1992), so many students with a background in linguistics rather than engineering may find it more accessible. At the same time, the coverage of acoustics and the source-theory of speech production is very thorough and quite adequate for most students with a primary interest in phonetics, and some may even find it overwhelming.

The question remains how many students will want to obtain a copy of this book. There are certainly nowadays quite a few people who have an interest in the instrumental description of speech, but one wonders if it is really necessary to have a detailed knowledge of acoustics before accurate and dependable measurements of formant frequencies can be made. Of course, many will choose to refer to parts of the book, such as Chapter 6 on the acoustic description of vowels, without first working through the previous chapters. But there is a problem here: in the first paragraph of Chapter 6, there is reference to the source-filter theory, to the amplitude of harmonics, and to resonant frequencies, in the clear assumption that readers are already familiar with these concepts from the earlier chapters, and one suspects that some of those who have not done this preparatory reading will be left rather bewildered.

If this does prove a barrier to the wide usage of this book, it will be a great pity, because the material is all fascinating and is all presented with meticulous care. For everyone with a serious interest in the instrumental measurement and description of speech, it is certain that this book will become a substantial authority and an exceptionally valuable resource.


Deterding, D (2001) The measurement of rhythm: a comparison of Singapore and British English. Journal of Phonetics, 29, 217-230.

Fry, D B (1979) The Acoustics of Speech. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kent, R D and Read, C (1992) The Acoustic Analysis of Speech. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group.

Ladefoged, P (1996) Elements of Acoustic Phonetics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lim, Lisa (2000) Ethnic group differences aligned? Intonation patterns of Chinese, Indian and Malay Singaporean English. In Brown A, Deterding D, & Low E L (eds.) The English Language in Singapore: Research on Pronunciation. Singapore: Singapore Association for Applied Linguistics, 10-21.

Low, E L, Grabe, E and Nolan, F (2000) Quantitative characterisations of speech rhythm: syllable-timing in Singapore English. Language & Speech, 43(4), 377-402.

From: SAAL Quarterly Vol 57 Feb 2002