In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

The Phonemic GrailA.C. Gimson
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
The Sound Shape of Language 
by Roman Jakobson and Linda Waugh.
Harvester, 308 pp., £13.50, September 1979, 0 85527 926 5
Show More
Show More

Our technological prophets warn us that the present enthusiasm for sound and picture in communication inevitably heralds a decline not only in the use made of the written word but also of the prestige in which it has been held for so many centuries. Whether or not this pessimism is justified, it has to be admitted that the magical property associated with writing has in many respects obscured the analyses made of the spoken forms of language, despite the fact that speech precedes writing in history and in our individual lives and the clear evidence that we speak and listen far more than we read and write. Without the influence of alphabetic writing we might not have been so quick to assume that speech could be neatly segmented into sound units matching in sequence the letters that we write. In fact, most early European grammarians fell into the habit of confusing sound and letter. In the last hundred years, however, and particularly since facilities became readily available for observing the articulatory activity involved in speech and the related physical output, it has become obvious that the flow of speech manifests no readily discernible discrete segments such as might correspond to what have been called ‘phonemes’: the movements of the vocal organs are complex, rarely precisely synchronous and often without a measurable steady state. The resultant speech wave exhibits a mesh of overlapping features. The analysis of a word such as rail reveals an ever-changing pattern of movement, with no obvious sound boundaries.

None has sought more tenaciously and persuasively than Roman Jakobson to establish another (universal) level of analysis which would correspond more faithfully to the way in which we perceive spoken language. Jakobson, born in Moscow at the end of the last century, has been a dominant figure in international linguistics for more than fifty years. He has continued and developed the theories of Baudouin de Courtenay and Trubetzkoy and of the Cercle Linguistique de Prague, founded in 1926 and especially active and innovative up to the Second World War. His interests have led him into many linguistic fields: child language acquisition, neurolinguistics (notably the study of aphasia) and poetics, to mention but some of them. The present book, written in collaboration with Linda Waugh, sets out to assemble many of his more important theories as well as those of an astonishing number of his contemporaries. It is as if the authors wish to overwhelm the reader with the testimony and support of Jakobson’s fellow linguists: in a book of just over 300 pages, there are no less than 50 pages of bibliography.

For Jakobson, the primes of the sound shape of language are the distinctive features – the ultimate constituents of phonemes. Since our perception (decoding) of speech precedes our ability to produce it, our analysis must be concerned with those perceptible components of the speech continuum which serve to distinguish meaning. Thus, in the case of the English opposition between seal and zeal, we are concerned with a distinction based on one feature – that of voicing. In the case of the pair seal and veal, however, we are dealing with a complex of two distinguishing features – one relating to voicing and the other to place of articulation. The phoneme may be said to be a bundle of such distinctive features – ‘a complex, simultaneous construct of a set of concurrent units’. On the other hand, the syllable – a difficult concept that Jakobson does not define – is to be regarded as ‘a constructive complex unit within the verbal sequence’. Evidence from the child’s acquisition of language supports the importance of the role which distinctive features play. Since sense-discrimination is, of course, the major criterion in determining distinctive features, the theory is applied most rewardingly to a single language. However, most linguists now seek to establish a set of universal distinctive features from the examination of a large number (if not the totality) of languages. The resultant inventory of features utilised in human languages turns out to be remarkably small. As Jakobson remarks, ‘the highly restricted number of distinctive features extant not only in a single language but also in the world’s languages as a whole shows that in comparison with the great variety of acoustico-motor productions, only a very small number appear to be utilisable as discrete perceptual values.

Phonological analysis in terms of component features is now generally accepted as a useful and realistic solution to problems of segmentation. There is a great deal more disagreement over two other aspects of the Jakobsonian position: the dyadic principle of the opposition and the labelling of the features themselves. At the head of their chapter ‘Quest for the Ultimate Constituents’, the authors quote Balzac: ‘Tout est bilatéral dans le domaine de la pensée. Les idées sont binaires ... Il n’y a que Dieu de triangulaire’; and this remarkable sentiment is reinforced by the slogan attributed to Pierre Delattre: ‘economise and binarise.’ The simultaneous search for economy and generality of statement has often led modern linguists, wishing to delve below the surface in order to discover underlying rules and patterns, into formulating instructions of the utmost complexity for the return journey to ground level. In the case of the binarity of distinctive features, many would now not accept Jakobson’s thesis that this is a necessary principle of simplicity in feature analysis. Certainly, binary oppositions do not always operate comfortably in vowel systems or in distinctions based on stress or pitch values. Some writers, notably Ladefoged, would prefer the freedom of a multi-valued approach involving articulatory criteria. It is in this respect – the introduction of articulatory features – that the second disagreement arises. Jakobson follows Delattre: ‘In our quest for the Grail of phonemics, that is, for the Distinctive Features by means of which phonemic perception operates, there are good reasons for starting with acoustic correlates rather than with articulatory correlates.’ It certainly follows that, if listener experience is taken as the base for discrimination without recourse to a motor theory of perception, i.e. one which decodes a signal in terms of shared articulatory habits, it is logical to describe the component features in acoustic terms. Thus Jakobson’s features include such labels as compact and diffuse, sharp and flat, grave and acute, all of which are to be related to acoustic characteristics of the speech wave. It is notable that others, such as Chomsky and Halle in The Sound Pattern of English, though enthusiastic proponents of distinctive feature theory, have felt the need to introduce articulatory features, such as anterior and coronal for consonants.

It comes as no surprise in a book of such wide-ranging interest that a sizable final chapter is devoted to less tangible and quantifiable aspects of speech: sound symbolism, onomatopoeia, synaesthesis, glossolalia, sound as a basis of verse (with a phonological appraisal of the poem ‘love is more thicker than forget’ by E.E. Cummings). Understandably, the claims in this section lack the force and cohesion of the earlier pages of purely linguistic argument. The additional chapter also increases the difficulty of imagining the precise audience for which the book is intended. There is little new here for Jakobson’s colleagues and disciples. On the other hand, the reader is assumed to be equipped with considerable knowledge of the acoustic and articulatory aspects of speech. Perhaps the greatest value of the work lies in the new horizons of research hinted at on so many pages, particularly research into the relation of language and the functions of the brain.

This is essentially a good-humoured book. One feels that Jakobson, with the help of Linda Waugh, is standing back to survey his life’s linguistic aspirations and achievements. No doubt, many non-expert readers will find the numerous supporting quotations and references distractingly anecdotal, intriguing though they are for the professional phonologist. Despite the profusion of names, there is no bitter conflict: almost every author quoted is accorded an urbane compliment – ‘the sagacious linguist’, ‘the expert observer’, ‘the eminent phonetician’, ‘the sagacious psychologist’ and so on. The style, in comparison with the turgidity and acidity of much contemporary writing in linguistics, is literate and cultured, warm and persuasive, full of zest for future inquiry.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.