Phonological theory is in a mess. The mess is of two kinds – the ‘theory’ isn't really theory, and there is an almost total lack of genuine interest in relating the so-called phonological analysis to a serious and sensible phonetics. These days phonology often seems to be more concerned with pictures on paper (pick up any book on autosegmental or metrical phonology) and specious universality than with the abstraction of categories from speech, the specification of their contrastivity-domains and the explication of their exponency or phonetic interpretation.
In the recent past, along with colleagues at the University of York, I have been engaged in an attempt to sort this mess out somewhat. This attempt has two distinct strands. One is work on phonological theory (Kelly and Local 1989), computational phonology and high-quality natural-sounding speech synthesis (Coleman 1990, Coleman and Local 1992, Local 1992b, Local and Coleman 1991). The other centres around work on phonetic detail in everyday conversation (French and Local 1983, Local 1992a, Local, Wells and Sebba 1985, Local and Kelly 1985, 1986, Local, Kelly and Wells 1986).
The second aspect of our work, on the phonetics of interaction, has been concerned with showing that close attention to phonetic detail combined with conversation analytic techniques can reveal interesting and important regularities in the organization of everyday talk. We have employed a particular kind of detailed impressionistic parametric phonetic observation to describe and understand the ways in which speakers deploy phonetic resources to undertake interactional work of various kinds. Although this work focusses on conversational interaction, it is conducted with the same theoretical assumptions as our general and computational phonological research.