Notes for Chapter 6 - Understanding Phonology

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25 Apr 2012
Understanding Phonology - 3rd edition
Chapter 6 Distinctive Features
6.1 Introduction
- distinctive features enable us to describe the segments of languages
- these features allow us to refer to natural segment classes: groups of segments that are treated
as groups by languages
- univalent features: features that are either present or absent (i.e. dorsal, labial)
- binary features: features that may appear with a plus or minus value (i.e. ± voice)
- all binary features do not need to be present in the representation of all segments
6.2 Motivating Distinctive Features
- all segments must be characterizable in terms of some unique combination of features
- segments in natural segment class are phonetically similar, which has led to the requirement
of the naturalness condition: where distinctive features must have a phonetic definition
- 3 requirements imposed on a distinctive feature system:
o Capable of characterizing a natural class
o Capable of describing all segmental contrasts in the world’s languages
o Definable in phonetic terms
6.3 Feature Values
- Both the group of segments with the plus value and the group with the minus value form their
own natural classes
- In the case of univalent features, reference can only be made to the class of segments that has
the feature, not to the segments that do not possess it (i.e. the [labial] feature refers to labial
segments, but makes no reference to non-labials)
6.4 A Set of Distinctive Features
- Major-class features: classify groups like ‘vowels’, ‘consonants’
- Laryngeal features: specify glottal properties of the segment
- Manner features: specify the type of constriction
- Place features: specify place of articulation
6.4.1 Major-Class Features
- [±consonantal]
o [+cons] have a constriction along the centre of the vocal tract, narrow like that of a
Plosives, affricates, fricatives, nasals, laterals, [r]
o [-cons] lack the described constriction
Vowels, glides [w, j, ʋ], [h, ɦ, ʔ]
- sonorant]
o [+son] produced with constriction in vocal tract that allows a relatively equal air
pressure in front of and behind the constriction
Vowels, glides [w, j, ʋ], liquids, nasals
o [-son] either have an oral constriction or no constriction in the vocal tract
Plosives, fricatives, affricates, laryngeal segments
- [±approximant]
o [+approx.] have a constriction that allows a frictionless escape of air
Vowels, non-nasal sonorants [l, ɹ, ʌ]
o [-approx] do not have such a constriction
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