A vowel feature hierarchy for contrastive specification

Rachel Walker


Contrastive specification has been criticized on the grounds of lacking a procedure that does not require initial specification of both redundant and distinctive features for each segment (Archangeli (1988)). In reply, in this paper I define a systematic procedure for the contrastive specification of vowel inventories which specifies only distinctive features. I assume that a procedure of contrastive specification is applied universally (see, for example, the work of Steriade (1987), Clements (1988), and Avery and Rice (1989)). I argue that this procedure is performed step-wise in vowel inventories for a single feature at a time, according to a fixed hierarchy of contrastive features. When applied to inventories of different shapes, this procedure may produce different representations for a vowel and its counterpart in other inventories, thus allowing the same phonetic segment to have more than one underlying structure, depending on the system it occurs in. Since representations affect the output of rules, the shape of the vowel inventory will have a significant impact on the patterning of vowels in the phonological processes of a language.


Contranstive Specification; Contrastive Feature Hierarchy; Turkish; Khalkha; Buriat

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