Elan Dresher, Intro: Foundations of Contrastive Hierarchy Theory

This course will present the foundations and main tenets of Contrastive Hierarchy Theory (CHT). CHT builds on ideas that go back to Jakobson and Trubetzkoy, adapted to the generative phonology  of Chomsky and Halle. Two ideas that are central to the theory are (a) contrastive phonological  primes (be they binary features or unary elements) are computed hierarchically, with the choice and ordering of the primes being language particular; and (b) only contrastive primes play a role in the lexical phonology (the Contrastivist Hypothesis). We will consider the implications of this theory for phonological primes, say features; in particular we will discuss whether features are innate or emergent, and to what extent they are substance free. We will review case studies that show how con- trastive hierarchies contribute to synchronic and diachronic phonology and to phonological typology.

Course Outline

  1. Foundations of CHT in pre-generative phonology, with a focus on Jakobson and Trubetzkoy, but also looking at others, such as Sweet, Sapir, Twaddell, Benediktsson, and Rischel.
  2. A theory of phonological contrast: language-particular hierarchies and the Contrastivist Hypothe- sis; contrast and phonological activity; the nature of phonological primes (features or elements).
  3. Contrastive hierarchies in synchronic phonology: vowel harmony, vowel reduction, consonant co- occurrence restrictions.
  4. Contrastive hierarchies in diachronic phonology.
  5. Depending on time and interest, further topics may include: CHT and loan phonology; the acquisition of contrastive hierarchies; other approaches to contrast; CHT and OT; empirical challenges to CHT.

Selected Readings (links to pdfs to come…)

Dresher, B. Elan. 2009. The contrastive hierarchy in phonology. Cambridge: CUP.

Dresher, B. Elan. 2016. Contrast in phonology 1867–1967: History and development. Annual Review of Linguistics 2: 53–73.

Dresher,  B.  Elan.  2018.  Contrastive  feature  hierarchies  in  Old  English  diachronic phonology. Transactions of the Philological Society 116(1): 1–29.

Dresher, B. Elan. 2019. Contrastive feature hierarchies in phonology: Variation and universality. In David W. Lightfoot and Jonathan Havenhill, eds., Variable properties in language: Their nature and acquisition, 13–25. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Dresher, B. Elan, Christopher Harvey, and Will Oxford. 2018. Contrastive feature hierarchies as a  new lens on typology. In Larry Hyman and Frans Plank, eds., Phonological typology, 273–311. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.

Hall, Daniel Currie. 2007. The role and representation of contrast in phonological theory. PhD thesis. University of Toronto.

Hall, Daniel Currie. 2011. Phonological contrast and its phonetic enhancement: Dispersedness  without dispersion. Phonology 28: 1–54.

Ko,  Seongyeon.  2018.  Tongue  root  harmony  and  vowel  contrast  in  Northeast  Asian languages. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Krekoski, Ross. 2017. Contrast and complexity in Chinese tonal systems. PhD thesis, University of Toronto.

Mackenzie, Sara. 2011. Contrast and the evaluation of similarity: Evidence from consonant harmony. Lingua 121: 1401–1423.

Mackenzie, Sara. 2013. Laryngeal co-occurrence restrictions in Aymara: Contrastive representations and constraint interaction. Phonology 30: 297–235.

Oxford, Will. 2015. Patterns of contrast in phonological change: Evidence from Algonquian vowel systems. Language 91: 308–57.

Spahr, Christopher. 2014. A contrastive hierarchical account of positional neutralization. The Linguistic Review 31(3–4): 551–85.