Iosad: Representations and contrast

The topic of this course is how segmental representations can help
understand phonological behaviour, and in particular the link between
subsegmental structure and phonological activity.

The insight that the presence of phonological structure (such as a
featural specification) and its activity has a long history in
phonological theory. An influential early formalization of this idea was the theory of ‘markedness’ (understood quite literally as the presence of a ‘mark’) in Prague School phonology, where it was also linked to the idea that structure was built in the context of a language’s system of contrasts.

The idea boils down to three key elements:

* Underspecification: phonological inactivity or ‘weakness’ follows from absence of structure

* Markedness equals size: behaviours characteristic of ‘marked’ categories do not need to be stipulated if they simply derive from the presence (as opposed to absence) of phonological structure

* Structure is downstream of contrast: phonological specifications are built only when necessary to make lexical distinctions (or for other pressing reasons)

In this course, we will consider how these ideas have been reflected in current phonological theory, what challenges have been presented to them, and how they could be answered.

The course is suitable for students with a basic grounding in phonological analysis within the generative tradition: if you know how to identify the underlying representations and posit some rules to account for a set of alternations, and how this process involves
distinctive features, you should be good to go.

A set of preliminary readings will be provided nearer the time.