Christian Uffmann – Issues in Feature Theory

This course builds upon the first course, Distinctive Feature Theory, and takes up issues raised in the first course, taking a more in-depth look at selected issues and discussing questions that have occupied phonologists for a long time (but remain unresolved). Although there is some flexibility regarding topics covered, and the discussions in the introductory course may point us to areas of interest for you, I suggest the following questions to be discussed in this course:

  • Are features universal (and in what senses can features be universal)?
  • How are feature specifications acquired by infants?
  • How can the phonological (classificatory) and phonetic functions of features be reconciled with each other?
  • Related to that, what is the phonetic, substantive content of features?
  • Feature valency: Are features binary or privative (monovalent)?
    These questions intersect, and we will try to develop a coherent model of features in this course that takes findings from different fields into account.

I suggest the following preparatory readings that will also structure this class.

For a detailed argument for why features are universal and grounded in phonetics:

Hale, Mark, Madelyn Kissock & Charles Reiss. 2007. ‘Microvariation, variation, and the features of Universal Grammar’. Lingua 117, 645-665. pdf

This reading is best supplemented with §2 ‘The subset principle in phonology’ in The Phonological Enterprise by Mark Hale and Charles Reiss, provided in Dave Odden’s class notes.

For actual frameworks using phonetically grounded features, see versions and developments of Moris Halle’s Articulator Theory, for example (not required reading but fyi)

Avery, Peter and Idsardi, William J. 2001. ‘Laryngeal dimensions, completion and enhancement’. In: Tracy A. Hall and Ursula Kleinhenz (eds), Studies in Distinctive Feature Theory. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 41 – 70. pdf

Halle, Morris, Bert Vaux and Andrew Wolfe. 2000. ‘On Feature Spreading and the Representation of Place of Articulation’. Linguistic Inquiry 31, 387-444. pdf

For a classic paper throwing doubt on a straightforward connection between features and phonetic substance:

Ladefoged, Peter. 1980. ‘What are linguistic sounds made of?’ Language 56, 485-502. pdf

For a radical alternative, see Jeff Mielke’s work on emergent features in

Mielke, Jeff. 2008. The Emergence of Distinctive Features. Oxford: OUP.

Chapter 1 lays out the research programme (PDF here). Reading strongly recommended!