Elan Dresher – Topics in Contrastive Hierarchy Theory

This course follows the course on Foundations of Contrastive Hierarchy Theory, but is open to anyone interested in the subject. The course will include discussion and empirical investigation of a number of key issues in the theory of contrast as well as challenges to the tenets of Contrastive Hierarchy Theory. The choice of topics and readings will be influenced by the participants in the course, but the following outline indicates the types of questions we will investigate.

Slides available here

Course Outline

1.   Contrastive Hierarchy Theory is founded on the central role of contrast, but is contrast even relevant to phonology? Is there a connection between contrast and the taxonomic phoneme? We will look at some old and new arguments against contrast in phonology.  

      Readings: Kiparsky (1965); Dresher (2015); Pöchtrager & Kaye (2013); Reiss (2017a); Mackenzie (2018); Dresher & Hall (2020).

2.   Contrastive Hierarchy Theory: Is it unfalsifiable or is it false? What sorts of evidence could falsify it in principle? What sorts of empirical challenges does it face? Is it relevant if phonological primes are not binary features but unary elements or structures?

      Readings: Clements (2001); Hall (2007); Hale & Reiss (2008); Dresher (2013); Nevins (2015); Hall (2018); Scheer (2010); Dresher (2021a).

3.   Form and substance in phonology: In what sense is phonology substance free? Is there a clear line between form and substance? Markedness and ‘substance abuse’. These questions are closely connected to the issue of whether features are innate or emergent.

      Readings: Blaho (2008); Reiss (2017b); Odden (2019); Samuels et al. (to appear); Haspelmath (2006); Martins (2017); Mielke (2008).

4.   We will consider some arguments against a Universal Grammar (UG) approach to phonology as opposed to an Emergent Grammar (EG) approach. Do learnability considerations favour UG or EG? The old issues of abstractness and opacity resurface.

      Readings:  Archangeli & Pulleyblank (2015); Dresher (2021b).

5.   Topic and readings TBA, based on class interest.

Selected Readings (see Matrix and Gather)


Archangeli, Diana & Douglas Pulleyblank. 2015. Phonology without universal grammar. Frontiers in Psychology 6, article 1229. DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01229.

Blaho, Sylvia. 2008. The syntax of phonology: a radically substance-free approach. Doctoral dissertation. University of Tromsø.

Clements, G. N. 2001. Representational economy in constraint-based phonology. In T. Alan Hall (ed.), Distinctive feature theory, 71–146. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Dresher, B. Elan. 2013. Contrastive Features and Microvariation in Vowel Harmony. In Stefan Keine and Shayne Sloggett, eds., NELS 42: Proceedings of the Forty-Second Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society, University of Toronto, Volume One, 141–153. GLSA, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Dresher, B. Elan. 2015. Rule-based generative historical phonology. In Patrick Honeybone and Joseph Salmons, eds. The handbook of historical phonology, 501–521. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available at Oxford Handbooks Online.

Dresher, B. Elan. 2021a. Contrastive hierarchies and phonological primes. In Sabrina Bendjaballah, Ali Tifrit, and Laurence Voeltzel (eds.), Perspectives on Element Theory (Studies in Generative Grammar 143), 33–64. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Dresher, B. Elan. 2021b. On emergence and innateness in phonology. Ms.

Dresher, B. Elan and Daniel Currie Hall. 2020. The road not taken: The Sound Pattern of Russian and the history of contrast in phonology. Journal of Linguistics 57(2), 405–444. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226720000377.

Hale, Mark and Charles Reiss. 2008. The phonological enterprise. Oxford: OUP.

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

Hall, Daniel Currie. 2018. Two ways to be transparent to Finnic vowel harmony. Poster presented at the 15th Old World Conference on Phonology (OCP), University College London, January 2018.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2006. Against markedness (and what to replace it with). Journal of linguistics 42(1): 25–70.

Kaye, Jonathan. 2014. The ins and outs of phonology. In Sabrina Bendjaballah, Noam Faust, Mohamed Lahrouchi, & Nicola Lampitelli (eds.), The form of structure, the structure of form: Essays in honor of Jean Lowenstamm, 255–70.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Kiparsky, Paul. 1965. Phonological change. Doctoral dissertation, MIT.

Nevins, Andrew. 2015. Triumphs and limits of the contrastivity-only hypothesis. Linguistic Variation 15(1): 41–68.

Mackenzie, Sara. 2018. Review: Beyond markedness in formal phonology. Phonology 35(4): 727–34.

Martins, Pedro Tiago. 2017. There is no place for markedness in biologically-informed phonology. In Bridget D. Samuels (ed.), Beyond markedness in formal phonology, 219–31. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Mielke, Jeff. 2008. The emergence of distinctive features. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Odden, David. 2019. Radical Substance Free Phonology and feature learning. Ms.

Pöchtrager, Markus A. and Jonathan Kaye. 2013. GP2.0. SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics 16: 51–64.

Reiss, Charles. 2017a. Contrast is irrelevant in phonology. In Bridget D. Samuels (ed.), Beyond markedness in formal phonology, 23–46. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Reiss, Charles. 2017b. Substance-free phonology. In S. J. Hannahs & Anna Bosch (eds.), The Routledge handbook of phonological theory, 425–52. New York, NY: Routledge.

Samuels, Bridget D., Samuel Andersson, Ollie Sayeed, & Bert Vaux. to appear. Getting ready for primetime: Paths to acquiring substance-free phonology. Canadian Journal of Linguistics/Revue canadienne de linguistique.

Scheer, Tobias. 2010. How to marry (structuralist) contrast and (generative) processing (review of Dresher 2009). Lingua 120(10): 2522–2534.