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 (in my case binary features but the same holds for unary elements) are computed hierarchically, with the choice and ordering of the features being language par­ticular; and (b) only contrastive features play a role in the phonology (the Contrastiv­ist Hypothesis). We will demonstrate why contrastive features must be computed hierarchically, and consider the implications of this theory for whether features are innate or emergent. We will show how contrastive hierarchies work and review case studies that show how they contribute to synchronic and diachronic phonology.

Office hours in Gather every day (Mon-Fri) at 17:30 – 18:15 or arrange other time.


Course Outline

1.   Foundations of CHT in the history of phonology, with a review of key ideas found in the work of Sweet, Sapir, Trubetzkoy, Jakobson, and Halle.

      Selected readings (to be downloaded below):  Dresher (2014, 2016, 2019); Dresher & Hall (2020).

2.   A theory of phonological contrast: language-particular hierarchies; the Contrastivist Hypothe­sis; contrast and phonological activity; enhancement; markedness; the nature of features.

      Selected readings: Dresher (2009: ch. 7); Hall (2007; 2011); Ko (2018: ch. 4).

3.   Contrastive hierarchies in synchronic phonology: vowel harmony, vowel reduction, consonant co-occurrence restrictions, consonantal contrasts, and loan phonology.

      Selected readings:  Dresher (2021); Herd (2005); Mackenzie (2012, 2013); Spahr (2012, 2014).

4.   Contrastive hierarchies in diachronic phonology.

      Selected readings: Compton & Dresher (2011); Dresher (2018): Krekoski (2017); Oxford (2015).

5.   In this class we can take up outstanding questions and, depending on interest, look at new ones.

References incl. selected readings

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

Hall, Daniel Currie. 2007. The role and representation of contrast in phonological theory. PhD thesis, University of Toronto. https://twpl.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/twpl/article/ view/6497.

Spahr, Christopher. 2012. Positional neutralization in the Contrastive Hierarchy: The case of phonological vowel reduction. Ms., University of Toronto. http://individual.utoronto.ca/ spahr/.

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