Chabot – Features in phonological theory: what, where, and why

slides week 1

Any generative theory of phonology is built on sub-phonemic units, typically called phonological features. This course proposes an overview of the use of features, from their inception as symbolic markers of difference in Prague school structuralism to their use as indexes of acoustic correlates for linguistic sounds and their role in formal statements of phonological rules in the standard model of generativism. While the status of features as the basic representational unit of phonology is perhaps the best example of an ontological consensus in phonology, recent research in Substance-Free phonology has renewed interest in basic questions regarding their nature: are features imbued with phonetic content or are they purely mental symbolic markers? Is the set of features part of the genetic endowment of Faculty of Language or do they emerge on a language-specific basis as a function of the needs of speakers? How do speakers come to determine which sub-set of all possible linguistic features is relevant to their language? Ultimately, we will see that modern theories of the nature and content of phonological features is in many ways a classic example of cumulative science by examining what has changed since Prague, and what has stayed the same.


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Dresher, B. Elan. 2014. The arch not the stones: Universal feature theory without universal features. Nordlyd 41(2). 165–181. pdf

Odden, David. To appear. Radical substance free phonology and feature learning. The Canadian Journal of Linguistics. pdf

Sapir, Edward. 1925. Sound patterns in language. Language 1(2). 37–51. pdf

Volenec, Veno & Charles Reiss. 2020. Formal generative phonology. Radical: A journal of phonology 2. 1–148. pdf