Segmental Features in Phonology

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This discussion is drawn primarily from T. A. Hall, Segmental Features in Paul de Lacy (ed.). The Cambrdige Handbook of Phonology. 2007. Cambridge University Press.


[edit] Segments and Features

Segments in phonology are conceptualized as consisting of bundles of features, or feature-value pairs. In Feature Geometry, the features show a hierarchical structure; for example root features like consonantal or sonorant dominate lower features like continuant and class nodes like place. The outline below illustrates the hierarchical feature structure given in Hall's figure 2.

[edit] A Feature Tree

  • (root)
    • consonantal
    • sonorant
    • approximant
      • laryngeal
        • voice
        • constricted
        • spread
      • place
        • labial
          • round
        • coronal
          • anterior
          • distributed
        • dorsal
          • back
          • high
          • low
        • pharyngeal
      • continuant
      • nasal
      • lateral
      • strident

[edit] Major Class Features

[edit] Consonantal

From SPE: "[Consonantal] sounds are produced with a radical obstruction in the midsagital reagion of the vocal tract; nonconsonantal sounds are produced without such an obstruction."

The feature consonantal distinguishes stops, fricatives, nasals and liquids (+consonantal) from glides, vowels and laryngeals (-consonantal).

+consonantal -consonantal
stops glides
fricatives vowels
nasals laryngeals

[edit] Sonorant

From SPE: "Sonorants are sounds produced with a vocal tract cavity configuration in which spontaneous voicing is possible."

The feature sonorant distinguishes stops and fricatives (-sonorant) from nasals, liquids, glides, vowels, and laryngeals (+sonorant).

+sonorant -sonorant
nasals stops
liquids fricatives

[edit] Approximant

Sounds that are +approximant have a constriction in the vocal tract that allows frictionless release of air.

+approximant -approximant
vowels stops
glides fricatives
liquids nasals

[edit] Laryngeal Features

[edit] Manner Features

[edit] Continuant

The feature continuant distinguishes stops from fricatives. Halle and Clements: "Continuants are formed with a vocal tract configuration allowing the airstream to flow through the midsaggital region of the oral tract."

+continuant -continuant
fricatives stops
rhotics nasals
glides laterals

[edit] Nasal

From SPE:

Nasal sounds are produced by lowering the velum and allowing the air to pass outward through the nose; oral sounds are produced with the velum raised to prevent the passage of air through the nose.

Sounds that are +nasal include nasal consonants and nasal vowels, including less-common pre-nasalized stops, nasal glides, nasal fricatives, and nasal trills.

The nasal feature is usually considered to be a direct daughter of the root. It is sometimes considered privative, sometimes binary.

[edit] Lateral

Halle and Clements:

Lateral sounds ... are produced with the tongue placed in such a way as to prevent the airstream from flowing outward through the center of the mouth, while allowing it to pass over one or both sides of the tongue; central sounds do not involve such a constriction.

In feature geometry, the lateral feature has been argued by some to be a dependent of coronal, while others argue that it is a direct daughter of the root node.

[edit] Strident

From SPE: "strident sounds are marked acoustically by greater noisiness than their nonstrident counterparts."

The strident feature is used to distinguish interdental fricatives (-strident) from alveolar fricatives (+strident); palatoalveolar (+strident) from palatal (-strident); affricates (+strident) from stops (-strident).

For example:

+strident -strident
/s/ /θ/
/z/ /ð/
/ʃ/ /ç/
/ʒ/ /ʝ/
/t/ /ts/

In feature geometry, strident may be located in the root, or as a daughter of coronal.

[edit] Place Features

The Place node is parent to three articulator privative nodes: Labial, Coronal, and Dorsal, covering sounds made with the lips, tongue front, and the tongue dorsum, respectively. The Pharyngeal feature is treated separately.

[edit] Labial

[edit] Round

[edit] Coronal

Coronal sounds are those articulated using the front part of the tongue (i.e. the tongue tip, blade, and the forward part of the body). This includes dental, alveolar, retroflex, palatoalveolar, alveopalatal and palatal places of articulation. Some authors consider coronal to apply to front vowels, while others use it for consonants only.

In feature geometry, Coronal is a privative node mother to the anterior and distributed features.

[edit] Anterior

The feature anterior distinguishes coronal sounds produced in front of the alveolar ridge from those produced behind it.

+anterior -anterior
dental retroflex
alveolar palato-alveolar

[edit] Distributed


[The feature +distributed describes a] constriction formed by the tongue front that extends for a considerable distance along the direction of airflow and [-distributed] to a constriction formed by the tongue front that extends only for a short distance along the direction of airflow.

Apical sounds are -distributed; laminal sounds are +distributed.

+distributed -distributed
dentals alveolars
palato-alveolars retroflexes

Some authors have argued to replace distributed with back, capturing the relationships observed between, for example, retroflex consonants and back vowels.

[edit] Dorsal

Dorsal sounds are those involving the body of the tongue; this includes all vowels, velars, and uvulars. In feature geometry, Dorsal is mother to the features back, high, and low.

[edit] Back

The back feature is mainly used to account for the distinction between front and back vowels.

[edit] High

Sagey: +high indicates a "raised tongue body" while -high indicates a tongue body which is "distinctively not raised".

[edit] Low

Sagey: +low indicates a "lowered tongue body" while -low indicates a tongue body which is "distinctively not lowered."

[edit] ATR

The Advanced Tongue Root feature ATR is used to capture the distinction between /i e o/ and /ɪ ɛ ɔ/.

Sagey (1986) features for vowels:

ɪ ɛ æ ɯ ʌ a
Dorsal T T T T T T
back - - - + + +
high + - - + - -
low - - + - - +

Sagey (1986) features for velar and uvular consonants:

k g x ɣ q ɢ χ ʁ
Dorsal T T
back + +
high + -
low - -

[edit] Pharyngeal

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