LINGUIST List 13.1669

Wed Jun 12 2002

Review: Phonology: Hall (2001)

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  1. Mike Cahill, Hall (2001) Distinctive Feature Theory

Message 1: Hall (2001) Distinctive Feature Theory

Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 15:06:44 +0000
From: Mike Cahill <>
Subject: Hall (2001) Distinctive Feature Theory

Hall, T. Alan, ed. (2001) Distinctive Feature Theory.
Mouton de Gruyter, vii+372 pp., hardback ISBN 3-11-017033-7, $78.00 

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Mike Cahill, SIL International


As Hall in his Introduction chapter points out, the rise of Optimality
Theory in recent years has unfortunately meant a shift away from
examination of featural issues. But the lack of discussion does not
mean all featural problems have been solved. This book contains a
selection of papers from the Conference on Distinctive Feature Theory
held in Berlin in 1999. Since the number of papers is limited, I will
summarize and comment on each of them individually. Then I will
comment on some issues that are common to most of these.


1) T. A. Hall opens the book with "Introduction: Phonological
representations and phonetic implementation of distinctive features."
Hall (H) describes the main purpose of the book as twofold. The first
is to address the nature of featural representations in phonology, in
particular what features are required, i.e. underspecification, and
the organization of features, i.e. feature geometry. The second is to
address the implementation of phonological features in the phonetic

H presents an excellent summary of the history of phonological
representations of features. He sketches the view of features as
binary, non-ordered bundles of features, examines the concept of
binarity and how these phonological features have been regarded as
distinct from phonetic features, though he notes some recent
researchers who have questioned this distinction. He traces the rise
of Autosegmental Theory, illustrating with nasal harmony processes,
and culminating in the more richly articulated structure of Feature
Geometry, for which he goes into some detail.

H then discusses the various views which have been held on
underspecification, including privativity. Inkelas (1995) has proposed
a theory of Archiphonemic Underspecification specifically in the
context of Optimality Theory, which H summarizes. H briefly mentions
that some features once thought to be segmental ones, such as
[syllabic], are now captured by other entities prosodic features.

The phonology-phonetics connection is the last major section of H's
discussion. In traditional generative phonology, there are stages of
derivation and representation between underlying phonological
representation and the final surface phonetic representation, but all
this has been called into question in recent years.

In all these sections, H discusses how the papers in the volume relate
to the various topics, with some papers addressing more than one
issue. All in all, this lays a very good foundation for the rest of
the book, and is an excellent source of references for the overall
topic of what issues about features have been in the forefront of the
generative phonology enterprise in the last several decades.

2) "Laryngeal dimensions, completion and enhancement," by Peter Avery
and William J. Idsardi. In this contribution, Avery & Idsardi (A&I)
lay out a new schema of Feature Geometry, for which they offer
evidence in the area of laryngeal features. This not only adds another
layer of structure to the entire feature tree, but also offers a novel
interpretation to terminal nodes. Rather than the Laryngeal node
having daughter features [spread], [constricted], and [voiced], as in
Clements & Hume (1995), for example, A&I interpose a "dimensions" set
of nodes between the individual features and the Laryngeal node. The
terminal features are to be interpreted as motor instructions, and,
having quite a lot in common with Browman and Goldstein's "gestures,"
this is what A&I call them. There are three "dimensions" under
Laryngeal, each having its two opposing feature gestures. This model
has its basis in motor control; muscle groups form antagonistic pairs,
and each dimension also has antagonistic gestures. The Glottal Width
dimension has [spread] and [constricted] gesture dependents, the
Glottal Tension dimension has [stiff] and [slack] gesture dependents,
and the Larynx Height dimension has [raised] and [lowered] gesture
dependents. All the dimensions are daughters of the Laryngeal
articulator node. A&I limit the discussion to the two dimensions of
Glottal Width and Glottal Tension.

In A&I's model, contrast in a language is on the level of the
dimension, which is monovalent; any particular dimension node is
either there or not. The phonetic details of gestures are added in a
process they term "completion." Besides this completion, A&I's model
includes "enhancement" of contrast, adding another contrastive
dimension with its daughter gesture to yield a phonetic equipollent

A&I provide exemplification and argumentation of their model from
English, Japanese, and Korean. In their analysis, English contrasts
the presence vs. absence of Glottal Width in obstruents. In the
unmarked segments (traditionally "voiced" obstruents), there is
variability in voicing depending on context, while the marked Glottal
Width dimension ones (traditionally "unvoiced") are more consistent
across contexts. In the brief discussion of Japanese, A&I take the
well-known Rendaku process blocked by Lyman's Law as evidence that the
voiced series is marked, so the contrast is between unmarked and
Glottal Tension, and that this contrast is enhanced by the insertion
of the Glottal Width dimension, with the completion being accomplished
by the introduction of [spread]. A&I's most detailed analysis is of
Korean. Korean has a three-way distinction between stops: plain
voiceless, voiceless aspirated, and what has been called tense or
fortis. A&I's theory prevents them from adopting a variant of
Lombardi's (1991) [constricted] analysis of the fortis consonants, and
they present several arguments in favor of a length analysis of
these. The basic laryngeal contrast in Korean then becomes one of the
presence vs. absence of Glottal Width.

3) "Representational economy in constraint-based phonology," by
G. N. Clements. This is the longest paper of the volume, and in it,
Clements (C) deals with the nature of lexical representations, in
particular, what features are specified in the lexicon and
phonology. He proposes a theory of Active Feature Specification, in
which all features are potentially available to the language-learner,
but the only ones which actually occur in lexical and phonological
representations are those features which are "active," required for
expression of lexical contrast or phonological regularities. C assumes
a serial approach to a constraint-based phonology here, as advocated
in Clements (2000).

C sketches several problems with underspecification theory in the
past, e.g. that previous accounts of underspecification have been
based on such considerations as the supposed limitations of the human
computational faculty (see Odden 1992 for a specific argument against
this notion), and that there are many ways to potentially underspecify
a system. C proposes that any underspecification ("representational
economy") is a result of the language learner's empirical observations
of the language.

C proposes a universal scale of "accessibility" for features, starting
with [coronal], then [sonorant], [labial], non-sonorant [dorsal],
[strident], [nasal], etc., from which he can build consonant
inventories with a high, though not perfect, degree of success. The
first 4 features yield /p t k m n/, which are the commonest sounds in
languages, which supports his ranking. (He does not discuss how
[nasal], 6th on the list, would add any more segments than the
[sonorant] already did.) He uses this ranking of features in an
algorithm developed by Dresher (2000 and earlier works) to specify
what features are present in the lexicon. For Hawaiian, with
consonants /p m w n l k h ?/ (? = glottal stop), C first inserts a [+]
value for [sonorant], which distinguishes the rest from /p k/. Then
[+labial] distinguishes /p m w/ from the others. The [dorsal] feature,
next in order, is totally redundant and is not entered. In turn,
[nasal], [spread], and [constricted] are applied, resulting in a table
of [+] features and many unspecified places. In this table, /k/ is
totally unspecified, and this is supported by several lines of
evidence of the unmarkedness of /k/ in Hawaiian, such as borrowings
into Hawaiian, e.g. Peter -> [pika].

C maintains that features are present in the lexicon only when
necessary to distinguish phonemes. In the phonological level, however,
features may be added which are redundant but are required to express
phonological generalizations. C proposes an Activation Criterion:
"redundant feature values are specified in all and only the segments
in which they are active." If there is a constraint spreading [nasal],
than [nasal] will be activated even if it has not been lexically
specified. He illustrates this with Zoque, first going through the
algorithm to specify lexical features for each consonant, then
inserting [voice], which is redundant and not lexical, to account for
postnasal voicing of stops.

Carrying the flag of representational economy further, C next examines
feature organization, often represented in a feature tree as in
Feature Geometry. He notes that while the structure of the tree is
usually held to be the same in all languages, many tiers and features
do not play any role at all in a particular language. These are
superfluous. In order to eliminate this superfluity, C proposes that
for a particular language, "all and only prominent features and nodes
are projected onto separate autosegmental tiers." "Prominent" is
defined as meeting at least one of 4 conditions: a) it is the argument
in constraints SPREAD(X), AGREE(X), or OCP(X), b) X is a floating
feature, c) X forms part of a monosegmental contour, or d) X
constitutes a morpheme. C still maintains there is a universal
geometry; what varies from language to language is what portion of
this is actually projected from the root node. One significant
consequence of this is that languages may vary in their representation
of the same segment, since one or more features of that segment may
not be active in both languages. A particular segment thus may vary
crosslinguistically in both which features are autosegmental and
whether those features are necessary at all to distinguish phonemes. C
applies this schema to Zoque nasal place assimilation.

In his main ending sections, C applies his system to well- known cases
of coronal transparency such as Tahltan and Basque. Transparent
coronals are typically unmarked, and so the tree structure is not
projected for them; thus they will not be available to block
long-distance assimilation. He also discusses transparency of voicing
in Japanese.

This is a fairly thorough view of a new approach to
underspecification, and deserves attention and testing against other
language data. The main reservation I have on it is not the main
point, but the nature of the constraints presented. Often C's
"constraints" specify a process and so sound identical to an informal
formulation of a rule, e.g. "INSERT ([+voice])" (p.92), "PL-ASSIM:
Given a nonhomorganic [+nasal] + [-continuant] sequence occurring in
an input, spread the Place node of the stop to the nasal in the
output" (p. 104) and "Delete [y] in a place-linked coronal cluster"
(p.107). What is the difference between these and a rule? C calls the
first of these both a constraint and an operation in different

4) "Place of articulation first," by Mirco Ghini. "First" here
relates to an algorithm for assigning underlying vowel features which
presumably derives from language acquisition: place features are
assigned before height features. Ghini (Gh) deals with vowels of
Miogliola Ligurian (from Italy), and assumes a derivational model of
phonology, with underlying representations being free of
redundancy. In his Feature Geometry representation, [labial],
[coronal], and [dorsal] are all monovalent and daughters of an
Articulator node under place. However, [labial] for vowels is
(functionally but not structurally) a secondary feature providing
rounding, thus only being possible to assign after another
articulation feature for frontness or backness is assigned.

Miogliola Ligurian has short vowels in stressed position as follows:

Front front rounded back back rounded
 i y u
 e ae o
 oe a

Vowels in unstressed position are limited to:
 i y u
 E (epsilon) a

Using the Place of Articulation First principle, Gh assigns features
to the 8 short vowels, starting with Dorsal (since Coronal is unmarked
and Labial is a secondary articulation). Then he assigns Labial to
/u,o/. At this point a tripartite division has been made: a back
vowel, a back rounded vowel, and a front vowel. He then inserts Low to
differentiate contrasts within each subsystem, thus assigning Low to
/oe/ and /o/. All back vowels are now distinct, so no further
specification is needed for them. For front vowels, a height
distinction is needed, so High is inserted for /i,y/. Though Coronal
is unmarked, he needs to insert it at this point on /y, ae/ to
give a platform for the Labial feature. The featural result is:

 [Coronal] [Dorsal] [Dorsal]
 [Labial] [Labial]
 [High] i y
 e ae a u
 [Low] oe o

In Gh's view, phonological features arise from relationships and
contrasts, but not necessarily from absolute phonetic values. Thus /o/
can be phonologically [Low] though phonetically mid. Gh goes through a
similar exercise for the long vowels of Miogliola Ligurian as well.

The use of this approach comes in considering the neutralization of
some vowels in unstressed position, e.g. /e, oe/ -> /E/ and /u,
o, ae/ -> [u]. There is an asymmetry here in that the
neutralized vowel in the first case is phonetically mid, but
phonetically high in the second case. However, if we consider the
featural specifications above (and assume [E] is essentially
equivalent to [e], something Gh glosses over), we see that there is a
unity: the /u o/ pair is the height counterpart of the /e oe/
pair. The process delinks Low in unstressed position for both. This
also correctly leaves the pair /y ae/ unaffected, since there is
no Low assigned to either of these.

The motivation for the assignment of Low before High as a feature is
unclear to me. Gh says there will always be a phonologically Low
vowel, but why should this be? Unlike Clements, who takes a similar
approach, Gh does not lay the groundwork for prioritizing some
features over others. One is left with a feeling, justified or not,
that this entire algorithm, especially prioritizing Low over High, is
posited mainly to make the admittedly complex reduction system of
Miogliola Ligurian work. If High were prioritized, for example, the
entire system would not work, since /u/ would be High and /o/
unmarked. It would be interesting to apply Gh's algorithm to a
completely unrelated language and set of processes. Such would be
needed to plausibly claim universality for this approach.

5) "Representing nasality in consonants," by Janet Grijzenhout. In
this paper, Grijzenhout (Gr) proposes two types of representation for
nasal consonants. The first, which she terms "plain nasal stops," have
features [+son, +cons], together with [nasal], for which she assumes
privativity. The second type, which she terms "light nasal stops,"
lack the [nasal] specification, but are phonetically interpreted as
nasals, since the absence of the privative [continuant] feature
implies a lack of oral airflow. This typology is meant to account for
the different behavior of nasals with regard to spreading ("nasal
harmony"); the first type of nasal initiates nasal harmony, but the
second type does not.

Gr presents phonetic and phonological arguments for the existence of
both types of nasals in Acehnese: nasals with a relatively large velic
opening trigger rightward nasal harmony (adjacent vowels are
nasalized), while those with a smaller velic opening do not. On the
other hand, Brazilian and European Portuguese differ in that Brazilian
has nasal harmony, while European does not, and G attributes this to
the two types of representation mentioned above. Furthermore, in
language typologies of nasalization, she attributes the different
nasal segment inventories and processes to whether a [nasal]
specification is present or not.

To further account for nasality patterns in Navaho, Southern Paiute,
and Terena, Gr invokes a SV ("sonorant voicing") feature, following
Rice (1993), though holding that the traditional [voice] and
[sonorant] are still required for some languages. The more sonorous a
segment is, the more compatible it is with SV, but the SV varies
crosslinguistically as to what it can attach to. From Gr's brief
presentation, it is difficult to see what advantage SV has over
[voice] in these cases.

Gr also mentions languages with nasals as the epenthetic consonant,
and predicts on the basis of her representations that such languages
will not have nasal harmony, since the epenthetic nasal would be
minimally specified, not including the [nasal]
specification. Conversely, in languages with nasal harmony, it is
predicted that a nasal is not a possible epenthetic consonant.

Gr does not formalize any rules or constraints, although her prose
indicates a predominance of constraint-based thinking in her analysis.

One distinction that might have been helpful is a distinction between
contrastive and noncontrastive nasalization. In many languages, such
as English, vowels are allophonically nasalized before or after a
nasal consonant. Is this nasal harmony? It is not generally regarded
as such. But if this is not nasal harmony, Gr would presumably say
that such languages, including English, are not specified for
[nasal]. But if there is no [nasal] on a nasal consonant, how does
such a vowel get its nasality?

6) "Pattern, pervasive patterns and feature specification," by
K. David Harrison and Abigail Kaun. The focus of this paper is
underspecification within Optimality Theory. Harrison and Kaun (H&K)
claim, counter to traditional interpretation, that predictably
alternating features are not necessarily underspecified, and
conversely, that segments that never alternate may be underspecified.

In spite of Lexicon Optimization, OT leaves room for partially
unspecified lexical structures. H&K discuss the model of Archiphonemic
Underspecification (Inkelas 1995). This model predicts that
underspecification should only occur when there is a predictable
alternation. In this view, Turkish suffix vowels would be
underspecified for backness, since they alternate, but stem vowels
would be specified for backness.

Hungarian, however, poses a challenge for this view. Hungarian has a
vowel length contrast. For two vowels, the length contrast also
carries a quality difference. In one of these, long [e:] corresponds
to short [oe] ('ash'). In normal words, short [e] does not
occur. In the word game "Veve," however, a sequence of /Vv-/ is
inserted before the rhyme (e.g. itt -> iv-itt, ti:z -> t-iv-i:z,
etc.). For words with /e:/, short [e] occurs in the reduplicant. H&K
present tableaus with fully specified /e:r/ input which gives the
correct [eve:r] output, then present a tableau with underspecified
input /E:r/ which, with the same set of constraints as the first
tableau, yields two equally optimal outputs, [eve:r] and
[oevoe:r]. H&K interpret this as evidence that
Archiphonemic Underspecification is inadequate, and that even
predictable alternations must sometimes be fully specified.

However, I would think that an additional constraint favoring
faithfulness of quality in the base over faithfulness of quality in
the reduplicant would suffice to rule out the unattested form in their
second tableau; they do not consider this option. In addition, one
might question a broad assertion whose main evidence is based not on
the core phonology of a language, but on the fringe elements of a word
game. The position they present, that predictably alternating segments
are not necessarily underspecified, I would judge has not been well
established here.

H&K propose one constraint for Hungarian, Input-Output Identity for
length, abbreviated IDENT-I/O[LG], which raises all sorts of issues on
featural specification and representation. This formulation assumes
"length" is a feature. But much effort has gone into designating
length representationally, as two timing units on a CV tier, for
example. Since so much rides on length in H&K's paper, would have been
good for them to have expounded a bit on their view of what length is
and how it should be represented. In H&K's other assertion, that
non-alternating segments may nonetheless be underspecified, they
examine evidence from Tuvan and, briefly, from Finnish and Turkish. In
Tuvan reduplicated forms, the reduplicant replaces the first vowel of
the base with [a] in most cases (the exception being when the base
already has [a], in which case the reduplicant has [u]). Crucially,
inputs which are disharmonic also have disharmonic reduplicants. But
harmonic inputs have harmonic reduplicants, even if they need to
re-harmonize because of the reduplicant [a]. For example, /idik/ ->
[idik-adIk] (where I = barred i here). In H&K's system of constraints,
/idik/ must specify [-back] for only the first vowel, not both, in
order to produce the correct winning candidate. A word game in Finnish
works in a similar manner. Turkish lacks similar reduplication, but
H&K, in a pilot experiment, taught Turkish speakers the Tuvan-style
reduplication and asked them to produce the most Turkish-sounding word
from the process. The result was similar to the Tuvan.

As a result of these, H&K propose that predictable feature values are
in a continuum between "systematic" and "idiosyncratic," rather than a
strict binary bifurcation of "alternating" vs. "non-alternating," and
that features which can legitimately be underspecified are in the area
of "systematic" predictable patterns. The exact boundaries are
fuzzy. Languages may be located on various points on the continuum.

7) "Phonetic implementation of the distinctive auditory features
[voice] and [tense] in stop consonants," by Michael Jessen. In this
paper, Jessen (J) presents a literature overview of the features
[voice] and [tense] for obstruents, as well as some new proposals of
his own. As the title promises, this is a paper which focuses on
phonetic details associated with the two features [voice] and [tense],
in particular auditory perspectives. In his overview of [voice], he
notes that while this feature is generally interpreted as vocal fold
vibration, such vibration is not a single phenomenon, but several
gestures that need to be coordinated. Thus languages may be analyzed
with [voice] even if the actual presence of closure voicing is not
known or measurable. In using the feature [tense], J contrasts with
other recent views of aspirated stops as having a [spread glottis]
feature or the like, and explicitly seeks to reintroduce discussion of
[tense] in current circles.

In J's view, a language may have contrasts between /p t k/ and /b d
g/, and depending on phonological patterns of the language, these
contrasts might be captured by either [voice] or [tense]. If there is
long aspiration in /p t k/ and unstable voicing in /b d g/, a [tense]
analysis is most plausible; if /b d g/ has full voicing and /p t k/ is
basically unaspirated, a [voice] analysis is preferred. Languages like
Hindi which have a three-way distinction need both.

J distinguishes between "basic correlates" and "non-basic correlates"
of these features. Basic correlates are those phonetic properties
which are unique to a feature, and so are often very stable across
various contexts. Aspiration duration is the basic correlate of
[tense] in a tense-lax system, while voicing during closure is the
basic correlate of [voice] in a voiced-voiceless system. Non-basic
correlates are those which are shared by other phonological features,
and may be less stable across various contexts, include F0 onset, F1
onset, differences between amplitudes of first and second harmonics,
closure duration, preceding vowel duration, following vowel duration.

J also briefly discusses what this type of analysis would look like
with the feature [checked], used with clicks, ejectives, and
implosives, this feature having a basic correlate of high burst
amplitude (which must be interpreted as the spectral sharpness of
vowel onsets for implosives). He presents a table with [+] and [-]
values of all three features discussed, and proposes that all types of
stops are covered with the resulting 8 combinations of features. Some,
such as grouping Korean fortis stops, ejectives, and plain clicks
together as [-tense, -voice, and +checked], might be regarded as

While references to quite a few languages are made, no actual language
data is presented in this paper. Clarity would have been helped if it
had, though it would have lengthened the paper considerably.

8) "Distinctive [voice] implies regressive voicing assimilation," by
Bertus van Rooy and Daan Wissing. In this paper, van Rooy and Wissing
(vR&W) argue for a narrow interpretation of the feature [voice], that
is, the feature is used only when the distinction is between actual
vocal fold vibration and its absence. (A broader interpretation of
[voice] uses the feature to mark the contrast when any two of these
three phonetic situations contrast in a language: negative voice onset
time (VOT), short-lag VOT, or long-lag VOT.) VR&W, like Jessen in this
volume, contend that voicing distinctions in English are marked by the
feature [tense], so that variations in voicing such as "cat[s]" and
"dog[z]" are not to be considered when discussing [voice].

VR&W present some data on word-final devoicing, postnasal voicing, and
intervocalic plosive voicing, but the main data emphasis is regressive
voicing assimilation, for which they give data from Dutch and
Polish. They cite several scholars who note that it is languages with
prevoicing that exhibit this regressive voicing assimilation, and this
seems likely to be a universal. (They do discuss some counterexamples
from Dutch and Afrikaans of progressive devoicing which often occurs
in preference to regressive voicing, concluding that there is much
variation in these languages, and in particular, that the feature
[voice] is not well established for these.)

The authors conducted an experiment to test this hypothesis. English,
in their view, does not use [voice] distinctively; it has no
prevoicing. Tswana does. English does not have regressive voicing
assimilation. But when Tswana speakers, also speakers of English, were
given sentences containing voiced-voiceless obstruents, as in the name
"Dick Dean" /--kd--/, they read these with regressive voicing
[--gd--]. The phonological pattern of their native language has
carried over into their second language.

VR&W contend that the observation leads to a challenge in OT terms of
incorporating in a natural way, a statement of the form "if X, then
Y," in particular, "if [voice] is distinctive in a particular
language, then regressive voicing assimilation automatically applies."
Specifically, the ranking

AgreeObs[voice], FaithOnsetObs[voice] > *ObsVoice > FaithVoice

which yields regressive voicing assimilation must be obligatory if
[voice] is distinctive, as shown by the Tswana speakers.

One could wish that vR&W had been more explicit about the privativity
of [voice], which seems to be assumed, but is not explicit. They
deliberately chose a more general FAITH constraint schema, rather than
the more specific IDENT family, or even the possible MAX and DEP
constraints, which would be possible when dealing with the presence or
absence of a particular feature, and one might also wish they had
taken a reasoned stand on a more specific approach to faithfulness.

Konni, a language of northern Ghana, offers a radically different
output from the cases vR&W examine (Cahill 1999). Konni has prevoiced
stops, but when voiceless and voiced obstruents adjoin, a vowel is
inserted, e.g. /biis-bu/ -> [biisibu] 'the breast' (cf. [biis-a]
'breasts'). Regressive devoicing occurs, as in /tig-ka/ -> [tikka]
'the village'. Quite interestingly, the constraints needed for Konni
are virtually identical in formulation and ranking to the one above,
with the exception of *ObsVoice, which is not used for Konni, and in
fact makes no significant contribution to the tableaus vR&W present.

9) "The phonology of /r/" by Richard Wiese. In this paper, Wiese (W)
attempts to capture what unites all the different sounds called some
sort of "r", or rhotic, when they have no consistent phonetic
unity. He concludes that they must be defined prosodically, by their
position in the sonority hierarchy, rather than featurally.

W starts with a survey of various phonetic sounds that can be called
rhotics. While there is no consistent phonetic basis for unifying
rhotics as a class, there is a phonological basis for unifying them
(see Walsh-Dickey 1997 and Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996). W lists
several criteria, for example, that rhotics often alternate with other
rhotics, both synchronically and diachronically.

Can we simplify the list of rhotics? W discusses excluding uvulars or
fricatives but rejects these. Languages which have uvular rhotics,
such as French, lack coronal ones, so one can still talk about "r" in
these languages without ambiguity. Fricative rhotics still participate
in the alternations mentioned above.

W then considers, but rejects, possibilities for defining rhotics in
terms of featural specifications. The trilled alveolar /r/, termed the
prototypical /r/ by W, is fully specified by [+cons, +cont, +son,
-lateral, +coronal, -nasal], but this is not constant across rhotics,
for which only [+cont] and [-lateral] always hold. Hall (1997), as
well as others, has proposed a feature [rhotic] to capture the
generalizations of what seems to be a natural class, but W maintains
this covers the problem rather than illuminates it. Walsh-Dickey
(1997) proposes that rhotics are sounds with a non-primary Laminal
node. But W notes that rhotics are generally not laminal, that
Walsh-Dickey's system vastly overgenerates possible geometries, and
other objections. An underspecification approach would look for what
feature/s all rhotics have in common, specify only them, and build
from there. [+cont] might seem a good one to start with, but this is
not enough to distinguish rhotics from other sounds, and for
languages with more than one rhotic, this approach fails.

All of these featural-based approaches proving inadequate in one way
or another, W proceeds to propose that /r/ is actually a prosody, more
precisely, "/r/ is that point on the sonority scale between laterals
and vowels." This embodies two claims: first, that /r/ occupies a
unique place on the sonority scale, and second, that this is a
plausible way of actually defining rhotics.

W presents evidence that /r/ in both French and German acts as a
sonorant even when phonetically a fricative, not grouping with other
fricatives in its phonotactics. Given that a rhotic can be a voiceless
fricative, it seems inconceivable that this would occupy the same
position on the sonority scale as say, an voiced approximant. W
asserts that the sonority scale which defines /r/ is phonologically
abstract, incorporating neither direct phonetics nor a specific list
of segmental features. Though /r/ in a specific language would need
specific features, that is not its basic identity.

There is recent corroborating evidence for at least some of W's
claims. Parker (2002) in a groundbreaking phonetic study of sonority,
finds no distinction between /r/ and /l/ in the phonetic sonority
hierarchy in English. However, he finds several lines of phonological
evidence that /r/ is more sonorous than /l/, so in the phonological
hierarchy, he agrees with W, and claims this ranking is a universal.

There is an index of languages and one of subjects as well in this volume.


The book is fairly free of typos, though the word "Feature" was
omitted in the first footnote, there is a gratuitous "ist" on p. 147,
'my brother' has differing transcriptions on p. 199, there appears to
be a missing [-B] in the input of Tableau G on p.227, and a few
others. A personal preference of mine would have been footnotes rather
than endnotes.

The authors have evidently done some substantial revising of the
papers as originally given at the conference under the guidance of
various referees, and though the conference was in 1999, there are
many updated references, even to 2001.

Below I very briefly summarize how the authors intersected with the
main purposes of the volume.

Regarding Underspecification:

Avery & Idsardi have a view of phonology in which nothing redundant is
specified in the phonological representation, similar in spirit to
Archangeli's Radical Underspecifi- cation (1984). Grijzenhout
crucially relies on the presence or lack of underlying [nasal] to
explain different nasality patterns. Harrison & Kaun develop a whole
schem of when underspecification is needed. Van Rooy & Wissing's
discussion of [voice] seems to assume privativity. Both Clements and
Ghini explicitly assume models in which no redundancy is present in
underlying specification, but with significant differences from to
Radical and Contrastive Underspecification. Jessen and Wiese do not
address the issue.

Regarding structure of representation (Feature Geometry):Avery &
Idsardi, Clements, Ghini, and Grijzenhout basically accept Feature
Geometry, though A&I have their own extension of it. Harrison & Kaun
use autosegmental notation in their OT inputs, but basically ignore it
elsewhere, not commenting on any Fature Geometry issues. Both Jessen's
and Van Rooy & Wissing's discussions of [voice] does not mention
connection to Feature Geometry structure, and an autosegmental
representation of [voice] is not assumed either, though Jessen does
call for research into whether Feature Geometry can resolve some of
the issues he addresses. Wiese seems to assume Feature Geometry, but
it does not play a major part in his presentation.

The role of phonetics:Avery & Idsardi encode phonetic gestures into
the Feature Geometry, but limit the role of these gestures to
enhancement, not contrast. Phonetics is directly represented by their
"gestures." Grijzenhout's schema relates the presence vs. absence of
[nasal] to degrees of velic opening in Acehnese, but presumably two
languages with different specifications of [nasal] could still have
phonetically identical [n], for example. The connection of
phonological specification and phonetics is thus variable. Van Rooy &
Wissing's paper explicitly ties the feature [voice] to a specific
phonetic interpretation, i.e. negative VOT. Jessen does the same, also
tying [tense] to aspiration, and majors on auditory correlates of
features. In Ghini's approach, there is not a direct mapping of
phonetics with phonology, in that a high phonetic vowel may not get a
High feature, likewise with a Low. Wiese has a crucial disconnect
between phonetics and phonology, when he proposes his
phonologically abstract sonority scale which has rhotics occupying a
single place, though their phonetics may vary considerably. Clements
and Harrison & Kaun do not discuss phonetic details.

In a book titled "Distinctive Feature Theory," it is disappointing to
not find anything on some major topics. Given the provenance of the
book, where all the papers came from a conference, this is not
surprising, of course; one is at the mercy of what the participants
propose as far as topics go. So the following is a kind of a wish list
of topics I would have liked to see covered in a more systematic
treatment of features.

One such topic is tone. With perhaps half the world's languages tonal
to one degree or another, this would have been a relevant topic. It is
true that Avery & Idsardi's paper alludes to their enriched Laryngeal
node proposal as intersecting with tone, specifically Glottal Tension
and Larynx Height. They say "We also believe that laryngeal features
capture both phonation type and tone", which is likely putting quite a
burden on these nodes: to include ejectives, implosives, and tone all
on the Larynx Height node. They refer the reader to an unpublished
paper of theirs for more details.

Another wished-for topic is vowel height and place. A piece of writing
that has not gotten the attention it deserves is Parkinson 1996, who
shows that the traditional [high] and [low] are inadequate to account
for languages with at least five vowel heights and certain
phenomena. The place of ATR would be another topic.

Another topic is whether the whole concept of Feature Geometry has any
place in current Optimality Theory. Writers in this volume tended to
either assume FG (as Grijzenhout did), develop details of it, as Avery
& Idsardi did, or assume Optimality Theory and ignore FG, as van Rooy
& Wissing did. Padgett (2001, and earlier formulations going back to
1995) discusses this issue directly and claims OT basically does away
with the need for FG, while Cahill & Parkinson (1997) claim Padgett's
schema is basically a notational variant of FG. More discussion on
this would be helpful (though Clements does raise the question "What
is the trade-off between constraints and representations in
understanding phonological regularities?") As Rennison (2000) notes,
the fact that OT does not speak to the area of what features are
allowed multiplies the number of constraints that must be considered,
since the constraints must refer to structures, which vary according
to the theory of representation adopted.


Cahill, Michael. 1999. Aspects of Morphology and Phonology of
Konni. Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University.

Cahill, Michael, and Frederick Parkinson. 1997. Partial Class Behavior
and Feature Geometry: Remarks on Feature Class Theory. Proceedings of
NELS 27, pp. 79-91.

Clements, George N. 2000. In defense of serialism. The Linguistic
Review 17.2-4: 181-197.

Clements, George N., and Elizabeth V. Hume. 1995. The Internal
Organization of Speech Sounds. In Goldsmith, John (ed.). The Handbook
of Phonological Theory. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, pp. 245-306.

Dresher, Elan. 2000. Contrastive features: Manchu to Miogliola. Paper
presented at the Workshop on Features, Schloss Freudantal (Konstanz),
December 7-9, 2000.

Hall, T. Alan. 1997. The Phonology of Coronals. Amsterdam &
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Inkelas, Sharon. 1995. The consequences of optimizationfor
underspecification. Proceedings of NELS 25.

Ladefoged, Peter, and Ian Maddieson. 1996. The Sounds of the World's
Languages. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Odden, David. 1992. Simplicity of underlying representation as
motivation for underspecification. In Elizabeth Hume (ed.) Papers in
Phonology (OSU Working Papers in Linguistics 41), 85-100.

Padgett, Jaye. 2002. Feature classes in phonology. Language 78:

Parker, Steve. 2002. Quantifying the Sonority
Hierarchy. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Parkinson, Frederick. 1996. The Representation of Vowel Height in
Phonology. Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University.

Rennison, John. 2000. OT and TO ? On the status of OT and a theory and
as a formalism. The Linguistic Review 17.2- 4: 135-142.

Rice, Keren. 1993. A reexamination of the feature [sonorant]: the
status of 'sonorant obstruents'. Language 69: 308-344.

Walsh-Dickey, Laura. 1997. The Phonology of
Liquids. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


Mike Cahill did on-site linguistic investigation in the Konni language
of northern Ghana for several years, including application to literacy
and translation work. He received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University
in 1999, and is presently primarily interested in African phonology,
cross-linguistic patterns in tone, and labial-velar stops and
nasals. He currently is SIL's International Linguistics Coordinator.
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