'Contrast' - the opposition between distinctive sounds in a language - is
one of the most central concepts in linguistics. This book presents an
original account of the logic and history of contrast in phonology. It
provides empirical evidence from diverse phonological domains that only
contrastive features are computed by the phonological component of grammar.
It argues that the contrastive specifications of phonemes are governed by
language-particular feature hierarchies. This approach assigns a key role
to abstract cognitive structures, challenging contemporary approaches that
favour phonetic explanations of phonological phenomena. Tracing the
evolution of the hypothesis that contrastive features play a special role
in phonology, it shows how this insight has been obscured by
misunderstandings of the role of the contrastive feature hierarchy.
Questioning the widely held notion that contrast should be based on minimal
pairs, Elan Dresher argues that the contrastive hierarchy is indispensable
to illuminating accounts of phonological patterning.