Hostname: page-component-546b4f848f-bvkm5 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-04T23:31:59.670Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

The road not taken: The Sound Pattern of Russian and the history of contrast in phonology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2020

University of Toronto
Saint Mary’s University
Authors’ addresses: University of Toronto, Department of Linguistics, 100 St. George Street, room 4073, Toronto, OntarioM5S 3G3,
Authors’ addresses: Saint Mary’s University, 923 Robie Street, Halifax, Nova, Scotia B3H 3C3,


This article examines a turning point in the history of the theory of phonological distinctive features. In Morris Halle’s (1959) The Sound Pattern of Russian, features are organized into a contrastive hierarchy designed to minimize the number of specified features. Redundancy rules, however, ensure that the resulting underspecification has no real phonological consequences and, in subsequent generative approaches to phonology, contrastive hierarchies were largely abandoned. We explore how Halle’s hierarchy would have been different if it had been based on phonological patterns such as voicing assimilation, and show that this reorganization makes plausible predictions about other aspects of Russian phonology. We conclude by pointing to recent work in which the concept of a contrastive hierarchy has been revived, illustrating the range of phenomena that this theoretical device can account for if minimizing specifications is not the primary concern.

Looking Back, Moving Forward
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


We are grateful for the helpful comments and questions of three anonymous reviewers, and for those of participants in various conferences where we have presented work leading up to this article, including the Manchester Phonology Meeting, the North American Phonology Conference, the North East Linguistic Society, the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association, and the Slavic Linguistics Society.

Abbreviations for morphosyntactic properties follow the Leipzig Glossing Rules. Additional abbreviations used in this article: [c.g.] = [constricted glottis]; IPA = International Phonetic Alphabet; MS = morpheme structure (rule); [RTR] = [retracted tongue root]; RVA = regressive voicing assimilation; SPE = The Sound Pattern of English (Chomsky & Halle 1968); SPR = The Sound Pattern of Russian (Halle 1959).


Anderson, Stephen R. 2000. Reflections on ‘On the phonetic rules of Russian’. Folia Linguistica 34.1–2, 1127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Archangeli, Diana. 1984. Underspecification in Yawelmani phonology and morphology. Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
Archangeli, Diana. 1985. Yokuts harmony: Evidence for coplanar representations in nonlinear phonology. Linguistic Inquiry 16.3, 335372.Google Scholar
Archangeli, Diana. 1988. Underspecification in phonology. Phonology 5.2, 183207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Battistella, Edwin. to appear. The Prague School: Nikolai Trubetzkoy, Roman Jakobson. In Dresher, B. Elan & van der Hulst, Harry (eds.), The Oxford history of phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Bloch, Bernard. 1941. Phonemic overlapping. American Speech 16.4, 278284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Broselow, Ellen. 1984. Default consonants in Amharic morphology. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 7, 1532.Google Scholar
Calabrese, Andrea. 2005. Markedness and economy in a derivational model of phonology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Astorkiza, Campos, Rebeka, Judit. 2007. Minimal contrast and the phonology–phonetics interaction. Dissertation, University of Southern California.Google Scholar
Cherry, E. Colin, Halle, Morris & Jakobson, Roman. 1953. Toward the logical description of languages in their phonemic aspect. Language 29.1, 3446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chew, Peter. 1999. A computational phonology of Russian. Dissertation, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
Chomsky, Noam. 1964. Current issues in linguistic theory. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Chomsky, Noam & Halle, Morris. 1965. Some controversial questions in phonological theory. Journal of Linguistics 1.2, 97138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chomsky, Noam & Halle, Morris. 1968. The sound pattern of English. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Clements, George N. 1985. The geometry of phonological features. Phonology Yearbook 2, 225252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clements, George N. 1987. Towards a substantive theory of feature specification. In Blevins, James & Carter, Julie (eds.), NELS 18: Proceedings of the eighteenth annual meeting of the North Eastern Linguistic Society, 7993. Amherst, MA: GLSA.Google Scholar
Clements, George N. 2001. Representational economy in constraint-based phonology. In Alan Hall, T. (ed.), Distinctive feature theory, 71146. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Clements, George N. & Hume, Elizabeth V.. 1995. The internal organization of speech sounds. In Goldsmith, John A. (ed.), The handbook of phonological theory, 245306. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Compton, Richard & Elan Dresher, B.. 2011. Palatalization and ‘strong i’ across Inuit dialects. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 56.2, 203228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dresher, B. Elan. 2009. The contrastive hierarchy in phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dresher, B. Elan. 2015. The motivation for contrastive feature hierarchies in phonology. Linguistic Variation 15.1, 140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dresher, B. Elan. 2016. Contrast in phonology, 1867–1967: History and development. Annual Review of Linguistics 2, 5373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dresher, B. Elan & Hall, Daniel Currie. to appear. Developments leading toward generative phonology. In Dresher, B. Elan & van der Hulst, Harry (eds.), The Oxford history of phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Dresher, B. Elan, Harvey, Christopher & Oxford, Will. 2018. Contrastive feature hierarchies as a new lens on typology. In Hyman, Larry & Plank, Frans (eds.), Phonological typology, 273311. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar
Dresher, B. Elan & Nevins, Andrew. 2017. Conditions on iterative rounding harmony in Oroqen. Transactions of the Philological Society 115.3, 365394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dyck, Carrie. 1995. Constraining the phonology–phonetics interface, with exemplification from Spanish and Italian dialects. Dissertation, University of Toronto.Google Scholar
Flemming, Edward. 2002. Auditory representations in phonology. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Frigeni, Chiara. 2002. Metaphony in Campidanian Sardinian: A domain-based analysis. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics (Special issue on Contrast in Phonology) 20, 6391.Google Scholar
Hall, Daniel Currie. 2007. The role and representation of contrast in phonological theory. Dissertation, University of Toronto.Google Scholar
Hall, Daniel Currie. 2011. Phonological contrast and its phonetic enhancement: Dispersedness without dispersion. Phonology 28.1, 154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, Daniel Currie. 2017. Contrastive specification in phonology. In Aronoff, Mark (ed.), Oxford research encyclopedia of linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.26.Google Scholar
Hall, Daniel Currie & Elan Dresher, B.. 2016. Trade-offs in the contrastive hierarchy: Voicing versus continuancy in Slavic. In Hammerly, Christopher & Prickett, Brandon (eds.), NELS 46: Proceedings of the forty-sixth annual meeting of the North East Linguistic Society, vol. 2, 4356. Amherst, MA: GLSA.Google Scholar
Halle, Morris. 1957. On the phonetic rules of Russian. Presented to the Linguistic Society of America, Chicago.Google Scholar
Halle, Morris. 1959. The sound pattern of Russian: A linguistic and acoustical investigation. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Halle, Morris, Vaux, Bert & Wolfe, Andrew. 2000. On feature spreading and the representation of place of articulation. Linguistic Inquiry 31.3, 387444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hargus, Sharon. 1989. Underspecification and derived-only rules in Sekani phonology. In Gerdts, Donna B. & Michelson, Karin (eds.), Theoretical perspectives on Native American languages, 70103. Buffalo, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
Harms, Robert T. 1968. Introduction to phonological theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
Hockett, Charles F. 1951. Review of Phonology as functional phonetics: Three lectures delivered before the University of London in 1946 by André Martinet. Language 27.3, 333342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Iosad, Pavel. 2012. Vowel reduction in Russian: No phonetics in phonology. Journal of Linguistics 48.3, 521571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Iosad, Pavel. to appear. Phonology in the Soviet Union. In Dresher, B. Elan & van der Hulst, Harry (eds.), The Oxford history of phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Jakobson, Roman. [1931] 1962. Phonemic notes on Standard Slovak. In Selected writings I: Phonological studies, 221230. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Jakobson, Roman. 1941. Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze (Språkvetenskapliga Sällskapets i Uppsala Förhandlingar). Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet.Google Scholar
Jakobson, Roman, Gunnar, C. Fant, M. & Halle, Morris. 1952. Preliminaries to speech analysis: The distinctive features and their correlates. Technical report 13, MIT Acoustics Laboratory.Google Scholar
Jakobson, Roman & Halle, Morris. 1956. Fundamentals of language (Janua Linguarum 1). The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Jakobson, Roman & Lotz, John. 1949. Notes on the French phonemic pattern. Word 5, 151158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Joos, Martin (ed.). 1957. Readings in linguistics I. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Kaisse, Ellen M. & Shaw, Patricia A.. 1985. On the theory of Lexical Phonology. Phonology Yearbook 2, 130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kasevich, Vadim Borisovich. 1983. Fonologicheskie problemȳ obshchego i vostochnogo yazȳkoznaniya [Phonological problems in general and Oriental linguistics]. Moscow: Nauka & Shkola ‘JaRK’.Google Scholar
Kiparsky, Paul. 1982. Lexical morphology and phonology. In The Linguistic Society of Korea (ed.), Linguistics in the morning calm: Selected papers from SICOL-1981, 391. Seoul: Hanshin.Google Scholar
Kiparsky, Paul. 1985. Some consequences of Lexical Phonology. Phonology Yearbook 2, 85138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kirchner, Robert Martin. 1997. Contrastiveness and faithfulness. Phonology 14.1, 83111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ko, Seongyeon. 2010. A contrastivist view on the evolution of the Korean vowel system. In Maezawa, Hiroki & Yokogoshi, Azusa (eds.), Proceedings of the Sixth Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics (WAFL6) (MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 61), 181196. Cambridge, MA: MITWPL.Google Scholar
Ko, Seongyeon. 2011. Vowel contrast and vowel harmony shift in the Mongolic languages. In Simpson, A. (ed.), Proceedings of the seventh Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics (WAFL7), vol. 76, 187202. Cambridge, MA: MITWPL.Google Scholar
Ko, Seongyeon. 2013. A contrastive hierarchy approach to Tungusic and Mongolic labial harmony. In Cathcart, Chundra, Chen, I-Hsuan, Finley, Greg, Kang, Shinae, Sandy, Clare S. & Stickles, Elise (eds.), Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (BLS 37), 185198. Published online via eLanguage, Scholar
Ko, Seongyeon. 2018. Tongue root harmony and vowel contrast in Northeast Asian languages (Turcologica 112). Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kochetov, Alexei. 2011. Palatalization. In van Oostendorp, Marc, Ewen, Colin J., Hume, Elizabeth & Rice, Keren (eds.), The Blackwell companion to phonology, vol. 3, 16661690. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781444335262.wbctp0071.Google Scholar
Krekoski, Ross. 2017. Contrast and complexity in Chinese tonal systems. Dissertation, University of Toronto.Google Scholar
Kuznetsov, Petr Savvich. 1941. K voprosu o fonematicheskoĭ sisteme sovremennogo frantsuzskogo yazȳka. Kafedra russkogo yazȳka 5.1, 140174.Google Scholar
Ladd, D. Robert. 2014. Simultaneous structure in phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ladd, D. Robert. to appear. Mid-century American phonology: The post-Bloomfieldians. In Dresher, B. Elan & van der Hulst, Harry (eds.), The Oxford history of phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Lightner, Theodore McGraw. 1963. A note on the formation of phonological rules. In Quarterly progress report 68, 187189. Cambridge, MA: Research Laboratory of Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
Lightner, Theodore McGraw. 1965. Segmental phonology of Modern Standard Russian. Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
Liljencrants, Johan & Lindblom, Björn. 1972. Numerical simulation of vowel quality systems: The role of perceptual contrast. Language 48.4, 839862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mackenzie, Sara. 2009. Contrast and similarity in consonant harmony processes. Dissertation. University of Toronto.Google Scholar
Mackenzie, Sara. 2013. Laryngeal co-occurrence restrictions in Aymara: Contrastive representations and constraint interaction. Phonology 30.2, 297345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mohanan, Karuvannur P. 1986. Lexical Phonology. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
Nevins, Andrew. 2010. Locality in vowel harmony. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nevins, Andrew. 2015. Triumphs and limits of the contrastivity-only hypothesis. Linguistic Variation 15.1, 4168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Newman, Paul. 2000. The Hausa language: An encyclopedic reference grammar. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Oxford, Will. 2012. ‘Contrast shift’ in the Algonquian languages. McGill Working Papers in Linguistics 22.1. Published online at Scholar
Oxford, Will. 2015. Patterns of contrast in phonological change: Evidence from Algonquian vowel systems. Language 91.2, 308357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Padgett, Jaye. 2003. Contrast and post-velar fronting in Russian. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 21.1, 3987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Postal, Paul M. 1964. Boas and the development of phonology: Comments based on Iroquoian. International Journal of American Linguistics 30.3, 269280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Postal, Paul M. 1968. Aspects of phonological theory. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Pulleyblank, Douglas. 1986. Underspecification and low vowel harmony in Okpe. Studies in African Linguistics 17.2, 119153.Google Scholar
Radišić, Milica. 2009. The double nature of the velar /g/ in Serbian. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 30, 91103.Google Scholar
Reiss, Charles. 2017. Contrast is irrelevant in phonology: A simple account of Russian /v/ as /V/. In Samuels, Bridget D. (ed.), Beyond markedness in formal phonology, 2345. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rischel, Jørgen. [1966] 2009. Phoneme, grapheme, and the ‘importance’ of distinctions: Functional aspects of the Scandinavian runic reform. In Grønnum, Nina, Gregersen, Frans & Basbøll, Hans (eds.), Sound structure in language, 254271. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Sagey, Elizabeth C. 1990. The representation of features and relations in nonlinear phonology. New York: Garland.Google Scholar
Schuh, Russell G. 1997. Changes in obstruent voicing in Bade/Ngizim. Ms., University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
Spahr, Christopher. 2014. A contrastive hierarchical account of positional neutralization. The Linguistic Review 31.3–4, 551585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stanley, Richard. 1967. Redundancy rules in phonology. Language 43.2, 393436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steriade, Donca. 1987. Redundant values. In Papers from the 23rd annual regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, vol. 2, 339362. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.Google Scholar
Stevens, Kenneth Noble, Keyser, Samuel Jay & Kawasaki, Haruko. 1986. Toward a phonetic and phonological theory of redundant features. In Perkell, Joseph S. & Klatt, Dennis H. (eds.), Invariance and variability in speech processes, 426449. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
Svantesson, Jan-Olof. 1985. Vowel harmony shift in Mongolian. Lingua 67.4, 283327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Svantesson, Jan-Olof, Tsendina, A., Karlsson, A. & Franzén, V.. 2005. The phonology of Mongolian. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Toman, Jindřich. 1995. The magic of a common language: Jakobson, Mathesius, Trubetzkoy, and the Prague Linguistic Circle. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Trubetzkoy, Nikolai S. 1929. Zur allgemeinen Theorie der phonologischen Vokalsysteme. Travaux du cercle linguistique de Prague 1, 3667.Google Scholar
Trubetzkoy, Nikolai S. 1939. Grundzüge der Phonologie. Travaux du cercle linguistique de Prague 7.Google Scholar
Trubetzkoy, Nikolai S. 1969. Principles of phonology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Translated by Baltaxe, Christiane A. M. from Trubetzkoy (1939).Google Scholar
Van der Hulst, Harry & Smith, Norval. 1988. Tungusic and Mongolian vowel harmony: A minimal pair. In Coopmans, Peter & Hulk, Aafke (eds.), Linguistics in the Netherlands 1988, 7988. Dordrecht: Foris.Google Scholar
Zhang, Xi. 1995. Vowel harmony in Oroqen (Tungus). Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 14, 161174.Google Scholar
Zhang, Xi. 1996. Vowel systems of the Manchu-Tungus languages of China. Dissertation, University of Toronto.Google Scholar