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Feature economy in sound systems

  • G. N. Clements (a1)

Feature economy is a principle of sound systems according to which languages tend to maximise the ratio of sounds over features. The major goal of this study is to confirm the predictions of feature economy at the synchronic level, using an objective sampling technique applied to a genetically and areally balanced sample of the world's languages. It also shows that feature economy can be used as a tool in phonological feature analysis, and offers voiced aspirates, voiceless sonorants and various types of glottalised sounds as illustrations. Feature economy applies not only to distinctive feature values, but to redundant values of features that are distinctive or phonologically active elsewhere in the system. Feature economy cannot be reduced to a purely phonetic principle of gesture economy, but may reflect a general principle of linguistic organisation according to which the active categories of a grammatical system tend to be used to maximal effect.

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The UPSID-92 database has been an invaluable resource in carrying out this work, and I would like to thank its creator, Ian Maddieson, for helping me with questions at various times. Thanks are also due to Hannah Rohde for assistance in developing computational tools, to Jean-Yves Dommergues for advice on statistical modelling, and to Maarten Mous, Paul Newman, David Odden and Tony Traill for answering questions on language data. I have benefited from comments by Caroline Féry, Andrea Calabrese and a further anonymous reader. Finally I would like to thank participants at the following meetings, especially Elsa Gomez, Gregory Guy, Elizabeth Hume, Jeff Mielke and Curt Rice, for stimulating discussion: the 3e Journées d'études linguistiques ‘Les universaux sonores’ (Nantes, 2002), the 4e Journées Internationales du GDR ‘Phonologie’ (Grenoble, 2002), the 2nd International Phonology Seminar (Porto Alegre, 2002), the 1st Old World Conference on Phonology (OCP 1; Leiden, 2003), the LSA Linguistic Institute (East Lansing, 2003) and the 15th International Conference of Phonetic Sciences (Barcelona, 2003).
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  • ISSN: 0952-6757
  • EISSN: 1469-8188
  • URL: /core/journals/phonology
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