Skip to main content Accesibility Help

Phonological contrast and its phonetic enhancement: dispersedness without dispersion*

  • Daniel Currie Hall (a1)

This paper offers a novel account of a familiar typological observation, namely the tendency of phonological inventories to consist of segments that are dispersed through the available auditory space. In contrast to previous approaches, which have treated dispersion as a goal explicitly encoded in the grammar, this paper shows that the cross-linguistic pattern follows automatically from the interaction of two independently motivated factors: phonological representations in which only contrastive features are specified, and the enhancement of these features in phonetic implementation. The merits of this approach are illustrated by examples involving both vocalic and consonantal inventories.

Hide All
Abou Haidar, Laura (1994). Norme linguistique et variabilité dialectale: analyse formantique du système vocalique de la langue arabe. Revue de Phonétique Appliquée 110. 115.
Anderson, John M. & Ewen, Colin J. (1987). Principles of dependency phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Anderson, Lloyd (1975). Phonetic and psychological explanations for vowel harmony, especially in Finnish. PhD dissertation, University of Chicago.
Archangeli, Diana (1988). Aspects of underspecification theory. Phonology 5. 183207.
Avery, Peter & Rice, Keren (1989). Segment structure and coronal underspecification. Phonology 6. 179200.
Blaho, Sylvia (2008). The syntax of phonology: a radically substance-free approach. PhD dissertation, University of Tromsø.
Blevins, Juliette (2004). Evolutionary Phonology: the emergence of sound patterns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Blevins, Juliette & Wedel, Andrew (2009). Inhibited sound change: an evolutionary approach to lexical competition. Diachronica 26. 143183.
Boersma, Paul (1997). How we learn variation, optionality, and probability. Proceedings of the Institute of Phonetic Sciences of the University of Amsterdam 21. 4358.
Boersma, Paul & Hamann, Silke (2008). The evolution of auditory dispersion in bidirectional constraint grammars. Phonology 25. 217270.
Boersma, Paul & Hayes, Bruce (2001). Empirical tests of the Gradual Learning Algorithm. LI 32. 4586.
Calabrese, Andrea (1998). Metaphony revisited. Rivista di Linguistica 10. 7–68.
Cherry, E. Colin, Halle, Morris & Jakobson, Roman (1953). Toward the logical description of languages in their phonemic aspect. Lg 29. 3446.
Chomsky, Noam & Halle, Morris (1968). The sound pattern of English. New York: Harper & Row.
Clements, G. N. (1987). Towards a substantive theory of feature specification. NELS 18. 7993.
Clements, G. N. (2003). Feature economy in sound systems. Phonology 20. 287333.
Clements, G. N. (2009). The role of features in phonological inventories. In Raimy, Eric & Cairns, Charles E. (eds.) Contemporary views on architecture and representations in phonology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 1968.
Clements, G. N. & Hume, Elizabeth V. (1995). The internal organization of speech sounds. In Goldsmith (1995). 245306.
Connell, Bruce (2002). Tone languages and the universality of intrinsic F0: evidence from Africa. JPh 30. 101129.
Cumberland, Linda A. (2005). A grammar of Assiniboine: a Siouan language of the Northern Plains. PhD dissertation, Indiana University.
D'Arcy, Alex (2004). Unconditional neutrality: vowel harmony in a two-place model. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 23:2. 146.
Dellinger, David W. (1968). Ambivalence in Akha phonology. Anthropological Linguistics 10:8. 1622.
Dmitrijev, N. K. (1927). On the pronunciation of the common Turkish ‘r’. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (New Series) 59. 521527.
Dresher, B. Elan (2003). The contrastive hierarchy in phonology. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 20. 4762.
Dresher, B. Elan (2009). The contrastive hierarchy in phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dresher, B. Elan & van der Hulst, Harry (1998). Head–dependent asymmetries in phonology: complexity and visibility. Phonology 15. 317352.
Dresher, B. Elan, Piggott, Glyne & Rice, Keren (1994). Contrast in phonology: overview. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 13. iiixvii.
Dresher, B. Elan & Rice, Keren (1993). Complexity in phonological representations. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 12:2. ivi.
Dyck, Carrie (1995). Constraining the phonology–phonetics interface, with exemplification from Spanish and Italian dialects. PhD dissertation, University of Toronto. Distributed by Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics.
Elfner, Emily (2005). The role of sonority in Blackfoot phonotactics. Calgary Papers in Linguistics 26. 2791.
Escudero, Paola & Boersma, Paul (2004). Bridging the gap between L2 speech perception research and phonological theory. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 26. 551585.
Ewen, Colin J. & van der Hulst, Harry (1985). Single-valued features and the non-linear analysis of vowel harmony. In Bennis, Hans & Beukema, Frits (eds.) Linguistics in the Netherlands 1985. Dordrecht: Foris. 3948.
Flemming, Edward (2002). Auditory representations in phonology. London & New York: Routledge.
Flemming, Edward (2004). Contrast and perceptual distinctiveness. In Hayes, Bruce, Kirchner, Robert & Steriade, Donca (eds.) Phonetically based phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 232276.
Foley, William A. (1991). The Yimas language of New Guinea. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Frantz, Donald G. (1991). Blackfoot grammar. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fudge, E. C. (1967). The nature of phonological primes. JL 3. 136.
Gnanadesikan, Amalia (2004). Markedness and faithfulness constraints in child phonology. In Kager, et al. (2004). 73108.
Goldsmith, John A. (1985). Vowel harmony in Khalkha Mongolian, Yaka, Finnish and Hungarian. Phonology Yearbook 2. 253275.
Goldsmith, John A. (ed.) (1995). The handbook of phonological theory. Cambridge, Mass. & Oxford: Blackwell.
Guenther, Frank H., Espy-Wilson, Carol Y., Boyce, Suzanne E., Matthies, Melanie L., Zandipour, Majid & Perkell, Joseph S. (1999). Articulatory tradeoffs reduce acoustic variability during American English /r/ production. JASA 105. 28542865.
Haiman, John & Benincà, Paola (1992). The Rhaeto-Romance languages. London & New York: Routledge.
Hale, Mark (2000). Marshallese phonology, the phonetics–phonology interface and historical linguistics. The Linguistic Review 17. 241257.
Hale, Mark, Kissock, Madelyn & Reiss, Charles (2007). Microvariation, variation, and the features of universal grammar. Lingua 117. 645665.
Hall, Beatrice L. & Hall, R. M. R. (1980). Nez Perce vowel harmony: an Africanist explanation and some theoretical questions. In Vago, Robert M. (ed.) Issues in vowel harmony. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 201236.
Hall, Daniel Currie (1999). On the geometry of auditory space. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 17. 134157.
Hall, Daniel Currie (2007). The role and representation of contrast in phonological theory. PhD dissertation, University of Toronto. Distributed by Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics.
Hall, Daniel Currie (2010). Probing the unnatural. In van Kampen, Jacqueline & Nouwen, Rick (eds.) Linguistics in the Netherlands 2010. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins. 7183.
Hall, T. A. & Żygis, Marzena (2010). An overview of the phonology of obstruents. In Fuchs, Susanne, Toda, Martine & Żygis, Marzena (eds.) Turbulent sounds: an interdisciplinary guide. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 136.
Halle, Morris (1959). The sound pattern of Russian: a linguistic and acoustical investigation. The Hague: Mouton.
Halle, Morris (1962). Phonology in generative grammar. Word 18. 5472. Reprinted 1972 in Valerie Becker Makkai (ed.) Phonological theory: evolution and current practice. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 380–392.
Hamilton, Philip J. (1996). Phonetic constraints and markedness in the phonotactics of Australian aboriginal languages. PhD dissertation, University of Toronto. Distributed by Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics.
Hardman, M. J. (2000). Jaqaru. Munich: Lincom Europa.
Hayes, Bruce (2004). Phonological acquisition in Optimality Theory: the early stages. In Kager et al. (2004). 158203.
Holmer, Nils M. (1988). Notes on some Queensland languages. Canberra: Australian National University.
Hombert, Jean-Marie (1978). Consonant types, vowel quality, and tone. In Fromkin, Victoria A. (ed.) Tone: a linguistic survey. New York: Academic Press. 77111.
Honda, Kiyoshi (1987). Relationship between pitch control and vowel articulation. In Bless, Diane M. & Abbs, James H. (eds.) Vocal fold physiology: contemporary research and clinical issues. San Diego: College Hill Press. 286297.
Hulst, Harry van der & van de Weijer, Jeroen (1995). Vowel harmony. In Goldsmith (1995). 495534.
Hyman, Larry M. (2003). ‘Abstract’ vowel harmony in Kàlŋ: a system-driven account. In Sauzet, Patrick & Zribi-Hertz, Anne (eds.) Typologie des langues d'Afrique et universaux de la grammaire. Vol. 1. Paris: L'Harmattan. 85112.
Hyman, Larry M. (2008a). Enlarging the scope of phonologization. UC Berkeley Phonology Lab Annual Report. 382408.
Hyman, Larry M. (2008b). Universals in phonology. The Linguistic Review 25. 83–137.
IPA Handbook (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: a guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Iverson, Gregory K. & Salmons, Joseph C. (1996). Mixtec prenasalization as hypervoicing. IJAL 62. 165175.
Iverson, Gregory K. & Salmons, Joseph C. (2003). Legacy specification in the laryngeal phonology of Dutch. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 15. 126.
Jakobson, Roman (1941). Kindersprache, Aphasie, und allgemeine Lautgesetze. Uppsala: Uppsala University. Reprinted in Roman Jakobson (2001). Selected writings. Vol. 1: Phonological studies. 3rd edn. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 328401.
Jakobson, Roman, Fant, C. Gunnar M. & Halle, Morris (1952). Preliminaries to speech analysis: the distinctive features and their correlates. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Jakobson, Roman & Halle, Morris (1956). Fundamentals of language. The Hague: Mouton.
Kager, René, Pater, Joe & Zonneveld, Wim (eds.) (2004). Constraints in phonological acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Keyser, Samuel Jay & Stevens, Kenneth N. (2001). Enhancement revisited. In Kenstowicz, Michael J. (ed.) Ken Hale: a life in language. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 271291.
Keyser, Samuel Jay & Stevens, Kenneth N. (2006). Enhancement and overlap in the speech chain. Lg 82. 3363.
Kingston, John (1992). The phonetics and phonology of perceptually motivated articulatory covariation. Language and Speech 35. 99113.
Kingston, John & Diehl, Randy L. (1994). Phonetic knowledge. Lg 70. 419454.
Kirchner, Robert (1997). Contrastiveness and faithfulness. Phonology 14. 83111.
Kirchner, Robert (1998). An effort-based approach to consonant lenition. PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.
Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (eds.) (2004). A handbook of varieties of English: a multimedia reference tool. Vol. 1: Phonology. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Krämer, Martin (2002). Local constraint conjunction and neutral vowels in Finnish harmony. Belfast Working Papers in Language and Linguistics 15. 3864.
Labov, William (1994). Principles of linguistic change. Vol. 1: Internal factors. Oxford & Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.
Ladd, D. Robert (to appear). Systematic phonetics and phonological theory. In Goldsmith, John A., Riggle, Jason & Yu, Alan (eds.) The handbook of phonological theory. 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.
Lewis, Paul (1968). Akha phonology. Anthropological Linguistics 10:2. 818.
Liljencrants, Johan & Lindblom, Björn (1972). Numerical simulation of vowel quality systems: the role of perceptual contrast. Lg 48. 839862.
Lindblom, Björn & Maddieson, Ian (1988). Phonetic universals in consonant systems. In Hyman, Larry M. & Li, Charles N. (eds.) Language, speech and mind: studies in honour of Victoria A. Fromkin. London: Routledge. 6278.
Lindblom, Björn & Sundberg, Johan (1969). A quantitative model of vowel production and the distinctive features of Swedish vowels. Quarterly Progress and Status Reports, Speech Transmission Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm 10. 1430.
Lukas, Johannes (1933). Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Sprachen von Wadái (Mararét, Mába). Journal de la Société des Africanistes 3:1. 2555.
McCarthy, John J. (1981). A prosodic theory of nonconcatenative morphology. LI 12. 373418.
McCarthy, John J. & Prince, Alan (1995). Faithfulness and reduplicative identity. In Beckman, Jill N., Dickey, Laura Walsh & Urbanczyk, Suzanne (eds.) Papers in Optimality Theory. Amherst: GLSA. 249384.
Mackie, Scott & Mielke, Jeff (forthcoming). Feature economy in natural, random, and synthetic phoneme inventories. In Clements, G. N. & Ridouane, Rachid (eds.) Where do phonological contrasts come from? Cognitive, physical and developmental bases of distinctive speech patterns. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Maclagan, Margaret, Watson, Catherine I., Harlow, Ray, King, Jeanette & Keegan, Peter (2009). /u/ fronting and /t/ aspiration in Māori and New Zealand English. Language Variation and Change 21. 175192.
Maddieson, Ian (1997). Phonetic universals. In Hardcastle, William J. & Laver, John (eds.) The handbook of phonetic sciences. Oxford & Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell. 619639.
Manuel, Sharon Y. (1990). The role of contrast in limiting vowel-to-vowel coarticulation in different languages. JASA 88. 12861298.
Mateus, Maria Helena & d'Andrade, Ernesto (2000). The phonology of Portuguese. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mielke, Jeff (2005). Ambivalence and ambiguity in laterals and nasals. Phonology 22. 169203.
Mielke, Jeff (2008). The emergence of distinctive features. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mithun, Marianne (1982). The synchronic and diachronic behavior of plops, squeaks, croaks, sighs, and moans. IJAL 48. 4958.
Ní Chiosáin, Máire & Padgett, Jaye (1997). Markedness, segment realization, and locality in spreading. Report LRC-97-01, Linguistics Research Center, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Ní Chiosáin, Máire & Padgett, Jaye (2001). Markedness, segment realization, and locality in spreading. In Lombardi, Linda (ed.) Segmental phonology in Optimality Theory: constraints and representations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 118156.
Nivens, Richard (1992). A lexical phonology of West Tarangan. In Burquest, Donald A. & Laidig, Wyn D. (eds.) Phonological studies in four languages of Maluku. Arlington: Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of Texas at Arlington & Pattimura University. 127227.
Ohala, John J. (1980). Introduction to the symposium on phonetic universals in phonological systems and their explanation. In Proceedings of the 9th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Vol. 3. University of Copenhagen: Institute of Phonetics. 181185.
Ortega-Llebaria, Marta & Prieto, Pilar (2009). Perception of word stress in Castilian Spanish: the effects of sentence intonation and vowel type. In Vigário, Marina, Frota, Sónia & João Freitas, M. (eds.) Phonetics and phonology: interactions and interrelations. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins. 3550.
Padgett, Jaye (2001). Contrast dispersion and Russian palatalization. In Hume, Elizabeth & Johnson, Keith (eds.) The role of speech perception in phonology. San Diego: Academic Press. 187218.
Padgett, Jaye (2003a). Contrast and post-velar fronting in Russian. NLLT 21. 3987.
Padgett, Jaye (2003b). The emergence of contrastive palatalization in Russian. In Eric Holt, D. (ed.) Optimality Theory and language change. Dordrecht: Kluwer. 307335.
Paradis, Carole & Prunet, Jean-François (1991). Introduction: asymmetry and visibility in consonant articulations. In Paradis, Carole & Prunet, Jean-François (eds.) The special status of coronals: internal and external evidence. San Diego: Academic Press. 128.
Payne, David L. (1981). The phonology and morphology of Axininca Campa. Arlington: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Penny, Ralph (2000). Variation and change in Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Peterson, Gordon E. & Barney, Harold L. (1952). Control methods used in a study of the vowels. JASA 24. 175184.
Petrova, Olga, Plapp, Rosemary, Ringen, Catherine & Szentgyörgyi, Szilárd (2006). Voice and aspiration: evidence from Russian, Hungarian, German, Swedish, and Turkish. The Linguistic Review 23. 135.
Postal, Paul (1968). Aspects of phonological theory. New York: Harper & Row.
Prince, Alan & Smolensky, Paul (1993). Optimality Theory: constraint interaction in generative grammar. Ms, Rutgers University & University of Colorado, Boulder. Published 2004, Malden, Mass. & Oxford: Blackwell.
Rice, Keren (1995). On vowel place features. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 14. 73116.
Rice, Keren (1996). Default variability: the coronal–velar relationship. NLLT 14. 493543.
Rice, Keren D. (2002). Vowel place contrasts. In Amberber, Mengistu & Collins, Peter (eds.) Language universals and variation. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. 239270.
Rose, Sharon (1993). Coronality and vocalic underspecification. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 12:2. 155177.
Sagey, Elizabeth (1986). The representation of features and relations in nonlinear phonology. PhD dissertation, MIT.
Samuels, Bridget D. (2009). The structure of phonological theory. PhD dissertation, Harvard University.
Sanders, Nathan (2003). Opacity and sound change in the Polish lexicon. PhD dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Saussure, Ferdinand de (1916). Cours de linguistique générale. Lausanne & Paris: Payot.
Sedlak, Philip (1969). Typological considerations of vowel quality systems. Stanford University Working Papers on Language Universals 1. 140.
Smolensky, Paul (1996). The initial state and ‘Richness of the Base’ in Optimality Theory. Ms, Johns Hopkins University. Available as ROA-154 from the Rutgers Optimality Archive.
Steriade, Donca (1987). Redundant values. CLS 23:2. 339362.
Stevens, Kenneth N. (1972). The quantal nature of speech: evidence from articulatory-acoustic data. In David, Edward E. & Denes, Peter B. (eds.) Human communication: a unified view. New York: McGraw-Hill. 5166.
Stevens, Kenneth N. (1989). On the quantal nature of speech. JPh 17. 345.
Stevens, Kenneth N. & Keyser, Samuel Jay (1989). Primary features and their enhancement in consonants. Lg 65. 81106.
Stevens, Kenneth N. & Keyser, Samuel Jay (2010). Quantal theory, enhancement and overlap. JPh 38. 1019.
Stevens, Kenneth N., 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. Hillsdale: Erlbaum. 426449.
Thelwall, Robin & Akram Sa'adeddin, M. (1999). Arabic. In IPA Handbook (1999). 5154.
Trubetzkoy, Nikolai S. (1969). Principles of phonology. Translated by Christiane A. M. Baltaxe. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press. Originally published 1939 as Grundzüge der Phonologie. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Vaux, Bert (1998). The laryngeal specifications of fricatives. LI 29. 497511.
Walker, Rachel (1993). A vowel feature hierarchy for contrastive specification. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 12:2. 179197.
Wedel, Andrew B. (2004). Self-organization and categorical behavior in phonology. PhD dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Wedel, Andrew B. (2006). Exemplar models, evolution and language change. The Linguistic Review 23. 247274.
Wells, John C. (1982). The accents of English. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wetzels, W. Leo & Mascaró, Joan (2001). The typology of voicing and devoicing. Lg 77. 207244.
Whalen, D. H. & Beddor, Patrice S. (1989). Connections between nasality and vowel duration and height: elucidation of the Eastern Algonquian intrusive nasal. Lg 65. 457486.
Whalen, D. H. & Levitt, Andrea G. (1995). The universality of intrinsic F0 of vowels. JPh 23. 349366.
Wilson, Heather (2003). A brief introduction to Marshallese phonology. Ms, University of California, Los Angeles. Available February 2011 at
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0952-6757
  • EISSN: 1469-8188
  • URL: /core/journals/phonology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed