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A theory of subfeatural representations: the case of rounding harmony in Laal*

  • Florian Lionnet (a1)

This paper introduces subfeatural representations to capture subphonemic distinctions at work in ‘subphonemic teamwork’. The unusual case of Laal is presented, in which rounding harmony requires two triggers: a round vowel and a labial consonant. The coarticulatory effect of the labial consonant is shown, on the basis of instrumental evidence, to incur a distinctive, but non-contrastive, intermediate level of rounding on the target vowel, analysed as being featurally [−round], but subfeaturally 〚xround〛 (0 < x < 1). 〚xround〛 vowels are shown to form a separate natural class, which can be independently targeted by phonological processes. Subfeatural representations are argued to constitute an advantageous reification of phonetic knowledge, forming a more solid basis for phonetically driven models of phonology. This proposal builds on the insights of previous literature that perceptual representations are needed in phonology, while eschewing the need for direct reference to phonetics.

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For their very helpful comments and the many hours they spent reading this paper, I would like to thank Sharon Inkelas, Larry Hyman and William Bennett, and two anonymous reviewers. Many thanks are also due to Natalie DelBusso, Keith Johnson, Douglas Pulleyblank, Stephanie Shih and Donca Steriade, as well as audiences at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, AMP 2013 (UMass), OCP 11 (Leiden, 2014), the 88th and 90th Meetings of the LSA, the ABC-Conference (UC Berkeley, 2014), WCCFL 33, MFM 23 and NELS 46. My research on Laal is funded through a Volkswagen Foundation DoBeS grant. Any error is my own.

The appendices mentioned in the paper are available as online supplementary materials at

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Appendices A-D

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