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In linguistics, a distinctive feature is the most basic unit of phonological structure that may be analyzed in phonological theory.

Distinctive features are grouped into categories according to the natural classes of segments they describe: major class features, laryngeal features, manner features, and place features. These feature categories in turn are further specified on the basis of the phonetic properties of the segments in question.[1]

Since the inception of the phonological analysis of distinctive features in the 1950s, features traditionally have been specified by binary values to signify whether a segment is described by the feature; a positive value, [+], denotes the presence of a feature, while a negative value, [−], indicates its absence. In addition, a phoneme may be unmarked with respect to a feature. It is also possible for certain phonemes to have different features across languages. For example, [l] could be classified as a continuant or not in a given language depending on how it patterns with other consonants.[2]

In recent developments[when?] to the theory of distinctive features, phonologists have proposed the existence of single-valued features. These features, called univalent or privative features, can only describe the classes of segments that are said to possess those features, and not the classes that are without them.[3]

List

Euler diagram showing a typical classification of sounds (in IPA) and their manners of articulation and distinctive features

This section lists and describes the features.[4]

Major class

Major class features: The features that represent the major classes of sounds.

  1. [+/− syllabic][citation needed] Syllabic segments may function as the nucleus of a syllable, while their counterparts, the [−syll] segments, may not. Except in the case of syllabic consonants, [+syllabic] designates all vowels, while [−syllabic] designates all consonants (including glides).
  2. [+/− consonantal] Consonantal segments are produced with an audible constriction in the vocal tract, such as obstruents, nasals, liquids, and trills. Vowels, glides and laryngeal segments are not consonantal.
  3. [+/− approximant] Approximant segments include vowels, glides, and liquids while excluding nasals and obstruents.
  4. [+/− sonorant] This feature describes the type of oral constriction that can occur in the vocal tract. [+son] designates the vowels and sonorant consonants (namely glides, liquids, and nasals), that are produced without an imbalance of air pressure in the vocal tract that might cause turbulence. [−son] describes the obstruents, articulated with a noticeable turbulence caused by an imbalance of air pressure in the vocal tract.

Laryngeal

Laryngeal features: The features that specify the glottal states of sounds.

  1. [+/− voice] This feature indicates whether vibration of the vocal folds occurs with the articulation of the segment.
  2. [+/− spread glottis] Used to indicate the aspiration of a segment, this feature denotes the openness of the glottis. For [+sg], the vocal folds are spread apart widely enough for frication to occur; for [−sg], there is not the same friction-inducing spreading.
  3. [+/− constricted glottis] The constricted glottis features denotes the degree of closure of the glottis. [+cg] implies that the vocal folds are held closely together, enough so that air cannot pass through momentarily, while [−cg] implies the opposite.

Manner

Manner features: The features that specify the manner o

Distinctive features are grouped into categories according to the natural classes of segments they describe: major class features, laryngeal features, manner features, and place features. These feature categories in turn are further specified on the basis of the phonetic properties of the segments in question.[1]

Since the inception of the phonological analysis of distinctive features in the 1950s, features traditionally have been specified by binary values to signify whether a segment is described by the feature; a positive value, [+], denotes the presence of a feature, while a negative value, [−], indicates its absence. In addition, a phoneme may be unmarked with respect to a feature. It is also possible for certain phonemes to have different features across languages. For example, [l] could be classified as a continuant or not in a given language depending on how it patterns with other consonants.[2]

In recent developments[when?] to the theory of distinctive features, phonologists have proposed the existence of single-valued features. These features, called univalent or privative features, can only describe the classes of segments that are said to possess those features, and not the classes that are without them.[3]

This section lists and describes the features.[4]

Major class

Major class features: The features that represent the major classes of sounds.

  1. [+/− syllabic][citation needed] Syllabic segments may function as the nucleus of a syllable, while their counterparts, the [−syll] segments, may not. Except in the case of syllabic consonants, [+syllabic] designates all vowels, while [−syllabic] designates all consonants (including glides).
  2. [+/− consonantal] Consonantal segments are produced with an audible constriction in the vocal tract, such as obstruents, nasals, liquids, and trills. Vowels, glides and laryngeal segments are not consonantal.
  3. [+/− approximant] Approximant segments include vowels, glides, and liquids while excluding nasals and obstruents.
  4. [+/− sonorant] This feature describes the type of oral constriction that can occur in the vocal tract. [+son] designates the vowels and sonorant consonants (namely glides, liquids, and nasals), that are produced without an imbalance of air pressure in the vocal tract that might cause turbulence. [−son] describes the obstruents, articulated with a noticeable turbulence caused by an imbalance of air pressure in the vocal tract.

Laryngeal

Laryngeal features: The features that specify the glottal states of sounds.

  1. [+/− voice] This feature indicates whether vibration of the vocal folds occurs with the articulation of the segment.
  2. [+/− spread

    Major class features: The features that represent the major classes of sounds.

    1. [+/− syllabic][citation needed] Syllabic s

      Laryngeal features: The features that specify the glottal states of sounds.

      1. [+/− voice] This feature indicates whether vibration of the vocal folds occurs with the articulation of the segment.
      2. [+/− spread glottis] Used to indicate the aspiration of a segment, this feature denotes the openness of the glottis. For [+sg], the vocal folds are spread apart widely enough for frication to occur; for [−sg], there is not the same friction-inducing spreading.
      3. [+/− constricted glottis] The constricted glottis features denotes the degree of closure of the glottis. [+cg] implies that the vocal folds are held closely together, enough so that air cannot pass through momentarily, while [−cg] implies the opposite.

      Manner

      Manner features: The features that specify the manner of articulation.

      1. [+/− continuant] This feature describes the passage of air through the vocal tract. [+cont] segments are produced without any significant obstruction in the tract, allowing air to pass through in a continuous stream. [−cont] segments, on the other hand, have such an obstruction, and so occlude the air flow at some point of articulation.
      2. [+/− nasal] This feature describes the position of the velum. [+nas] segments are produced by lowering the velum so that air can pass through the nasal tract. [−nas] segments conversely are produced with a raised velum, blocking the passage of air to the nasal tract and shunting it to the oral tract.
      3. [+/− strident] The strident feature applies to obstruents only and refers to a type of friction that is noisier than usual. This is caused by high energy white noise.
      4. [+/− lateral] This feature designates the shape and positioning of the tongue with respect to the oral tract. [+lat] segments are produced as the center of the tongue rises to contact the roof of the mouth, thereby blocking air from flowing centrally through the oral tract and instead forcing more lateral flow along the lowered side(s) of the tongue.
      5. [+/− delayed release]manner of articulation.

        1. [+/− continuant] This feature describes the passage of air through the vocal tract. [+cont] segments are produced without any significant obstruction in the tract, allowing air to pass through in a continuous stream. [−cont] segments, on the other hand, have such an obstruction, and so occlude the air flow at some point of articulation.
        2. [+/− nasal] This feature describes the position of the velum. [+nas] segments are produced by lowering the velum so that air can pass through the nasal tract. [−nas] segments conversely are produced with a raised velum, blocking the passage of air to the nasal tract and shunting it to the oral tract.
        3. [+/− strident] The strident feature applies to obstruents only and refers to a type of friction that is noisier than usual. This is caused by high energy white noise.
        4. [+/− place of articulation.

          1. [+/− round]: [+round] are produced with lip rounding, while [−round] are not.
          1. [+/− anterior]: Anterior segments are articulated with the tip or blade o

            Vowels are distinguished by

            1. [+/− back] (back vowels)
            2. [+/− high] (close vowels)
            3. [+/− low] (low vowels)
            4. [+/− tense] (tense vowels)

            However, laryngoscopic studies suggest[citation needed] the features are

            1. [+/− front] (front vowels)
            2. [+/− raised] (raised vowels)
            3. [+/− retracted] (retracted vowels)
            4. [+/− round] (round vowels)

            Jakobsonian system

            This system is given by Jakobson & Halle (1971, 3.6, 3.7).

            Sonority

            Protensity

            • [+/− tense]

            Tonality

            Other uses

            The concept of a distinctive feature matrix to distinguish similar elements is identified with phonology, but there have been at least two efforts to use a distinctive feature matrix in related fields. Close to phonology, and clearly acknowledging its debt to phonology, distinctive features have been used to describe and differentiate handshapes in fingerspelling in American Sign Language.[5] Distinctive features have also been used to distinguish proverbs from other types of language such as slogans, clichés, and aphorisms.[6]

            Analogous feature systems are also used throughout [citation needed] the features are

            1. [+/− front] (front vowels)
            2. [+/− raised] (raised vowels)
            3. [+/− retracted] (retracted vowels)
            4. [+/− round] (round vowels)

            This system is given by Jakobson & Halle (1971, 3.6, 3.7).

            Sonority

            • [+/− vocalic] vocalic, non-vocalic
            • [+/− consonantal] consonantal, non-consonantal
            • [+/− nasal] nasal, oral
            • [+/− compact] forward-flanged: velar and palatal consonant, wide vowelfingerspelling in American Sign Language.[5] Distinctive features have also been used to distinguish proverbs from other types of language such as slogans, clichés, and aphorisms.[6]

              Analogous feature systems are also used throughout Natural Language Processing (NLP). For example, part-of-speech tagging divides words into categories. These include "major" categories such as Noun vs. Verb, but also other dimensions such as person and number, plurality, tense, and others. Some mnemonics for part-of-speech tags conjoin multiple features, such as "NN" for singular noun, vs. "NNS" for plural noun, vs. "NNS$" for plural possessive noun (see Brown Corpus). Others provide more explicit separation of features, even formalizing them via markup such as the Text Encoding Initiative's feature structures. Modern statistical NLP uses vectors of very many features, although many of those features are not formally "distinctive" in the sense described here.

              See also

              References

              1. ^ Gussenhoven & Jacobs 2017, p. 64-65.
              2. ^ Gussenhoven & Jacobs 2017, p. 72-73.
              3. ^ Gussenhoven & Jacobs 2017, p. 65.
              4. ^ Natural Language Processing (NLP). For example, part-of-speech tagging divides words into categories. These include "major" categories such as Noun vs. Verb, but also other dimensions such as person and number, plurality, tense, and others. Some mnemonics for part-of-speech tags conjoin multiple features, such as "NN" for singular noun, vs. "NNS" for plural noun, vs. "NNS$" for plural possessive noun (see Brown Corpus). Others provide more explicit separation of features, even formalizing them via markup such as the Text Encoding Initiative's feature structures. Modern statistical NLP uses vectors of very many features, although many of those features are not formally "distinctive" in the sense described here.