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Article

The fundamental idea underlying the use of distinctive features in phonology is the proposition that the same phonetic properties that distinguish one phoneme from another also play a crucial role in accounting for phonological patterns. Phonological rules and constraints apply to natural classes of segments, expressed in terms of features, and involve mechanisms, such as spreading or agreement, that copy distinctive features from one segment to another. Contrastive specification builds on this by taking seriously the idea that phonological features are distinctive features. Many phonological patterns appear to be sensitive only to properties that crucially distinguish one phoneme from another, ignoring the same properties when they are redundant or predictable. For example, processes of voicing assimilation in many languages apply only to the class of obstruents, where voicing distinguishes phonemic pairs such as /t/ and /d/, and ignore sonorant consonants and vowels, which are predictably voiced. In theories of contrastive specification, features that do not serve to mark phonemic contrasts (such as [+voice] on sonorants) are omitted from underlying representations. Their phonological inertness thus follows straightforwardly from the fact that they are not present in the phonological system at the point at which the pattern applies, though the redundant features may subsequently be filled in either before or during phonetic implementation. In order to implement a theory of contrastive specification, it is necessary to have a means of determining which features are contrastive (and should thus be specified) and which ones are redundant (and should thus be omitted). A traditional and intuitive method involves looking for minimal pairs of phonemes: if [±voice] is the only property that can distinguish /t/ from /d/, then it must be specified on them. This approach, however, often identifies too few contrastive features to distinguish the phonemes of an inventory, particularly when the phonetic space is sparsely populated. For example, in the common three-vowel inventory /i a u/, there is more than one property that could distinguish any two vowels: /i/ differs from /a/ in both place (front versus back or central) and height (high versus low), /a/ from /u/ in both height and rounding, and /u/ from /i/ in both rounding and place. Because pairwise comparison cannot identify any features as contrastive in such cases, much recent work in contrastive specification is instead based on a hierarchical sequencing of features, with specifications assigned by dividing the full inventory into successively smaller subsets. For example, if the inventory /i a u/ is first divided according to height, then /a/ is fully distinguished from the other two vowels by virtue of being low, and the second feature, either place or rounding, is contrastive only on the high vowels. Unlike pairwise comparison, this approach produces specifications that fully distinguish the members of the underlying inventory, while at the same time allowing for the possibility of cross-linguistic variation in the specifications assigned to similar inventories.

Article

Edward Flemming

Dispersion Theory concerns the constraints that govern contrasts, the phonetic differences that can distinguish words in a language. Specifically it posits that there are distinctiveness constraints that favor contrasts that are more perceptually distinct over less distinct contrasts. The preference for distinct contrasts is hypothesized to follow from a preference to minimize perceptual confusion: In order to recover what a speaker is saying, a listener must identify the words in the utterance. The more confusable words are, the more likely a listener is to make errors. Because contrasts are the minimal permissible differences between words in a language, banning indistinct contrasts reduces the likelihood of misperception. The term ‘dispersion’ refers to the separation of sounds in perceptual space that results from maximizing the perceptual distinctiveness of the contrasts between those sounds, and is adopted from Lindblom’s Theory of Adaptive Dispersion, a theory of phoneme inventories according to which inventories are selected so as to maximize the perceptual differences between phonemes. These proposals follow a long tradition of explaining cross-linguistic tendencies in the phonetic and phonological form of languages in terms of a preference for perceptually distinct contrasts. Flemming proposes that distinctiveness constraints constitute one class of constraints in an Optimality Theoretic model of phonology. In this context, distinctiveness constraints predict several basic phenomena, the first of which is the preference for maximal dispersion in inventories of contrasting sounds that first motivated the development of the Theory of Adaptive Dispersion. But distinctiveness constraints are formulated as constraints on the surface forms of possible words that interact with other phonological constraints, so they evaluate the distinctiveness of contrasts in context. As a result, Dispersion Theory predicts that contrasts can be neutralized or enhanced in particular phonological contexts. This prediction arises because the phonetic realization of sounds depends on their context, so the perceptual differences between contrasting sounds also depend on context. If the realization of a contrast in a particular context would be insufficiently distinct (i.e., it would violate a high-ranked distinctiveness constraint), there are two options: the offending contrast can be neutralized, or it can be modified (‘enhanced’) to make it more distinct. A basic open question regarding Dispersion Theory concerns the proper formulation of distinctiveness constraints and the extent of variation in their rankings across languages, issues that are tied up with the questions about the nature of perceptual distinctiveness. Another concerns the size and nature of the comparison set of contrasting word-forms required to be able to evaluate whether a candidate output satisfies distinctiveness constraints.

Article

Jon Scott Stevens

Generally speaking, ‘focus’ refers to the portion of an utterance which is especially informative or important within the context, and which is marked as such via some linguistic means. It can be difficult to provide a single precise definition, as the term is used somewhat differently for different languages and in different research traditions. Most often, it refers to the linguistic marking of (i) contrast, (ii) question-answering status, (iii) exhaustivity, or (iv) discourse unexpectability. An illustration of each of these possibilities is given below. In English, the focus-marked elements (indicated below with brackets) are realized with additional prosodic prominence in the form of a strong pitch accent (indicated by capital letters). (i) An [AMERICAN] farmer met a [CANADIAN] farmer… (ii) Q: Who called last night? A: [BILL] called last night. (iii) Only [an ELEPHANT] could have made those tracks. (iv) I can’t believe it: The Ohioans are fighting [OHIOANS] ! The underlying intuition common to all these instantiations is that a focus represents the minimal information needed to convey an important semantic distinction. Focus can be signaled prosodically (e.g., in the form of a strong pitch accent), syntactically (e.g., by moving focused phrases to a special position in the sentence), or morphologically (e.g., by appending a special affix to focused elements), with different crosslinguistic focus marking strategies often carrying slightly different restrictions on their use. Example (i) evokes a set of two contrasting alternatives, {‘American farmer,’ ‘Canadian farmer’}, and the meaning ‘farmer’ is common to both members of the set. That is, within this evoked set of alternatives, ‘farmer’ is redundant, and it is the nationality of the farmers which differentiates the two people. Example (ii) exhibits a similar property. One of the standard theories of question semantics represents questions as sets of possible appropriate answers. For (ii), this would be a set of propositions like {‘Bill called last night, ‘Sue called last night,’ etc.}. As with (i), there is an evoked set of meanings whose members share some overlapping semantic material. Within this set, the verb phrase meaning ‘called last night’ is redundant, and it is the identity of the subject that serves to differentiate the true answer. Example (iii) demonstrates a relationship between focus and certain words like only. The sentence means something like ‘of all the animals who might have made these tracks, it must be an elephant.’ As with (i) and (ii), this involves a set of alternatives: the set of possible track makers. That the sentence serves to single out a unique member of this set as being the true track maker makes the subject an elephant a natural focus of the sentence. Finally, in (iv), we see that focus on ‘Ohioans’ is being used to contrast the semantic content of the sentence with some preconception, namely that Ohioans are unlikely fighters of Ohioans. Examples (iii) and (iv) point to more specific uses of focus in different languages. In Hungarian, so-called identificational focus, which is marked syntactically, requires an exhaustive interpretation, as if a silent only were present. And in some Chadic languages, a meaning of “discourse unexpectability,” as in (iv), is required to mark focus via syntactic or morphological means.

Article

Christopher Pountain

Definition of the copula as a discrete grammatical category is problematic. It is the semantically unmarked copulas (simple equivalents of the English verb ‘to be’) which deserve most attention in a comparison of the Romance languages; they have a typically suppletive historical morphology and are often the result of the grammaticalization of full lexical verbs, the point at which true unmarked copular status is achieved being sometimes difficult to identify. The unmarked copulas of the Ibero-Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan) have the most complex distribution and have proved the most difficult to account for synchronically. The situation in the early 21st century is the consequence of a progressive encroachment of the reflexes of Latin stare and other verbs on the functions of Latin esse (reference is made to the Classical Latin form esse for convenience; however, the Romance paradigms must be taken to derive from a Vulgar Latin form *essĕre, into which other verbs, notably sedēre ‘to sit’ in the case of the Ibero-Romance languages, were suppletively incorporated). The contrastive study of the development of cognate copular verbs in closely related languages needs closer attention in regard to the identification of the parameters of copula choice with adjectival complements.

Article

Anna M. Thornton

Overabundance is the situation in which two (or more) inflectional forms are available to realize the same cell in the inflectional paradigm of a lexeme (i.e., to express the meaning arising from the combination of the lexical meaning of the lexeme and the morphosyntactic and morphosemantic feature values that define the cell). An example from English is dreamed / dreamt, both of which realize ‘dream.pst’, the past tense of the verb dream. The forms that realize the same cell are called cell mates. Certain cell mates can be used interchangeably in the same context, even by the same speaker, with no difference in style and meaning; other cell mates are subject to various kinds of conditions, so that different forms are used in different styles, registers, social or geographic dialects, or in different semantic, syntactic or pragmatic contexts. Cell mates by definition are formally different in some respect: they may display different stems (e.g., Italian sepol-to / seppelli-to ‘bury-pst.ptcp’), or different endings (e.g., Czech jazyk-u / jazyk-a ‘language-gen.sg’), they may be built according to different means (e.g., English more choosy / choosier ‘choosy.comp’, where the first cell mate is periphrastic and the second one synthetic), or they may differ in various other ways. Overabundance can be limited to a specific cell of a specific lexeme, or it can occur systematically in certain cells of certain lexemes or of all lexemes in a given word class and language (e.g., all Spanish verbs have two ways of realizing all the forms of the imperfect subjunctive). Most linguists assume that overabundance can exist only as a transitional stage during diachronic change, and that any single speaker only uses one of the cell mates available in a community’s repertoire; besides, many assume that cell mates always differ according to geo-socio-stylistic conditions, or in meaning. However, corpus based studies of specific instances of overabundance have shown that there are cases of truly interchangeable cell mates, that a single speaker can use different cell mates even within the same utterance, and that some instances of overabundance are stably attested for centuries. Language standardization often aims at eliminating overabundance, but low frequency forms may escape elimination and remain in usage. Many principles assumed to regulate language acquisition (e.g., Clark’s Principle of Contrast) ban overabundance; however, forms acquired later than in the early stages of language acquisition, sometimes only with schooling, may escape this ban. Even principles of grammar, such as Blocking, or Pāṇini’s principle, appear to entail the impossibility of having synonymous cell mates. However, much depends on the exact formulation of these principles; and the existence of cell mates can be reconciled with certain versions of them and has been acknowledged in much recent work in theoretical morphology.

Article

Young-mee Yu Cho

Due to a number of unusual and interesting properties, Korean phonetics and phonology have been generating productive discussion within modern linguistic theories, starting from structuralism, moving to classical generative grammar, and more recently to post-generative frameworks of Autosegmental Theory, Government Phonology, Optimality Theory, and others. In addition, it has been discovered that a description of important issues of phonology cannot be properly made without referring to the interface between phonetics and phonology on the one hand, and phonology and morpho-syntax on the other. Some phonological issues from Standard Korean are still under debate and will likely be of value in helping to elucidate universal phonological properties with regard to phonation contrast, vowel and consonant inventories, consonantal markedness, and the motivation for prosodic organization in the lexicon.

Article

Empirical and theoretical research on language has recently experienced a period of extensive growth. Unfortunately, however, in the case of the Japanese language, far fewer studies—particularly those written in English—have been presented on adult second language (L2) learners and bilingual children. As the field develops, it is increasingly important to integrate theoretical concepts and empirical research findings in second language acquisition (SLA) of Japanese, so that the concepts and research can be eventually applied to educational practice. This article attempts to: (a) address at least some of the gaps currently existing in the literature, (b) deal with important topics to the extent possible, and (c) discuss various problems with regard to adult learners of Japanese as an L2 and English–Japanese bilingual children. Specifically, the article first examines the characteristics of the Japanese language. Tracing the history of SLA studies, this article then deliberately touches on a wide spectrum of domains of linguistic knowledge (e.g., phonology and phonetics, morphology, lexicon, semantics, syntax, discourse), context of language use (e.g., interactive conversation, narrative), research orientations (e.g., formal linguistics, psycholinguistics, social psychology, sociolinguistics), and age groups (e.g., children, adults). Finally, by connecting past SLA research findings in English and recent/present concerns in Japanese as SLA with a focus on the past 10 years including corpus linguistics, this article provides the reader with an overview of the field of Japanese linguistics and its critical issues.