Phonetic bases of distinctive features
In spite of their importance, the phonetic basis of features remains poorly understood. Features are typically defined, according to the researcher, either in the articulatory-aerodynamic domain or in the acoustic-auditory domain. Recently a new initiative has emerged within the framework of the quantal theory of speech, developed by K.N. Stevens and his colleagues at MIT. The main originality of this theory is the equal status it attributes to the acoustic and articulatory dimensions of spoken language. Features are defined with respect to certain articulatory dimensions within which small shifts in the position of the tongue, lips, or vocal cords do not have major consequences for at the perceptual level.
Figure 1. Schematic representation of the relation between (a) an articulatory parameter resp. acoustic effect, and (b) an acoustic parameter resp. auditory response, as the first parameter is manipulated through a range of values. (After K.N. Stevens)
Quantal theory is among the recent models which has most successfully integrated phonetics and phonology. However, quantal theory has not yet been submitted to a rigorous empirical testing in many areas. In our current grant-funded project*, a team of researchers at the LPP, Paris is currently undertaking such testing. The following questions are being raised, among others: What is the acoustic and articulatory definition of each feature? Can a quantal definition be assigned to each feature? Do defining properties of quantal features appear in all contexts? If not, what is the role of enhancement?
2006 G. N. Clements & Rachid Ridouane, "Quantal phonetics and distinctive features:
a Review." In Antonis Botinis, ed., Proceedings
of the ISCA Tutorial and Research Workshop on Experimental Linguistics, 28-30 August 2006, 17-24.
2006 G. N. Clements & Rachid Ridouane, "Distinctive feature enhancement: a
review." In Antonis Botinis, ed., Proceedings
of the ISCA Tutorial and Research Workshop on Experimental Linguistics, 28-30 August 2006, 97-100.
Stevens, "Invariance and variability in speech: Interpreting acoustic
evidence." Proceedings of the Conference "From Sound to Sense", June 11 –