The geometry of phonological features*

G. N. Clementsa1

a1 Cornell University

On the notion ‘feature bundle’ The study of the phonological aspect of human speech has advanced greatly over the past decades as a result of one of the fundamental discoveries of modern linguistics – the fact that phonological segments, or phonemes, are not the ultimate constituents of phonological analysis, but factor into smaller, simultaneous properties or features. The apparently vast number of speech sounds found in the languages of the world turn out to be surface-level realisations of a limited number of combinations of a very small set of such features – some twenty or so, in current analyses. This conclusion is strongly supported by the similar patterning of speech sounds in language after language, and by many extragrammatical features of language use, such as patterns of acquisition, language disablement and language change.


* In preparing this paper I have benefited from discussion with Joan Mascaró, S. J. Keyser, Patricia Keating and Prathima Christdas. Thanks are also due to Kenstowicz & Kisseberth (1979) for problem 2, chapter 2.