An Introduction to Element Theory

An Introduction to Element Theory

An Introduction to Element Theory

An Introduction to Element Theory


This book invites students of linguistics to challenge and reassess their existing assumptions about the form of phonological representations and the place of phonology in generative grammar. It does this by offering a comprehensive introduction to Element Theory. The book compares the theory with standard models of segmental structure in order to reveal its motivation, its mechanisms and its application to language data. Phillip Backley has been actively involved with recent developments in Element Theory, and is confident that this approach has a promising future as a strong alternative to feature-based models of representation. This book fills a gap for a textbook introduction to the Element Theory model.

Special features:-The book includes ninety line diagrams and written exercises at the end of each chapter.


Phonology is the branch of linguistics that describes what humans know about the sound structure of their native language. This knowledge is fairly diverse, but in this book we will focus on just one aspect of it – our knowledge of segments, their internal structure and their behaviour in languages. The book is aimed at students of linguistics who are already familiar with basic concepts in phonology. However, it is also accessible to those who are new to the subject, and equally, to those with a background in phonology who wish to explore recent developments in the field.

Most phonology textbooks present the subject from a traditional angle, using ideas and terminology that have not changed very much in several decades. The advantage of this standard approach is that it offers an ideal context for introducing basic theoretical concepts such as contrast, alternation and derivation. But there are also some disadvantages: it does not reflect how our understanding of phonology is changing, and also, it overlooks the possibility that some aspects of the standard approach may be flawed. This book questions one particular aspect of the standard approach – namely, the use of binary features such as [±cont], [±ant], [±high] and so on. Features provide a rich and powerful means of representing segmental structure, which is why they have shown such a remarkable endurance. Indeed, the features in use today are not radically different from those employed by early generative phonologists during the 1960s and 1970s. But despite their widespread appeal, features turn out to be problematic in at least two respects. First, they are mostly based on articulation, even though there is no particular reason why segments should be described from the speaker’s point of view. And second, they have two values, [+f] and [–f], even though using [–f] to mark the absence of a property leads to incorrect predictions about the behaviour of segments.

This book addresses these problems by introducing elements as an alternative to traditional features. The version of Element Theory . . .

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