A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology

By R. L. Trask | Go to book overview

J

Jakobson-Halle feature system

n. A major system of distinctive features, the first complete system to be proposed. Derived from the earlier ideas of the Prague School, the system was developed by Roman Jakobson and his colleagues in the 1950s, notably in Jakobson et al. (1952) and Jakobson and Halle (1956); the 1956 version is here taken as canonical. Since these scholars were working at the time with the sound spectrograph, the J-H features are explicitly acoustic, though all of them are also given articulatory interpretations. In principle, the features are exclusively binary, though the flat/plain and sharp/plain contrasts really disguise a single ternary feature, and there is the complication that features are sometimes allowed to take the value zero, meaning 'irrelevant' or 'inapplicable'. The terminology is unusual, in that both values of each feature are given independent names, so that, for example, the specifications [grave] and [acute] are used instead of [+grave] and [-grave]. Only twelve features are recognized, as follows: vocalic/non-vocalic; consonantal/ non-consonantal; compact/diffuse; tense/lax; voiced/voiceless; nasal/oral; discontinuous/continuant; strident/mellow; checked/ unchecked; grave/acute; flat/plain; sharp/plain. Though widely used in the 1950s and 1960s, the system suffers from two major problems. First, it fails to capture certain obvious natural classes: for example, palatal consonants differ from velars as [compact] vs. [diffuse], but palatalized consonants (including velars) are distinguished from non-palatalized counterparts as [sharp] vs. [plain] - leaving the analyst no way of treating palatal and palatalized consonants uniformly. Second, it unites under a single feature specification quite different articulatory phenomena which have broadly similar acoustic effects. For example, the feature [flat] covers all of lip-rounding, retroflexion and pharyngealization, and hence the system effectively claims that no language can distinctively use more than one of these devices, a claim quickly shown to be false. Under increasing pressure from the proponents of articulatory features, the J-H system was eventually superseded in most linguistic usage by the SPE feature system; nevertheless, certain J-H features, notably [strident] and [grave], have continued in use.

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A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vi
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Guide to Pronunciation xii
  • A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology xiii
  • A 1
  • B 46
  • C 62
  • D 101
  • E 126
  • F 139
  • G 154
  • H 165
  • I 175
  • J 188
  • K 191
  • L 193
  • M 214
  • N 232
  • O 245
  • P 254
  • Q 298
  • R 299
  • S 316
  • T 350
  • U 365
  • V 371
  • W 385
  • X 391
  • Y 392
  • Z 393
  • Appendix: the International Phonetic Alphabet (Revised to 1993) 394
  • References 395
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