15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


Testing Feature Economy

G. N. Clements

Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie-CNRS/Sorbonne-Nouvelle, Paris, France

Why do speech sounds tend to be organized along just a few phonetic dimensions in each language, such as "nasals", "voiced fricatives", etc.? The classic answer to this question was proposed by Martinet (1955): "Une nouvelle economie est realisee en faisant resulter [les phonemes] de combinaisons de traits phoniques nonsuccessifs, ce qui reduit encore le nombre des elements de base" (p. 95). In other words, features introduce a further level of economy by allowing the set of phonemes P to be defined in terms of a smaller set of features, F. Economy exerts pressure on systems to maximize the combinatory possibilities of features by increasing the ratio P/F. This paper outlines a method for testing feature economy, and presents illustrative results involving the patterning of labial consonants.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Clements, G. N. (2003): "Testing feature economy", In ICPhS-15, 2785-2788.