Distinctive Features replacement

Distinctive Features (click here to open)

This exercise is optional. It introduces a different way of describing/categorizing the sounds of English.

One way to categorize English phonemes is to sort the sounds into features that can be broadly described by what the vocal organs do: the position of the tongue, for example, or the presence of voicing, or whether the air flows into the nasal cavity, etc. This exercise identifies eighteen features that are either present or absent (no grades of difference!) in the distinctive sounds of English. Each phoneme is thus identified by a bundle of features, and no two phonemes have the same set. Some of the features correspond in a transparent way to the conventional charts of vowels and consonants encountered earlier, but others like anterior and sibilant are found only here. One advantage of analyzing sounds this way is that some categories like rounding affect both vowels and consonants, which the other kinds of charts cannot show.

The exercise on the following pages divides the thirty-five phonemes of American English into three groups, and you will need to complete a chart for each group in turn. For each sound identify whether the phonemic feature in question is present or absent (+ or -). A definition of each feature will appear in a separate window by clicking on the feature's name to the left of the chart. Also, an audio clip of each phoneme will play by clicking on the letter at the top of the chart. To complete the chart, click on each node to turn the question mark to a plus (+) or minus (-); if you change your mind, click again to change the value. One sample column is already completed.

Once you fill in all the values, hit the submit button. If you make any mistakes the chart reappears showing every value you assigned except for the spots with an incorrect answer, which will display a question mark. Fill in new values and hit the submit button again. The chart will continue to reappear until every correct value has been entered. Then the exercise will proceed to the second and third charts in turn, where you repeat the procedure. As you work through the exercise, you may want to have your textbook open to the pages with the conventional charts for vowels and consonants.

Once you correctly complete the last of the three groups you will be rewarded with a chance to gaze in awe at the full, completed chart. Take a few moments to pick out some of the patterns. You may notice, for example, that some sounds like [n] have a bundle of features present. One phoneme has only one distinctive feature with a + value: which one is it?