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21. Vowel Height

Douglas Pulleyblank

Subject Theoretical Linguistics » Phonology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184236.2011.00023.x


While all languages have vowels, and all vowels can be described as having a height, actually defining vowel height turns out to be a rather interesting problem (see also chapter 19 : vowel place ). Consider the systems in (1). It would be fairly uncontroversial to assume that a two-vowel system such as (1a) distinguishes between two vowel heights and that a five-vowel system such as (1b) distinguishes between three heights (although see below). The number of “heights” in the seven- and ten-vowel systems, however, depends on various factors. One view of a ten-vowel system such as (1d) is that it involves three “heights” (high, mid, low) cross-cut by a tongue-root feature; an alternative is that such a system involves a highly differentiated height feature with six heights. A seven-vowel pattern such as (1c) presents more analytic indeterminacy. One possibility is to analyze such a pattern as a simplified version of the ten-vowel system: a three-height system with a tongue-root distinction in the mid vowels, or a four-height system with a differentiated height pattern as in (1d), but with four rather than six distinctions. An additional possibility is to consider the seven-vowel and ten-vowel systems to be qualitatively different: while a ten-vowel inventory like (1d) could be analyzed as involving three heights plus a tongue-root distinction, a seven-vowel inventory like ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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