"Contrast And Asymmetries In Inventories"

Talk presented at the Asymmetry Conference, Université du Québec à Montréal, May 2001.


I argue that in any inventory characterized by more than one distinctive feature it is necessary to specify the relative scope of each feature by means of a contrastive hierarchy. I begin with some general observations about the logic of contrast. Then I briefly look at the history of the notion of the contrastive hierarchy in phonological theory. Finally, I illustrate the workings of the contrastive hierarchy with respect to synchronic and diachronic patterns in the vowel systems of the Manchu languages.