More observations on privative features

๐Ÿ•‘ 7 min • ๐Ÿ‘ค Thomas Graf • ๐Ÿ“† June 17, 2019 in Discussions • ๐Ÿท features, privativity, phonology, syntax, transductions

In an earlier post I looked at privativity in the domain of feature sets: given a collection of features, what conditions must be met by their extensions in order for these features to qualify as privative. But that post concluded with the observation that looking at the features in isolation might be a case of the dog barking up the wrong tree. Features are rarely of interest on their own, what matters is how they interact with the rest of the grammatical machinery. This is the step from a feature set to a feature system. Naively, one might expect that a privative feature set gives rise to a privative feature system. But thatโ€™s not at all the case. The reason for that is easy to explain yet difficult to fix.

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Some observations on privative features

๐Ÿ•‘ 9 min • ๐Ÿ‘ค Thomas Graf • ๐Ÿ“† June 11, 2019 in Discussions • ๐Ÿท features, privativity, phonology, syntax

One topic that came up at the feature workshop is whether features are privative or binary (aka equipollent). Among mathematical linguists itโ€™s part of the general folklore that there is no meaningful distinction between the two. Translating from a privative feature specification to a binary one is trivial. If we have three features \(f\), \(g\), and \(h\), then the privative bundle \(\{f, g\}\) is equivalent to \([+f, +g, -h]\). In the other direction, we can make binary features privative by simply interpreting the \(+\)/\(-\) as part of the feature name. That is to say, \(-f\) isnโ€™t a feature \(f\) with value \(-\), itโ€™s simply the privative feature \(\text{minus} f\). Some arguments add a bit of sophistication to this, e.g.ย the Boolean algebra perspective in Keenan & Mossโ€™s textbook Mathematical Structures in Language. So far so good unsatisfactory.

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