Overview of Distinctive Features

1. Major class features

1.1. Syllabic: sounds that form a peak (nucleus) of a syllable.

[+syll] - Vowels (but never glides)

Consonants are normally [-syll] but syllabic Cs are possible.

1.2.Sonorant: resonant sounds.

[+son]-vowels, nasals, liquids (laterals are sometimes excluded), glides (y, w), approximants.

[-son]-All obstruents: stops, fricatives, affricates.

1.3. Consonantal: complete or very narrow constriction in the VOCAL tract

[+cons]-stops, fricatives, affricates, nasals and liquids.

[-cons]-vowels, glides, glottal stop, h.

2. Major place features

2.1. Labial: sounds, produced with a constriction of one or both lips are labial.

[+lab] bilabials, labiodentals, rounded vowels (in Jensen the corresponding feature for vowels is called [rounded]) , labialized consonants

2.2. Coronal: sounds produced with the tip or the blade of the tongue are coronal.

[+cor] - dental, alveolar, retroflex, palato-alveolar

[-cor]- labial, palatal, velar


3. Minor place features

3.1. Anterior: constriction is at or in front of the alveolar ridge.

[+ant] - dentals, alveolars.

3.2. distributed: coronal sounds, produced with the tongue blade (so called laminal sounds)

sounds produced with the tongue tip are [-distr]


4. Tongue Body Features

Three feature (4.1-4.3) describe the position of the tongue body from the zero position (approximately the position needed for the articulation of the mid front vowel "e" and one feature (4.4) relates to the drawing of the tongue root in tense vowels.

4.1. High: tongue body is raised

[+high] or [+hi] Tongue body is raised. All high vowels, glides, palatal and velar consonants.

4.2. Low: tongue body is lowered.

[+low] or [+lo] - low vowels, pharyngeal Cs

4.3. Back: Tongue body is retracted.

[+back] All central and back vowels, velar, and uvular consonants.

4.4. ATR: drawing the root of the tongue forward. Applies mainly to vowels.

Sometimes this feature is also called [tense]. In English all tense vowels are diphthongs.

Lax vowels [-ATR] are the vowels found in bit, put, bet, and or.


5. Manner of Articulation Features

5.1. Nasal: sounds produced when the velum is lowered are nasal. All others are nonnasal.

5.2. Continuant: Sounds without complete obstruction are continuant.

[-cont] Stops, nasal stops, affricates, glottal stop.

[+cont] Vowels, glides, liquids and fricatives.

5.3. Delayed release: used to distinguish affricates from other obstruents.

5.4. Strident: acoustic property of fricatives. Other sounds are nonstrident. But it is mainly used to distinguish the interdental fricative from the alveolar fricative, as well as some other types of fricatives (see Jensen's consonant chart, ch.1).

[+strid] Labiodental fricatives, alveolar fricatives, palato-alveolar fricatives, uvular fricatives.

[-strid] Bilabial fricatives, interdental fricatives, alveo-palatal fricatives, velar fricatives. All non-fricatives.

5.5. Lateral: sounds produced with air flow over the sides of the tongue (used to distinguish l-sounds from r-sounds).

6. Laryngeal features (glottal state)


6.1.Voice: vocal folds vibrating.

[+voiced] Voiced consonants, sonorants, vowels

6.2. Constricted glottis: vocal folds are adducted

[+constr] glottalized, ejective and implosive consonants, glottal stop.

6.3. Spread glottis: aspirated and murmured consonants, h. Voiceless vowels/glides are [+spread].

7. Summary

All OBSTRUENTS are [+cons], [-son].

Obstruents can be further divided into [+cont] for fricatives, and [-cont] for stops and affricates.

Fricatives are further divided into [+strident] and [-strident].

Stops and affricates are further distinguished by the feature [del. rel.] which has a positive value only for affricates.


SONORANTS (liquids and nasals) are [+cons],[+son].

In addition sonorants are [+nasal] for nasals or [-nasal] for liquids.

Lateral liquids are further distinguished as [+lat], the other liquids being [-lat].


VOWELS, GLIDES, and APPROXIMANTS are [-cons], [+son].