The Distinctive Feature Concept. The Binary Choice
The concept of distinctive feature is just as basic in structural linguistics as are the phoneme and the sign. This concept is in fact a necessary consequence of the phonemic principle, and more particularly of phonemic classification and of phonemic codes, in so far as these are based on physical criteria1. It thus follows automatically from what was said above (in Chap. II) about the communication process and about encoding and decoding of a message. If the linguistic mechanism is a game with oppositions and identities, we have to face the problem: what is the minimal difference between the terms of an opposition? The answer must be that the slightest difference admitted between two phonemes is a distinctive feature. A phoneme thus becomes a bun bundle of distinctive features. Those are the ultimate distinctive units in language, the atoms of linguistic structure.
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