In this article I assume that all phonological processes can be described in terms of a distinctive feature framework in which features are universally determined. Distinctive features are claimed to reflect the phonetic capabilities and limitations of man, and therefore the possible universal inventory of features must be limited in number. However, the choice of a feature paradigm itself is language-specific, and this choice ultimately depends on the necessary phonemic oppositions in each language. In addition, the existence of natural classes of speech sounds relevant to the formulation of phonological processes presupposes a feature hierarchy in which categorical features such as [consonantal], [sonorant] and [continuant] are located above place features. Within this kind of framework it is assumed that some phonological phenomena can best be described by means of a feature format involving a ternary principle: each feature can potentially obtain three values, [+], [-] or [Ø]. It is suggested that this principle, in association with markedness theory, would be (observationally and descriptively) adequate in describing certain (both synchronic and diachronic) lenition and deletion processes in various languages. © 1990.
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