Distinctive feature

A distinctive feature ( distinctive feature ) is an important distinguishing characteristic of linguistic objects.

The concept was originally developed in phonology, then made ​​generally fruitful in linguistics and is used among other things in computational linguistics.

The distinctive feature in the phonology


A phonological distinctive feature is defined as articulatory feature of a sound ( phon ) or it abstracted phoneme, which is responsible within the phonological system of a language for the meaning of differentiation.

For conceptual differences not responsible features redundant features are mentioned.


  • [e ː ]: medium high, front, unrounded, long
  • [ ɛ ]: medium high, front, unrounded, short


The term distinctive feature was originally introduced by Roman Jakobson phonological units.

As distinctive features are the essential properties of phonemes, phonemes are defined as a " bundle of distinctive features ".

This causes in some phonological theories, to keep only the distinctive features and not phonemes crucial.

Jakobson presented in phonology to a system of binary features, with each speech sound is writable. The bivalence of phonological distinctive features allows for the creation of a feature matrix.

The feature analysis of phonemes allows to explain articulatory changes in a language change as processes and so called in a language regular opposition relations ( correlations) to determine (for example in German: Lenis / Fortis - / b / :/ p /, / g / :/ k / ).

Partial is argued that phonological distinctive features are universal.

The phoneme inventory of a language can be reduced to the phonological distinctive features. According to Jakobson (1951 ) it requires only 12 features. Meadow goes out for German of 37 phonemes and 22 distinctive features.

The distinctive feature in linguistics in general

The term of the feature was transferred from phonology to morphology and lexicology.

Generally speaking, a distinct element of the significant distinguishing characteristic of a linguistic unit, which is determined by comparison with another linguistic unit that matches up to the distinctive feature with her.

The distinctive feature in computational linguistics

The term feature is ambiguous in computational linguistics, in addition to distinctive features, there are also linguistic features in the so-called feature structures.