Jakobsonian system

This system is given by Jakobson & Halle (1971, 3.6, 3.7).

Sonority features


  • acoustically - presence (vs. absence) of a sharply defined formant structure;
  • genetically - primary or only excitation at the glottis together with a free passage through the buccal tract.


  • acoustically - presence (vs. absence) of a characteristic lowering in frequency of the first formant, a lowering which results in a reduction of the overall intensity of the sound and/or of only certain frequency regions;
  • genetically - presence (vs. absence) of an obstruction in the buccal tract.

VOWELS are vocalic and non-consonantal.
CONSONANTS are consonantal and non-vocalic.
LIQUIDS are vocalic and consonantal (with both free passage and obstruction in the buccal cavity and with the corresponding acoustic effect).
GLIDES are non-vocalic and non-consonantal;

[+ v] [- v]
  • they never participate in the oppositions grave/acute and compact/diffuse.
  • the basic or only glide of a given language is a one-feature phoneme in opposition to a phonemic zero.
    • cf. Engl. hall/all

NASAL/ORAL (properly speaking, nasalized/non-nasalized)

  • acoustically - presence (vs. absence) of the characteristic stationary nasal formant with a concomitant reduction in the intensity of the sound and an increased damping of certain oral formants;
  • genetically - mouth resonator supplemented by the nose cavity (vs. the exclusion of the nasal resonator).


  • acoustically - concentration of energy in a relatively narrow, central region of the auditory spectrum (vs. a concentration of energy in a non-central region), with a concomitant increase (vs. decrease) of the total amount of energy and its spread in time;
  • genetically - forward-flanged vs. backward-flanged. The difference lies in the relation between the shape and volume of the resonance chamber in front of the narrowest stricture and behind this stricture. The resonator of the forward-flanged phonemes (wide vowels, and velar or palatal, including post-alveolar, consonants) is horn-shaped, whereas the backward-flanged phonemes (narrow vowels, and labial or dental, including alveolar consonants) have a cavity that approximates a Helmholtz resonator.

In vowel systems this feature often appears to be split into two autonomous features - compact/non-compact (higher vs. lower concentration of energy in the central region), and diffuse/non-diffuse (higher vs. lower concentration of energy in a non-central region).

[compact] + - -
[diffuse] - - +


  • acoustically - silence (at least in the frequency range above the vocal cord vibration) followed and/or preceded by a spread of energy over a wide frequency region, either as a burst or as a rapid transition of vowel formants (vs. absence of abrupt transition between sound and 'silence');
  • genetically - rapid turning on or off of source either through that swift closure and/or opening of the buccal tract which distinguishes plosives from constrictive, or through one or more taps which differentiate the abrupt liquids like a flap or trill /r/ from continuant liquids like the lateral /l/.


  • acoustically - presence (vs. absence) of a higher intensity noise accompanied by a characteristic amplification of the higher frequencies and weakening of the lower formants;
  • genetically - rough-edged vs. smooth-edged: supplementary obstruction creating edge effects (Schneidenton) at the point of articulation distinguishes the production of the rough-edge phonemes from the less complex impediment in their smooth-edged counterparts.


  • acoustically - higher rate of discharge of energy within a reduced interval of time (vs. lower rate of discharge within a longer interval), with a lower (vs. higher) damping;
  • genetically - reduced (vs. non-reduced) portion of air to the stoppage of egressive as well as ingressive pulmonic participation.

Checked phonemes are implemented in three different ways - as ejective (glottalized) consonants, as implosives or as clicks.


  • acoustically - presence (vs. absence) of periodic low frequency excitation;
  • genetically - periodic vibrations of the vocal cords (vs. lack of such vibrations).

Protensity features


  • acoustically: longer (vs. reduced) duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions in the spectrum;
  • genetically: a deliberate (vs. rapid) execution of the required gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation; greater deformation of the buccal tract from its neutral, central position; heightened air pressure. The role of muscular strain, affecting the tongue, the walls of the buccal tract, and the glottis, requires further investigation.

The difference between tense and lax phonemes parallels that between notes played legato and staccato, respectively.

Tonality features


  • acoustically - predominance of the low (vs. high) part of the spectrum;
  • genetically - peripheral vs. medial: peripheral phonemes (velar and labial) have an ampler and less compartmented resonator than the corresponding medial phonemes (palatal and dental).

In the nasal consonants this feature is sometimes split into two autonomous features - grave/non-grave, and acute/non-acute - based on the interplay of the nasal murmur and oral release. The pitch of the resonator murmur effected in the nasal cavity plus the adjacent portion of the buccal cavity from the velic to the oral stricture is lower when the occlusion is made in the anterior part of the mouth cavity as compared to the stricture in its posterior part. In /m/ the twofold low pitch is grave, in /ɲ/ acute, whereas in the dental and velar nasals this opposition may be neutralized by the discrepancy between the gravity and acuteness of the two pitches (murmur and release or vice versa).

m n ɲ ŋ
[grave] + - - +
[acute] - - + +
2 grave 1 grave, 1 acute 2 acute 1 grave, 1 acute


  • acoustically - flat phonemes are opposed to their non-flat counterparts by a downward shift and/or weakening of some of their upper frequency components;
  • genetically - the former (narrowed-slit) phonemes, in contradistinction to the latter (wider-slit) phonemes are produced with a decreased back or front orifice of the mouth resonator and a concomitant velarization which expands the mouth resonator.


  • acoustically - sharp phonemes are opposed to their non-sharp counterparts by an upward shift and/or strengthening of their upper frequency components;
  • genetically - the former (widened-slit) phonemes, in contradistinction to the latter (narrower-slit) phonemes, are produced with a dilated back orifice (pharyngeal pass) of the mouth resonator and a concomitant palatalization which restricts and compartments the mouth cavity.


Jakobson, Roman; Halle, Morris (1971). Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton.

Pub: 25 Feb 2023 10:50 UTC
Edit: 25 Feb 2023 13:51 UTC
Views: 150