The lexicon has its grammar, which the grammar knows nothing of. Marginal contrast and phonological theory

  • Patrik Bye University of Tromsø
Keywords: phonology, contrast, marginal phonemes, lexical stratification


Marginal phonemes exploit systemically latent possibilities of contrast but have unusual lexical distributions characterized by clustering according to expressive function or morphological structure. This paper discusses examples of marginal contrast from several languages and shows that, despite initial appearances, it is not possible to confine marginally contrasting items to well-defined strata, lexical or morphological. Marginal phonemes are structure preserving, and turn up, however infrequently, in core and non-derived environments. Explanations for clustering must accordingly be sought outside grammatical theory.