Measuring the Functional Load of Phonological Contrasts

Dinoj Surendran; Partha Niyogi. 4 November, 2003.
Communicated by Partha Niyogi.


Frequency counts are a measure of how much use a language makes of a linguistic unit, such as a phoneme or a word. However, what is often important is not the units themselves, but the contrasts between them. A measure is therefore needed for how much use a language makes of a contrast, i.e., the functional load (FL) of the contrast. We generalize previous work in linguistics and speech recognition and propose a family of measures for the FL of several phonological contrasts, including phonemic oppositions, distinctive features, suprasegmentals, and phonological rules. We then test it for robustness to changes of corpora. Finally, we provide examples in Cantonese, Dutch, English, German, and Mandarin, in the context of historical linguistics, language acquisition and speech recognition. More information can be found at

Original Document

The original document is available in Postscript (uploaded 4 November, 2003 by Partha Niyogi).