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Hidden Structure in Linguistics: The Organization of Sound Systems

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will discuss some basic notions in the theory of phonology (sound systems
in language). The sounds of a language are generally assumed to be
composed of smaller constituents, called features. The features that
make up a sound cannot be directly obtained from its pronunciation, but
rather must be inferred from the system of contrasts that are at play
in a particular language. How to determine which features are contrastive
presents a logical and empirical puzzle that may be interesting
to students of physics, who are accustomed to explaining observable events
in terms of hidden structures that cannot be directly observed.