Absolute neutralisation

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In phonology, absolute neutralization is a phenomenon in which a segment of the underlying representation of a morpheme is not realized in any of its phonetic representations (surface forms). The term was introduced by Paul Kiparsky (1968), and contrasts with contextual neutralization (which is closer to the traditional form of phonological neutralization).

For example, Chomsky & Halle (1968) assume that the underlying representation of the word ellipse contains a final segment /e/ even though this segment is never pronounced. But the assumption of this segment in underlying representation explains the exceptional stress pattern of the word, i.e. that of trisyllabic words instead of that of bisyllabic words, i.e. /ellípse/ instead of /éllipse/. The segment /e/ is deleted after the assignment of stress: thus the opposition between /e/ and zero (the absence of a segment) is neutralized.


  • Kiparsky, P., Linguistic universals and linguistic change. In: E. Bach & R.T. Harms (eds.), Universals in linguistic theory, 1968, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston (pp. 170–202)