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Underspecification is the theory that underlying representations are not fully specified i.e. that predictable information is not underlyingly present.


In English there is no lexical distinction between aspirated and non-aspirated stops. Still there is a phonetic difference between the [pʰ] in [pʰ]in and the non-aspirated [p] in s[p]in. Underspecification theory expresses this by assuming that underlyingly both p's are not specified for aspiration. The aspiration feature is later (post-lexically) specified by a context-sensitive rule inserting [+spread glottis] at the beginning of a syllable; the non-aspiration is a consequence of a universal rule which inserts [-spread glottis] in all other contexts. See Structure preservation, structure-building rule.


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