In phonology distinctive features are used to analyze sounds. Distinctive features use the concept of binary features which show the presence or absence of a feature in a particular sound. The presence of the feature is indicated by a + sign and the absence by a - sign.
The distinctive features syllabic and consonantal can be used to classify vowels, glides and consonants. This is demonstrated here:
vowels- [+syllabic] [-consonantal]
consonants [+/-syllabic] [-consonantal]
glides [-syllabic] [-consonantal]
Some consonants are syllabic such as the nasal in rhythm and the lateral in bottle.
The four major classes of consonants can be identified with the features sonorant and continuant.
plosives [-sonorant] [-continuant]
fricatives [-sonorant] [+continuant]
nasals [+sonorant] [-continuant]
approximants [+sonorant] [+continuant]
Distinctive features can also be used to identify specific speech sounds.
[m] [+nasal] [+labial]
[n] [+nasal] [+coronal]
[p] [-voiced] [+labial] [-continuant]
[d] [+voiced] [+coronal] [-continuant] [-nasal]
[w] [+back] [+sonorant] [+continuant]
[u] [+high] [+back] [+round] [+tense]
Distinctive features are a useful tool in sound analysis. They illustrate the features which identify sounds. In addition, they show the relationships of sounds, the major classes, and the features relevant in their decription. They are an important part of phonology.