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distinc'tive fea'ture

1. a feature of the sound system of a language that serves as the crucial distinguishing mark between two phonemes, as the distinctive feature of voicing, which distinguishes b from p in English, or nasality, which distinguishes m from b and p.
2. any of a set of phonetic properties, as coronal, nasal, or strident, serving as a basic unit of phonological analysis by which the sounds that are significant in a language can be characterized and distinguished from one another.
3. a component or phonetic feature characterizing a phoneme.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Copyright © 1997, by Random House, Inc., on Infoplease.

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