Basically all versions of Government Phonology/Element Theory share the idea that the element A is a key player in the representation of vowel height. However, this element A has proven to be an eternal trouble maker, in that its behaviour is quite different from other elements. While that difference has been known for a long time, finding a viable explanation for it has turned out to be a more recalcitrant problem, if it has been attempted at all.
In this talk I first want to look at the element A in vowels and propose a particular kind of structure to replace it. This structure allows for a unified account of vowel reduction in various languages (Catalan, Portuguese, Russian etc.) and also explains why vowel reduction is typically linked to stress. Furthermore, the model also provides the means to accommodate tenseness/laxness, a property that was formerly often expressed by headedness or yet another element. We will see how certain properties of the English and Québec French tense/lax system fall out.
Time allowing, we also look at further (and somewhat unexpected) predictions that this structural approach makes: transparent vowels in vowel harmony, palatalising effects, consequences for the representation of consonants etc.