Phonology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the systematic
organization of sounds in languages. It has traditionally focused
largely on the study of the systems of phonemes in particular
languages (and therefore used to be also called phonemics, or
phonematics), but it may also cover any linguistic analysis either at
a level beneath the word (including syllable, onset and rime,
articulatory gestures, articulatory features, mora, etc.) or at all
levels of language where sound is considered to be structured for
conveying linguistic meaning.
Phonology also includes the study of equivalent non-oral languages
ASL or other sign languages.
2 Derivation and definitions
4 Analysis of phonemes
5 Other topics in phonology
6 See also
9 External links
The word 'phonology' (as in the phonology of English) can also refer
to the phonological system (sound system) of a given language. This is
one of the fundamental systems which a language is considered to
comprise, like its syntax and its vocabulary.
Phonology is often distinguished from phonetics. While phonetics
concerns the physical production, acoustic transmission and perception
of the sounds of speech, phonology describes the way sounds
function within a given language or across languages to encode
meaning. For many linguists, phonetics belongs to descriptive
linguistics, and phonology to theoretical linguistics, although
establishing the phonological system of a language is necessarily an
application of theoretical principles to analysis of phonetic
evidence. Note that this distinction was not always made, particularly
before the development of the modern concept of the phoneme in the mid
20th century. Some subfields of modern phonology have a crossover with
phonetics in descriptive disciplines such as psycholinguistics and
speech perception, resulting in specific areas like articulatory
phonology or laboratory phonology.
Derivation and definitions
The word phonology comes from
Ancient Greek φωνή, phōnḗ,
"voice, sound," and the suffix
-logy (which is from Greek λόγος,
lógos, "word, speech, subject of discussion"). Definitions of the
Nikolai Trubetzkoy in Grundzüge der Phonologie (1939)
defines phonology as "the study of sound pertaining to the system of
language," as opposed to phonetics, which is "the study of sound
pertaining to the act of speech" (the distinction between language and
speech being basically Saussure's distinction between langue and
parole). More recently, Lass (1998) writes that phonology refers
broadly to the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds
of language, while in more narrow terms, "phonology proper is
concerned with the function, behavior and organization of sounds as
linguistic items." According to Clark et al. (2007), it means the
systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human
language, or the field of linguistics studying this use.
Early evidence for a systematic study of the sounds in a language
appears in the 4th century BCE Ashtadhyayi, a
composed by Pāṇini. In particular the Shiva Sutras, an auxiliary
text to the Ashtadhyayi, introduces what may be considered a list of
the phonemes of the
Sanskrit language, with a notational system for
them that is used throughout the main text, which deals with matters
of morphology, syntax and semantics.
The study of phonology as it exists today is defined by the formative
studies of the 19th-century Polish scholar Jan Baudouin de Courtenay,
who (together with his students
Mikołaj Kruszewski and Lev Shcherba)
shaped the modern usage of the term phoneme in a series of lectures in
1876-1877. The word phoneme had been coined a few years earlier in
1873 by the French linguist A. Dufriche-Desgenettes. In a paper read
at the 24th of May meeting of the Société de Linguistique de
Paris, Dufriche-Desgenettes proposed that phoneme serve as a
one-word equivalent for the German Sprachlaut. Baudouin de
Courtenay's subsequent work, though often unacknowledged, is
considered to be the starting point of modern phonology. He also
worked on the theory of phonetic alternations (what is now called
allophony and morphophonology), and may have had an influence on the
work of Saussure according to E. F. K. Koerner.
Nikolai Trubetzkoy, 1920s
An influential school of phonology in the interwar period was the
Prague school. One of its leading members was Prince Nikolai
Trubetzkoy, whose Grundzüge der Phonologie (Principles of
Phonology), published posthumously in 1939, is among the most
important works in the field from this period. Directly influenced by
Baudouin de Courtenay, Trubetzkoy is considered the founder of
morphophonology, although this concept had also been recognized by de
Courtenay. Trubetzkoy also developed the concept of the archiphoneme.
Another important figure in the
Prague school was Roman Jakobson, who
was one of the most prominent linguists of the 20th century.
Noam Chomsky and
Morris Halle published The
Sound Pattern of
English (SPE), the basis for generative phonology. In this view,
phonological representations are sequences of segments made up of
distinctive features. These features were an expansion of earlier work
by Roman Jakobson, Gunnar Fant, and Morris Halle. The features
describe aspects of articulation and perception, are from a
universally fixed set, and have the binary values + or −. There are
at least two levels of representation: underlying representation and
surface phonetic representation. Ordered phonological rules govern how
underlying representation is transformed into the actual pronunciation
(the so-called surface form). An important consequence of the
influence SPE had on phonological theory was the downplaying of the
syllable and the emphasis on segments. Furthermore, the generativists
folded morphophonology into phonology, which both solved and created
Natural phonology is a theory based on the publications of its
proponent David Stampe in 1969 and (more explicitly) in 1979. In this
view, phonology is based on a set of universal phonological processes
that interact with one another; which ones are active and which are
suppressed is language-specific. Rather than acting on segments,
phonological processes act on distinctive features within prosodic
groups. Prosodic groups can be as small as a part of a syllable or as
large as an entire utterance. Phonological processes are unordered
with respect to each other and apply simultaneously (though the output
of one process may be the input to another). The second most prominent
natural phonologist is Patricia Donegan (Stampe's wife); there are
many natural phonologists in Europe, and a few in the U.S., such as
Geoffrey Nathan. The principles of natural phonology were extended to
morphology by Wolfgang U. Dressler, who founded natural morphology.
In 1976, John Goldsmith introduced autosegmental phonology.
Phonological phenomena are no longer seen as operating on one linear
sequence of segments, called phonemes or feature combinations, but
rather as involving some parallel sequences of features which reside
on multiple tiers.
Autosegmental phonology later evolved into feature
geometry, which became the standard theory of representation for
theories of the organization of phonology as different as lexical
phonology and optimality theory.
Government phonology, which originated in the early 1980s as an
attempt to unify theoretical notions of syntactic and phonological
structures, is based on the notion that all languages necessarily
follow a small set of principles and vary according to their selection
of certain binary parameters. That is, all languages' phonological
structures are essentially the same, but there is restricted variation
that accounts for differences in surface realizations. Principles are
held to be inviolable, though parameters may sometimes come into
conflict. Prominent figures in this field include Jonathan Kaye, Jean
Lowenstamm, Jean-Roger Vergnaud, Monik Charette, and John Harris.
In a course at the LSA summer institute in 1991,
Alan Prince and Paul
Smolensky developed optimality theory—an overall architecture for
phonology according to which languages choose a pronunciation of a
word that best satisfies a list of constraints ordered by importance;
a lower-ranked constraint can be violated when the violation is
necessary in order to obey a higher-ranked constraint. The approach
was soon extended to morphology by John McCarthy and Alan Prince, and
has become a dominant trend in phonology. The appeal to phonetic
grounding of constraints and representational elements (e.g. features)
in various approaches has been criticized by proponents of
'substance-free phonology', especially by
Mark Hale and Charles
An integrated approach to phonological theory that combines synchronic
and diachronic accounts to sound patterns was initiated with
Evolutionary Phonology in recent years.
Analysis of phonemes
An important part of traditional, pre-generative schools of phonology
is studying which sounds can be grouped into distinctive units within
a language; these units are known as phonemes. For example, in
English, the "p" sound in pot is aspirated (pronounced [pʰ]) while
that in spot is not aspirated (pronounced [p]). However, English
speakers intuitively treat both sounds as variations (allophones) of
the same phonological category, that is of the phoneme /p/.
(Traditionally, it would be argued that if an aspirated [pʰ] were
interchanged with the unaspirated [p] in spot, native speakers of
English would still hear the same words; that is, the two sounds are
perceived as "the same" /p/.) In some other languages, however, these
two sounds are perceived as different, and they are consequently
assigned to different phonemes. For example, in Thai, Hindi, and
Quechua, there are minimal pairs of words for which aspiration is the
only contrasting feature (two words can have different meanings but
with the only difference in pronunciation being that one has an
aspirated sound where the other has an unaspirated one).
The vowels of modern (Standard)
Arabic and (Israeli)
Hebrew from the
phonemic point of view. Note the intersection of the two circles—the
distinction between short a, i and u is made by both speakers, but
Arabic lacks the mid articulation of short vowels, while
the distinction of vowel length.
The vowels of modern (Standard)
Arabic and (Israeli)
Hebrew from the
phonetic point of view. Note that the two circles are totally
separate—none of the vowel-sounds made by speakers of one language
is made by speakers of the other.
Part of the phonological study of a language therefore involves
looking at data (phonetic transcriptions of the speech of native
speakers) and trying to deduce what the underlying phonemes are and
what the sound inventory of the language is. The presence or absence
of minimal pairs, as mentioned above, is a frequently used criterion
for deciding whether two sounds should be assigned to the same
phoneme. However, other considerations often need to be taken into
account as well.
The particular contrasts which are phonemic in a language can change
over time. At one time, [f] and [v], two sounds that have the same
place and manner of articulation and differ in voicing only, were
allophones of the same phoneme in English, but later came to belong to
separate phonemes. This is one of the main factors of historical
change of languages as described in historical linguistics.
The findings and insights of speech perception and articulation
research complicate the traditional and somewhat intuitive idea of
interchangeable allophones being perceived as the same phoneme. First,
interchanged allophones of the same phoneme can result in
unrecognizable words. Second, actual speech, even at a word level, is
highly co-articulated, so it is problematic to expect to be able to
splice words into simple segments without affecting speech perception.
Different linguists therefore take different approaches to the problem
of assigning sounds to phonemes. For example, they differ in the
extent to which they require allophones to be phonetically similar.
There are also differing ideas as to whether this grouping of sounds
is purely a tool for linguistic analysis, or reflects an actual
process in the way the human brain processes a language.
Since the early 1960s, theoretical linguists have moved away from the
traditional concept of a phoneme, preferring to consider basic units
at a more abstract level, as a component of morphemes; these units can
be called morphophonemes, and analysis using this approach is called
Other topics in phonology
In addition to the minimal units that can serve the purpose of
differentiating meaning (the phonemes), phonology studies how sounds
alternate, i.e. replace one another in different forms of the same
morpheme (allomorphs), as well as, for example, syllable structure,
stress, feature geometry, accent, and intonation.
Phonology also includes topics such as phonotactics (the phonological
constraints on what sounds can appear in what positions in a given
language) and phonological alternation (how the pronunciation of a
sound changes through the application of phonological rules, sometimes
in a given order which can be feeding or bleeding,) as well as
prosody, the study of suprasegmentals and topics such as stress and
The principles of phonological analysis can be applied independently
of modality because they are designed to serve as general analytical
tools, not language-specific ones. The same principles have been
applied to the analysis of sign languages (see Phonemes in sign
languages), even though the sub-lexical units are not instantiated as
List of phonologists (also Category: Phonologists)
Second language phonology
^ a b Lass, Roger (1998). "Phonology: An Introduction to Basic
Concepts". Cambridge, UK; New York; Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge
University Press: 1. ISBN 0-521-23728-9. Retrieved 8 January
2011 Paperback ISBN 0-521-28183-0
^ Carr, Philip (2003). English
Phonetics and Phonology: An
Introduction. Massachusetts, USA; Oxford, UK; Victoria, Australia;
Berlin, Germany: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-19775-3.
Retrieved 8 January 2011 Paperback
^ a b Trubetzkoy N., Grundzüge der Phonologie (published 1939),
translated by C. Baltaxe as Principles of Phonology, University of
California Press, 1969
^ Clark, John; Yallop, Colin; Fletcher, Janet (2007). An Introduction
Phonology (3rd ed.). Massachusetts, USA; Oxford, UK;
Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing.
ISBN 978-1-4051-3083-7. Retrieved 8 January
2011 Alternative ISBN 1-4051-3083-0
^ Anon (probably Louis Havet). (1873) "Sur la nature des consonnes
nasales". Revue critique d'histoire et de littérature 13, No. 23, p.
^ Roman Jakobson, Selected Writings: Word and Language, Volume 2,
Walter de Gruyter, 1971, p. 396.
^ E. F. K. Koerner, Ferdinand de Saussure: Origin and Development of
His Linguistic Thought in Western Studies of Language. A contribution
to the history and theory of linguistics, Braunschweig: Friedrich
Vieweg & Sohn [Oxford & Elmsford, N.Y.: Pergamon Press], 1973.
^ Hale, Mark; Reiss, Charles (2008). The Phonological Enterprise.
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-953397-0.
^ Hale, Mark; Reiss, Charles (2000). "Substance abuse and
dysfunctionalism: Current trends in phonology. Linguistic Inquiry 31:
^ Blevins, Juliette. 2004. Evolutionary phonology: The emergence of
sound patterns. Cambridge University Press.
^ Goldsmith 1995:1.
Anderson, John M.; and Ewen, Colin J. (1987). Principles of dependency
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Martinet, André (1949).
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Phonetics and phonology at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Phonologies of the world's languages
Regional North American
Spanish dialects and varieties