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Phonology

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English

Phonology is the study of the “ sound system ” of a language, that is to say, the number of phonemes that are used in a language and how they are organised.

What is phonology?

While phonetics refers to all possible human speech sounds, phonology describes the contrasts in sound which create differences in meaning in.

  • For example, the phoneme / e / is different from the phoneme / i: /, so if we use the word set [set] instead of seat [si: t], the meaning of the sentence will change.
  • Here's another example: the [t] sound, in words like tar , star , writer , and eight . Whilst all the sounds are presented in the same way, in actual speech they all sound slightly different, because phonemes are affected by other phonemes next to them, and because each person's voice, and mouth shape, is slightly different.

tar

[ta:]

writer

[ˈRaɪtər]

star

[stɑr]

eight

[eɪt]

Note: slash marks are used to indicate a phoneme / t / (an abstract segment ie the representation of the sound), as opposed to the square brackets [t], used to indicate a phone (a physical segment ie the actual sound produced) .

The characteristics of phonological analysis

Phonology consists of the analysis of the following elements:

  • Phonemes.
  • Dialects and accents.
  • Phonotactics.

Phonemes

A phoneme is the smallest unit of pronunciation which distinguishes meanings; it is the basic unit of phonology. Phonemes form the building blocks of speech sounds. Phonemes are single sounds represented by a single written symbol .

In Phonology, you can use minimal pairs to distinguish phonemes from each other.

A minimal pair is when two words have different meanings but only one sound (phoneme) difference between them.

For example:

  • mire / ˈmaɪə / and mile / maɪl /.
  • bad / bæd / and bed / bed /.
  • crowd / kraʊd / and cloud / klaʊd /.
  • rock / rɒk / and lock / lɒk /.

As you can see, these words are very similar, but they sound slightly different and have different meanings. This is known as a minimal pair.

The rules for identifying minimal pairs are:

  • The words in the pair must have the same number of sounds.

  • Two or more words in the pairs must be identical in every sound except for one.

  • In each word, the sounds must be in the same position .

  • The words must have different meanings .

Dialects and accents of English

People can pronounce sounds in different ways . This can depend on multiple factors, for example:

  • social class
  • ethnic group
  • speech or voice disorders
  • education
  • geographical area

Accent and dialect are a result of all these factors.

Dialects are variations of the same language spoken by people in particular areas or social groups. Dialects differ in pronunciation, grammatical patterns, and vocabulary. It is important to remember that whilst these factors impact how people speak, people can have different dialects and speak the same language.

  • For example, Scottish, Irish, Yorkshire, Cockney, Welsh English, may all be said to be dialects of the UK English language.

  • Regional dialects may differ in their pronunciation or use particular grammatical patterns/vocabulary. For example, the British English dialect does not pronounce the /r/ in words like 'car' [ka:] whereas the American English dialect often pronounces the /r/. This is called rhoticity.

Accents have developed because of regional phonological differences. Sometimes accents are based on the pronunciation of words by non-native speakers. A foreign accent is marked by the phonology of other languages.

  • For example, the word potato is articulated differently: - In British English it is pronounced po-tayh-to [pəˈteɪtəʊ].- In American English it is pronounced po-tay-to [pəˈteɪˌtoʊ].
  • The word laughter:- In British English it is pronounced la-fte [ˈlɑːftə].- In American English it is pronounced la-fter [ˈlæftər].
  • The word banana:- In British English it is pronounced be-na-na [bəˈnɑːnə].- In American English it is pronounced be-nah-na [bəˈnænə].

Phonotactics in English

One of the phonology’s branches is phonotactics, which deals with the limits on sound combination and the order of phonemes. It consents to make distinct arrangements of sounds.

A syllable is a phonological unit that involves one or more phonemes. Each syllable has a nucleus, which is always a vowel, an onset, and a coda, usually consonants. It’s important to remember:

  • In the word cat /kaet/, the /k/ is the onset, the /a/ is the nucleus and the /t/ is the coda.
  • The nucleus of a syllable is essential for the word and it corresponds to the vowel in the middle of the syllable.
  • The onset is not always present but you can find it before the nucleus if it is.
  • The coda is also not always present but you can find it after the nucleus if it is.

Phonological rules of the English language

A major branch of phonology is how sounds are organised and which rules must be applied to the pronunciation of phonemes.

Phonological rules are related to the spoken or written principles which control the changes of sounds during speech.

  • These describe the process of articulation; how a speaker produces speech sounds stored, as it were, in the brain.
  • Phonological rules help us understand which sounds change, what they change to, and where the change happens.

A → B / X ___ Y

A changes in B in the environment of / and it is preceded by X and followed by Y.

R changes in L in the environment of / and it is preceded by G and followed by O.

  • Let’s consider the word grow and its pronunciation [grəʊ]. If we change the letter “r” to the letter “l”, we are going to have another word (eg. glow), with a different meaning and pronunciation [gləʊ]. The sound /r/ changes to /l/, but is preceded in both cases by the sound /g/ and followed by the sound /əʊ/.

Phonological rules can be divided into four types: assimilation, dissimilation, insertion, and deletion.

Assimilation

Assimilation is the process of changing one feature of a sound to make it similar to another.

This rule can be applied to the English plural system — the -s can change from voiced to voiceless depending on whether the preceding consonant is voiced or unvoiced. So, the English plural -s can be pronounced in different ways depending on the word it is part of:

  • In the word snakes, the letter “s” is pronounced /s/.
  • In the word baths, the letter “s” is pronounced /z/.
  • In the word dresses, the letter “s” is pronounced /ɪz/.

Dissimilation

Dissimilation is the process of changing one feature of a sound to make it different.

This type of rule makes two sounds more distinguishable. It can help non-native speakers to pronounce words.

  • The pronunciation of the word chimney [ˈʧɪmni] as chimley [ˈʧɪmli], with the change of [n] to an [l].

Insertion

Insertion is the process of adding an extra sound between two others.

We usually insert a voiceless stop between a nasal and a voiceless fricative to make it easier for English speakers to pronounce a word. For example:

  • In the word strength, we add the sound “k” and it becomes strengkth.

  • In the word hamster, we add the sound “p” and it becomes hampster.

Deletion

Deletion is the process of not pronouncing a sound (consonant, vowel, or whole syllable) present in a word or phrase, to make it easier to pronounce.

For example, in the phrase “you and me” it is possible not to say the sound /d/.

  • You and me [ju:ənmi:].

In some words:

  • /h/ in him [ɪm].
  • /f/ in fifth [fɪθ].

Phonology - Key takeaways

  • Phonology is the study of the “sound system” of language. It refers to the phonemes used in a language and how these are organised.

  • A phoneme is the smallest unit of pronunciation which distinguishes meaning; it is the organisational unit of Phonology.

  • Everyone pronounces sounds differently. This can depend on a person's social class, intonation, and feelings, their ethnic group, speech or voice disorders, their education, or geographical area.

  • Dialects are variations of language associated with a geographic area and social class. Accents feature regional phonological or phonetic differences.

  • Phonotactics studies the combinations of phonemes and how these combinations affect speech sounds.

  • Phonological rules help us understand which sounds change, what they change to, and where the change happens .

Phonology

Phonology studies the patterns, rules, and organization of the sound units in a particular language. In phonology, we discuss the sounds of a language, how they can be associated with each other and create words, and explain why some these are important.

Phonological awareness of the patterns of sounds is the ability to understand and change the spoken parts of words and sentences.

Phonology studies the sounds of a language. It helps speakers understand and produce words, as without knowing the right articulation of a word, it is impossible to pronounce it.

Phonological rules can be divided into four types: assimilation, dissimilation, insertion, and deletion.

Final Phonology Quiz

Question

What is Phonology?

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Answer

The study of the sound system of a language.


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Question

True or False: The consonant /t/ has only one type of sound.


Show answer

Answer

False: The consonant /t/ can have different ways of being pronounced, but the same way of being transcribed.

Show question

Question

True or False: Slash marks are used to indicate phonemes. 


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Answer

True. Slash marks // are used to indicate phonemes, while we use square maks [] for phones.

Show question

Question

What does phonology analyze? 


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Answer

All of them.

Show question

Question

What is a Phoneme?





Show answer

Answer

The smallest distinctive sound unit of a language.

Show question

Question

True or False: To determine phonemes, you can use minimal pairs. 


Show answer

Answer

True. A minimal pair is when two words have different meanings but only one sound differs between them.

Show question

Question

True or False: Accents are forms of a language that contrast in pronunciation and vocabulary.


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Answer

False: Accents are developed because of regional phonological or phonetic differences. While dialects are forms of a language that contrast in pronunciation and vocabulary.

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Question

What is phonotactics?


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Answer

Many combinational limits of phonemes in a word.

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Question

True or False: Phonology studies the rules and organization of the sound system.


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Answer

True!

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Question

True or False: Phonological rules do not involve sounds and their changes.


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Answer

False: Phonological rules involve the changes of a sound, what they change to, and where the changes happen.

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Question

What is dissimilation?


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Answer

The change of one feature with another to get less similar.

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Question

Which items determine the pronunciation of a sound?


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Answer

All of them.

Show question

Question

True or False: In the word baths, the letter “s” is pronounced as /s/. 


Show answer

Answer

False: It is pronounced as /z/.

Show question

Question

True or False: Crowd and cloud are minimal pairs.


Show answer

Answer

True!

Show question

Question

True or False: the word potato has only one way of being pronounced.

 

Show answer

Answer

False: It can be pronounced in more than one or two ways, in particular in a British accent and an American accent.

Show question

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