What is Phonology?
Phonology is the study of the patterns of sounds in a language and across languages. Put more formally, phonology is the study of the categorical organisation of speech sounds in languages; how speech sounds are organised in the mind and used to convey meaning. In this section of the website, we will describe the most common phonological processes and introduce the concepts of underlying representations for sounds versus what is actually produced, the surface form.
Phonology can be related to many linguistic disciplines, including psycholinguistics, cognitive science, sociolinguistics and language acquisition. Principles of phonology can also be applied to treatments of speech pathologies and innovations in technology. In terms of speech recognition, systems can be designed to translate spoken data into text. In this way, computers process the language like our brains do. The same processes that occur in the mind of a human when producing and receiving language occur in machines. One example of machines decoding language is the popular intelligence system, Siri.
Phonology vs. Phonetics – the key differences
Phonology is concerned with the abstract, whereas phonetics is concerned with the physical properties of sounds. In phonetics we can see infinite realisations, for example every time you say a ‘p’ it will slightly different than the other times you’ve said it. However, in phonology all productions are the same sound within the language’s phoneme inventory, therefore even though every ‘p’ is produced slightly different every time, the actual sound is the same. This highlights a key difference between phonetic and phonology as even though no two ‘p’s are the same, they represent the same sound in the language.
(Phonology vs phonetics from inglesdocencia)
Also refer to the Phonetics page to get a better idea of the differences and similarities between these two related areas of linguistics.
Phonemes V. Allophones
Phonemes are the meaningfully different sound units in a language (the smallest units of sound). For example, ‘pat’ and ‘bat’ differ in their first phoneme: the “p” and “b”. Vowels are also phonemes, so “pat” and “pet” differ by a phoneme, too (But phonemes don’t always match up with spelling!). When two words differ by a single phoneme they are known as a minimal pair.
Allophones are different ways to pronounce a phoneme based on its environment in a word. For example, the two allophones of /l/ in “little” are actually produced slightly differently, and the second one sounds slightly deeper. These different “l”s always occur in different environments in words, which is known as “complementary distribution”.
Phonology looks at many different things…
- Why do related forms differ? Sane—Sanity. Electric—Electricity/ Atom—Atomic
- Phonology finds the systematic ways in which the forms differ and explains them
- What is stored in the mind?
- Phonology studies abstract mental entities, such as structures and processes. This contrasts with phonetics, which deals with the actual production and acoustics of the sounds of language.
- What sounds go together?
- Looks at what sounds/sound combinations are accepted and why.
- How are sounds organized into syllables?
- With the use of phonological trees syllables are broken up more easily. Syllables are made up of a rhyme and an onset (any consonants before the rhyme). The rhyme made up of a nucleus (the vowel sound(s) in the syllable, the key component of all syllables) and a coda (any consonants following the nucleus).
- What are the differences between languages?
- For example, different languages can used different phonemes, or different syllable structures (what sounds can go together to make sequences or words) and phonology identifies these differences.