Definition of phonology


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Definition of phonology

  1. 1. DEFINITION OF PHONOLOGYThe science of speech sounds including especially the history and theory of soundchanges in a language or in two or more related languages.The phonetics and phonemics of a language at a particular time.phonology, study of the sound patterns that occur within languages. Somelinguists include phonetics, the study of the production and description of speechsounds, within the study of phonology.Diachronic (historical) phonology examines and constructs theories about thechanges and modifications in speech sounds and sound systems over a period oftime. For example, it is concerned with the process by which the English words“sea” and “see,” once pronounced with different vowel sounds (as indicated by thespelling), have come to be pronounced alike today. Synchronic (descriptive)phonology investigates sounds at a single stage in the development of a language,to discover the sound patterns that can occur. For example, in English, nt and dmcan appear within or at the end of words (“rent,” “admit”) but not at the beginning.morphophonemics, in linguistics, study of the relationship between morphologyand phonology. Morphophonemics involves an investigation of the phonologicalvariations within morphemes, usually marking different grammatical functions;e.g., the vowel changes in “sleep” and “slept,” “bind” and “bound,” “vain” and“vanity,” and the consonant alternations in “knife” and “knives,” “loaf” and “loaves.”phonemics, in linguistics, the study of the phonemes and phonemic system of alanguage. For linguists who analyze phonological systems wholly in terms of thephoneme, phonemics is coextensive with phonology.phonetics, the study of speech sounds and their physiological production andacoustic qualities. It deals with the configurations of the vocal tract used toproduce speech sounds (articulatory phonetics), the acoustic properties of speechsounds (acoustic phonetics), and the manner of combining sounds so as to makesyllables, words, and sentences (linguistic phonetics). Articulatory phonetics The traditional method of describing speech sounds is in terms of the movementsof the vocal organs that produce them. The main structures that are important inthe production of speech are the lungs and the respiratory system, together withthe vocal organs shown in Figure 1. The airstream from the lungs passes betweenthe vocal cords, which are two small muscular folds located in the larynx at the topof the windpipe. The space between the vocal cords is known as the glottis. If thevocal cords are apart, as they are normally when breathing out, the air from thelungs will have a relatively free passage into the pharynx (see Figure 1) and the
  2. 2. mouth. But if the vocal cords are adjusted so that there is a narrow passagebetween them, the airstream will cause them to be sucked together. As soon asthey are together there will be no flow of air, and the pressure below them will bebuilt up until they are blown apart again. The flow of air between them will thencause them to be sucked together again, and the vibratory cycle will continue.Sounds produced when the vocal cords are vibrating are said to be voiced, asopposed to those in which the vocal cords are apart, which are said to be voiceless.The air passages above the vocal cords are known collectively as the vocal tract.For phonetic purposes they may be divided into the oral tract within the mouthand the pharynx, and the nasal tract within the nose. Many speech sounds arecharacterized by movements of the lower articulators—i.e., the tongue or thelower lip—toward the upper articulators within the oral tract. The upper surfaceincludes several important structures from the point of view of speech production,such as the upper lip and the upper teeth; Figure 1 illustrates most of the termsthat are commonly used. The alveolar ridge is a small protuberance just behind theupper front teeth that can easily be felt with the tongue. The major part of the roofof the mouth is formed by the hard palate in the front, and the soft palate or velumat the back. The soft palate is a muscular flap that can be raised so as to shut off thenasal tract and prevent air from going out through the nose. When it is raised sothat the soft palate is pressed against the back wall of the pharynx there is said tobe a velic closure. At the lower end of the soft palate is a small hanging appendageknown as the uvula.As may be seen from Figure 1, there are also specific names for different parts ofthe tongue. The tip and blade are the most mobile parts. Behind the blade is the so-called front of the tongue; it is actually the forward part of the body of the tongue
  3. 3. and lies underneath the hard palate when the tongue is at rest. The remainder ofthe body of the tongue may be divided into the centre, which is partly beneath thehard palate and partly beneath the soft palate; the back, which is beneath the softpalate; and the root, which is opposite the back wall of the pharynx.The major division in speech sounds is that between vowels and consonants.Phoneticians have found it difficult to give a precise definition of the articulatorydistinction between these two classes of sounds. Most authorities would agree thata vowel is a sound that is produced without any major constrictions in the vocaltract, so that there is a relatively free passage for the air. It is also syllabic. Thisdescription is unsatisfactory in that no adequate definition of the notion syllabichas yet been formulated. PHONETICSStopsStops involve closure of the articulators to obstruct the airstream. This manner ofarticulation can be considered in terms of nasal and oral stops. If the soft palate isdown so that air can still go out through the nose, there is said to be a nasal stop.Sounds of this kind occur at the beginning of the words my and nigh. If, in addition tothe articulatory closure in the mouth, the soft palate is raised so that the nasal tractis blocked off, then the airstream will be completely obstructed, the pressure in themouth will be built up, and an oral stop will be formed. When the articulators openthe airstream will be released with a plosive quality. This kind of sound occurs in theconsonants in the words pie, tie, kye, buy, die, and guy. Many authorities refer tothese two articulations as nasals, meaning nasal stops (closure of the articulators inthe oral tract), and stops, meaning oral stops (raising of the soft palate to form avelic closure).FricativesA fricative sound involves the close approximation of two articulators, so that theairstream is partially obstructed and a turbulent airflow is produced. Themechanisms used in the production of these sounds may be compared to thephysical forces involved when the wind “whistles” round a corner. Examples arethe initial sounds in the words fie, thigh, sigh, and shy. Some authorities dividefricatives into slit and grooved fricatives, or rill and flat fricatives, depending onthe shape of the constriction in the mouth required to produce them. Otherauthorities divide fricatives into sibilants, as in sigh and shy, and nonsibilants, as infie and thigh. This division is based on acoustic criteria (see below).
  4. 4. ApproximantsApproximants are produced when one articulator approaches another but doesnot make the vocal tract so narrow that a turbulent airstream results. The termsfrictionless continuant, semivowel, and glide are sometimes used for some of thesounds made with this manner of articulation. The consonants in the words we andyou are examples of approximants.TrillsA trill results when an articulator is held loosely fairly close to another articulator,so that it is set into vibration by the airstream. The tongue tip and blade, the uvula,and the lips are the only articulators than can be used in this way. Tongue tip trillsoccur in some forms of Scottish English in words such as rye and ire. Uvular trillsare comparatively rare but are used in some dialects of French, but not ParisianFrench. Trills of the lips are even rarer but do occur in a few African languages.TapsA tap is produced if one articulator is thrown against another, as when the looselyheld tongue tip makes a single tap against the upper teeth or the alveolar ridge.The consonant in the middle of a word such as letter or Betty is often made in thisway in American English. The term flap is also used to describe these sounds, butsome authorities make a distinction between taps as defined here and flaps, inwhich the tip of the tongue is raised up and back and then strikes the alveolar ridgeas it returns to a position behind the lower front teeth. Some languages—e.g.,Hausa, the principal language of Northern Nigeria—distinguish between wordscontaining a flap and words containing a tap. The distinction between a trill and atap is used in Spanish to distinguish between words such as perro, meaning “dog,”and pero, meaning “but.”LateralsWhen the airstream is obstructed in the mid-line of the oral tract, and there isincomplete closure between one or both sides of the tongue and the roof of themouth, the resulting sound is classified as a lateral. The sounds at the beginningand end of the word lull are laterals in most forms of American English.The production of many sounds involves more than one of these six basic mannersof articulation. The sounds at the beginning and end of the word church are stopscombined with fricatives. The articulators—tongue tip or blade, and alveolarridge—come together for the stop, and then, instead of coming fully apart, theyseparate only slightly so that a fricative is made at the same place of articulation.This kind of combination is called an affricate. Lateral articulations may also occurin combination with other manners of articulation. The laterals in a word such aslull might more properly be called lateral approximants, in that the airstreampasses out freely between the sides of the tongue and the roof of the mouth
  5. 5. without a turbulent airstream being produced. But in some sounds in otherlanguages the sides of the tongue are closer to the roof of the mouth and a lateralfricative occurs; an example is the sound spelled ll in Welsh words such as llan“church” and the name Lluellyn.SuprasegmentalsVowels and consonants can be considered to be the segments of which speech iscomposed. Together they form syllables, which in turn make up utterances.Superimposed on the syllables there are other features that are known assuprasegmentals. These include variations in stress (accent) and pitch (tone andintonation). Variations in length are also usually considered to be suprasegmentalfeatures, although they can affect single segments as well as whole syllables. All ofthe suprasegmental features are characterized by the fact that they must bedescribed in relation to other items in the same utterance. It is the relative valuesof the pitch, length, or degree of stress of an item that are significant. The absolutevalues are never linguistically important, although they may be of importanceparalinguistically, in that they convey information about the age and sex of thespeaker, his emotional state, and his attitude.Many languages—e.g., Finnish and Estonian—use length distinctions, so that theyhave long and short vowels; a slightly smaller number of languages, among themLuganda (the language spoken by the largest tribe in Uganda) and Japanese, alsohave long and short consonants. In most languages segments followed by voicedconsonants are longer than those followed by voiceless consonants. Thus thevowel in cad before the voiced d is much longer than that in cat before thevoiceless t. Variations in stress are caused by an increase in the activity of the
  6. 6. respiratory muscles, so that a greater amount of air is pushed out of the lungs, andin the activity of the laryngeal muscles, resulting in significant changes in pitch. InEnglish, stress has a grammatical function, distinguishing between nouns andverbs, such as an insult versus to insult. It can also be used for contrastiveemphasis, as in I want a RED pen, not a black one.Variations in laryngeal activity can occur independently of stress changes. Theresulting pitch changes can affect the meaning of the sentence as a whole, or themeaning of the individual words. Pitch pattern is known as intonation. In Englishthe meaning of a sentence such as That’s a cat can be changed from a statement toa question by the substitution of a mainly rising for a mainly falling intonation.Pitch patterns that affect the meanings of individual words are known as tones andare common in many languages. In Chinese, for example, a syllable that istransliterated as ma means “mother” when said on a high tone, “hemp” on amidrising tone, “horse” on the falling-rising tone, and “scold” on a high-falling tone. Acoustic phoneticsSpeech sounds consist of small variations in air pressure that can be sensed by theear. Like other sounds, speech sounds can be divided into two major classes—those that have periodic wave forms (i.e., regular fluctuations in air pressure) andthose that do not. The first class consists of all the voiced sounds, because thevibrations of the vocal cords produce regular pulses of air pressure.From a listener’s point of view, sounds may be said to vary in pitch, loudness, andquality. The pitch of a sound with a periodic wave form—i.e., a voiced sound—isdetermined by its fundamental frequency, or rate of repetition of the cycles of airpressure. For a speaker with a bass voice, the fundamental frequency will probablybe between 75 and 150 cycles per second. Cycles per second are also called hertz(Hz); this is the standard term for the unit in frequency measurements. A sopranomay have a speaking voice in which the vocal cords vibrate to produce afundamental frequency of over 400 hertz. The relative loudness of a voiced soundis largely dependent on the amplitude of the pulses of air pressure produced by thevibrating vocal cords. Pulses of air with a larger amplitude have a larger increase inair pressure.The quality of a sound is determined by the smaller variations in air pressure thatare superimposed on the major variations that recur at the fundamental frequency.These smaller variations in air pressure correspond to the overtones that occurabove the fundamental frequency. Each time the vocal cords open and close thereis a pulse of air from the lungs. These pulses act like sharp taps on the air in thevocal tract, which is accordingly set into vibration in a way that is determined byits size and shape. In a vowel sound, the air in the vocal tract vibrates at three orfour frequencies simultaneously. These frequencies are the resonant frequencies ofthat particular vocal tract shape. Irrespective of the fundamental frequency that isdetermined by the rate of vibration of the vocal cords, the air in the vocal tract willresonate at these three or four overtone frequencies as long as the position of thevocal organs remains the same. In this way a vowel has its own characteristicauditory quality, which is the result of the specific variations in air pressure caused
  7. 7. by the superimposing of the vocal tract shape on the fundamental frequencyproduced by the vocal cords. What is phonology?Definition Phonology is the study of how sounds are organized and used in natural languages.Discussion The phonological system of a language includes  an inventory of sounds and their features, and  rules which specify how sounds interact with each other. Phonology is just one of several aspects of language. It is related to other aspects such as phonetics, morphology, syntax, and pragmatics. Here is an illustration that shows the place of phonology in an interacting hierarchy of levels in linguistics:
  8. 8. Comparison: Phonology and phonetics Phonetics … Phonology … Is the basis for Is the basis for further phonological analysis. work in morphology, syntax, discourse, and orthography design. Analyzes the production of Analyzes the sound all human speech sounds, patterns of a particular regardless of language. language by  determining which phonetic sounds are significant, and  explaining how these sounds are interpreted by the native speaker.Models of phonology Different models of phonology contribute to our knowledge of phonological representations and processes:  In classical phonemics, phonemes and their possible combinations are central.  In standard generative phonology, distinctive features are central. A stream of speech is portrayed as linear sequence of discrete sound- segments. Each segment is composed of simultaneously occurring features.  In non-linear models of phonology, a stream of speech is represented as multidimensional, not simply as a linear sequence of sound segments. These non-linear models grew out of generative phonology:Phonology is the study of the sound system of languages. It is a huge area oflanguage theory and it is difficult to do more on a general language course thanhave an outline knowledge of what it includes. In an exam, you may be asked tocomment on a text that you are seeing for the first time in terms of variouslanguage descriptions, of which phonology may be one. At one extreme, phonologyis concerned with anatomy and physiology - the organs of speech and how we learnto use them. At another extreme, phonology shades into socio-linguistics as weconsider social attitudes to features of sound such as accent and intonation. Andpart of the subject is concerned with finding objective standard ways of recordingspeech, and representing this symbolically.
  9. 9. For some kinds of study - perhaps a language investigation into the phonologicaldevelopment of young children or regional variations in accent, you will need touse phonetic transcription to be credible. But this is not necessary in all kinds ofstudy - in an exam, you may be concerned with stylistic effects of sound inadvertising or literature, such as assonance, rhyme or onomatopoeia - and you donot need to use special phonetic symbols to do this.The physics and physiology of speechMan is distinguished from the other primates by having the apparatus to make thesounds of speech. Of course most of us learn to speak without ever knowing muchabout these organs, save in a vague and general sense - so that we know how a coldor sore throat alters our own performance. Language scientists have a verydetailed understanding of how the human body produces the sounds of speech.Leaving to one side the vast subject of how we choose particular utterances andidentify the sounds we need, we can think rather simply of how we use our lungsto breathe out air, produce vibrations in the larynx and then use our tongue, teethand lips to modify the sounds. The diagram below shows some of the moreimportant speech organs. This kind of diagram helps us to understand what we observe in others but is less useful in understanding our own speech. Scientists can now place small cameras into the mouths of experimental subjects, and observe some of the physical movements that accompany speech. But most of us move our vocal organs by reflexes or a sense of the sound we want to produce, and are not likely to benefit from watching movement in the vocal fold. The diagram is a simplified cross-section through the human head - which we could not see in reality in a living speaker, though a simulation might be instructive. But we do observe some external signs of speech sounds apart from what we hear.A few people have the ability to interpret most of a speakers utterances from lip-reading. But many more have a sense of when the lip-movement does or does notcorrespond to what we hear - we notice this when we watch a feature film withdubbed dialogue, or a TV broadcast where the sound is not synchronized withwhat we see.
  10. 10. The diagram can also prove useful in conjunction with descriptions of sounds - forexample indicating where the airflow is constricted to produce fricatives, whetheron the palate, the alveolar ridge, the teeth or the teeth and lips together.Speech therapists have a very detailed working knowledge of the physiology ofhuman speech, and of exercises and remedies to overcome difficulties some of usencounter in speaking, where these have physical causes. An understanding of theanatomy is also useful to various kinds of expert who train people to use theirvoices in special or unusual ways. These would include singing teachers and voicecoaches for actors, as well as the even more specialized coaches who train actors toproduce the speech sounds of hitherto unfamiliar varieties of English or otherlanguages. At a more basic level, my French teacher at school insisted that we (hispupils) could produce certain vowel sounds only with our mouths more open thanwe would ever need to do while speaking English. And a literally stiff upper lip is agreat help if one wishes to mimic the speech sounds of Queen Elizabeth II.