Phonology is the study of how human speech sounds are combined and used in languages. The two main components of phonology that are covered on Linguisticsnetwork are classifying phonemes according to distinguishing features, and analyzing data to observe how they interact with each other.
The analysis of a data set needs to be carried out in a very systematic manner in order to yield valid results.
These are the most basic steps to follow:
- Look for sound segments that reoccur in specific phonological environments, or stand out in the data set.
- Determine whether these segments are found in minimal pairs (change the meaning of words when found in the same environment) or in complementary distribution (these segments always surface in a different environment from each other).
- If they are in complementary distribution, the next step is to determine the environment in which each segment (allophones) occurs.
- Then decide which form of the allophones is the underlying form or underlying representation (UR). Usually this allophone will occur more frequently than the other(s), will be found in a ‘strong’ position, i.e., at the beginning of syllables, or in proximity to vowels.
- The last step is writing the rules to show how changes and alternations occur.
Phonological rules describe what type of transformation is taking place by giving:
- The underlying representation
- How it changes
- The environment in which the change takes place
Rules generally look like this: /X/ → [Y] / ____
A phoneme /X/ becomes an allophonic variation [Y] in the environment of (description of environment).
Here are common symbols used for rule writing.
- V: vowel
- C: consonant
- C0: any number of consonants
- V0: any number of vowels
- ( ): any optional element
- #: word boundary
- $: syllable boundary (can also be marked by a period)
- +: morpheme boundary
- / /: broad transcription; that which is in the mind of the speaker
- [ ]: narrow transcription; that which is articulated
There are several types of rules which are often discussed (these terms are defined in the glossary): Assimilation, Dissimilation, Deletion, Epenthesis, Metathesis, Neutralization, and Feature Changing.
For more on writing rules you can read our tutorial An Introduction to Phonology.
Check out our tutorials for extra support and don’t forget to look up any terms you are not familiar with in our glossary!
Phonology Exercises for Members
Remember that Level 1.1 is for the novice and Level 2.1 is for the intermediate linguist.