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Phonology is the study of how sounds are organized and used in natural languages.
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:

Comparison: Phonology and phonetics



Is the basis for phonological Is the basis for further work

in morphology, syntax,
discourse, and orthography

Analyzes the production of Analyzes the sound patterns

all human speech sounds,
of a particular language by
regardless of language.
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


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:
o autosegmental phonology
o metrical phonology
o lexical phonology

Context for this page:

Concept module: phonology

In overview module: Glossary (Linguistics): P

In modular book: Glossary of linguistic terms, by Eugene E. Loos (general editor),

Susan Anderson (editor), Dwight H., Day, Jr. (editor), Paul C. Jordan (editor), and
J. Douglas Wingate (editor)

In bookshelf: Linguistics

This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on
CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]
Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

Phonology is the study of sounds and speech patterns in language. The root "phone" in
phonology relates to sounds and originates from the Greek word phonema which means
sound. Phonology seeks to discern the sounds made in all human languages. The
identification of universal and non-universal qualities of sounds is a crucial component in
phonology as all languages use syllables and forms of vowels and consonants.
Syllables are involved in the timing of spoken language since speaking each word takes a
portion of time. Syllables are units of measurement in language. Vowels allow air to escape
from the mouth and nose unblocked, while consonants create more covering of the vocal tract
by the tongue. The heard friction that is a consonant is made from the air that cannot escape
as the mouth utters the consonant.
Phonemes are units of sound in a language that convey meaning. For example, changing a
syllable in a word will change its meaning, such as changing the "a" in "mad" to an "o" to
produce "mod". A phoneme can also achieve no meaning by creating non-existent words such
as by changing the "m" in "mad" or "mod" to a "j" to produce "jad" or "jod". Phonemes differ
from morphemes and graphemes. A morpheme refers to main grammar units, while a
grapheme is the main unit of written language.