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Isabel Castillo

The scientific study of language

On human language study

The interest in the nature of human language appears to have arisen when the human species
evolved in the history of time. There is no culture that has left records that do not reveal either
philosophical or practical concerns for this unique human characteristic. Different historical periods
reveal different emphases and different goals although both interests have existed in parallel.
Egyptian surgeons were concerned with clinical questions; an Egyptian papyrus, dated ca. 1700 BC,
includes medical descriptions of language disorders following brain injury. The philosophers of
ancient Greece, on the other hand, argued and debated questions dealing with the origin and the
nature of language. Plato, writing between 427 and 348 BC, devoted his Cratylus Dialogue to
linguistic issues of his day and Aristotle was concerned with language from both rhetorical and
philosophical points of view. The Greeks and the Romans also wrote grammars, and discussed the
sounds of language and the structures of words and sentences. This interest continued through the
medieval period and the renaissance in an unbroken thread to the present period.
Linguistic scholarship, however, was not confined to Europe; in India the Sanskrit language was the
subject of detailed analysis as early as the twelfth century BC. Paninis Sanskrit grammar dated ca.
500 BC is still considered to be one of the greatest scholarly linguistic achievements. In addition,
Chinese and Arabic scholars have all contributed to our understanding of human language.
The major efforts of the linguists of the nineteenth century were devoted to historical and comparative
studies. Ferdinand de Saussure (18571913), a Swiss linguist in this tradition, turned his attention
instead to the structural principles of language rather than to the ways in which languages change
and develop, and in so doing, became a major influence on twentieth century linguistics. In Europe
and America, linguists turned to descriptive synchronic studies of languages and to the development
of empirical methods for their analysis. Scholars from different disciplines and with different interests
turned their attention to the many aspects of language and language use.
American linguists in the first half of the century included the anthropologist Edward Sapir (1884
1939), interested in the languages of the Americas, language and culture, and language in society,
and Leonard Bloomfield (18871949), himself an historical and comparative linguist, as well as a
major descriptive linguist who emerged as the most influential linguist in this period. Both Sapir and
Bloomfield were also concerned with developing a general theory of language. Sapir was a mentalist
in that he believed that any viable linguistic theory must account for the mental representation of
linguistic knowledge, its psychological reality; Bloomfield in his later years was a follower of
behaviorism, which was the mainstream of psychological thought at the time, a view that precluded
any concern for mental representation of language and, in fact, for the mind itself.
In Europe, Roman Jakobson (18961982), one of the founders of the Prague School of Linguistics,
came to America in 1941 and contributed substantially to new developments in the field. His
collaboration with Morris Halle and Gunnar Fant led to a theory of Distinctive Features in phonology,

and Halle has remained one of the leading phonologists of the last decades. In England, phoneticians
like Daniel Jones (18811967) and Henry Sweet (18451912) (the prototype for G. B. Shaws Henry
Higgins) have had a lasting influence on the study of the sound systems of language.
In 1957 with the publication of Syntactic Structures, Noam Chomsky ushered in the era of generative
grammar, a theory which has been referred to as creating a scientific revolution. This theory of
grammar has developed in depth and breadth. It is concerned with the biological basis for the
acquisition, representation and use of human language and the universal principles which constrain
the class of all languages. It seeks to construct a scientific theory that is explicit and explanatory.
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On Linguistics fields of study

Linguistics is the study of language, but there are many subfields that linguists use to analyze

Phonetics: The study of the sound units that make up language

Phonology: The study of how sounds are distributed and how they interact with each other
Morphology: The study of word making
Syntax: The study of how words are organized into phrases and then phrases into sentences
Semantics: The study of meaning of words, phrases, and sentences
Pragmatics: The study of how language is used in conversation

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On the importance of Linguistics

The study of speech sounds





Place of articulation
Manner of articulation
The symbols


Tongue height
Tongue backness
Lip rounding


Phonetics is the scientific

study of the sounds of
speech including their
production and their
perception (...) Studying
phonetics requires a
systematic, conscious
consideration of how
speech sounds are
made, what they sound
like, and how they compare with each other. 1

Areas of Phonetics
Articulatory phonetics: The study of how speech sounds are produced by the brain and mouth.
Acoustic phonetics: The study of the physics of speech sounds.
Auditory phonetics: The study of how sounds are perceived by the ear and brain.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

The IPA was first published in 1888 by the Association Phontique Internationale (International
Phonetic Association), a group of French language teachers founded by Paul Passy. The aim of the
organization was to devise a system for transcribing the sounds of speech which was independent of
any particular language and applicable to all languages.
A phonetic script for English created in 1847 by Isaac Pitman and Henry Ellis was used as a model
for the IPA. The IPA is used in dictionaries to indicate the pronunciation of words. It has often been
used as a basis for creating new writing systems for previously unwritten languages. The IPA is used
in some foreign language text books and phrase books to transcribe the sounds of languages which
are written with non-latin alphabets. It is also used by non-native speakers of English when learning
to speak English.

The general principle of the IPA is to provide one symbol for each distinctive sound (or speech
segment). This means that it does not use letter combinations to represent single sounds, or single
letters to represent multiple sounds. There are no letters that have context
dependent sound values,
and finally, the IPA does not usually have separate letters for two so
unds if no known language
makes a distinction between them.
Among the symbols of the IPA, 107 represent consonants and vowels, 31 are diacritics that are used
to further specify these sounds, and 19 are used to indicate such qualities as length, tone, stress,
intonation. These are the charts:

To print and study:

In Articulatory Phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial
closure of the upper vocal tract, the upper vocal tract being defined as that part of the vocal tract that
lies above the larynx. There are mainly three aspects to take into account when describing consonant
sounds: voicing, place of articulation and manner of articulation.


In phonetics, voice or voicing is one of the parameters used to describe a sound. It is

usually treated as a binary parameter with sounds being described as either voiceless (unvoiced) or
voiced, although in fact there can be degrees of voicing. A voiced sound is one in which the vocal
cords vibrate, and a voiceless sound is one in which they do not. Voicing is the difference between
pairs of sounds such as /z/ and /s/ in English. If one places the fingers on the voice box (i.e. the
location of the Adam's apple in the upper throat), one can feel a vibration when one pronounces zzzz,
but not when one pronounces ssss.

Place of articulation: Place of articulation refers to the location of the narrowest part of the
vocal tract in producing a sound. It usually involves an active and a passive articulator. The active
articulator usually moves in order to make the constriction. The passive articulator usually just sits
there and gets approached.
These are the names for the places of articulation used in English:
Bilabial: the articulators are the two lips. English bilabial sounds include [p], [b], and [m].
Labio-dental: The lower lip is the active articulator and the upper teeth are the passive articulators.
English labio-dental sounds include [f] and [v].
Dental: these sounds involve the upper teeth as the passive articulator. The active articulator may be
either the tongue tip or (usually) the tongue blade -- diacritic symbols can be used if it matters which.
They are often called interdental. English interdental sounds include [] and [].
Alveolar: these sounds involve the alveolar ridge as the passive articulator. The active articulator
may be either the tongue blade or (usually) the tongue tip -- diacritic symbols can be used if it matters
which. English alveolar sounds include [t], [d], [r], [n], [s], [z], [l].

Palatal: they involve the hard palate as the passive articulator. The active articulator may be either
the tongue tip or (usually) the tongue blade -- diacritic symbols can be used if it matters which.
English palatals include [j] [] [ ] [d] and [ t ].
Velar: the active articulator is the tongue body and the passive articulator is the soft palate. English
velars include [k], [g], and [].
Glottal: This isn't strictly a place of articulation, but they had to put it in the chart somewhere. Glottal
sounds are made in the larynx. For the glottal stop, the vocal cords close momentarily and cut off all
airflow through the vocal tract. English uses the glottal stop in the interjection uh-uh (meaning 'no').
In [h], the vocal cords are open, but close enough together that air passing between them creates
friction noise.
[w] is often called a "labio-velar" as it is both bilabial and velar.
More on:

Manner of Articulation: Place of articulation refers to where the narrowing occurs -- which
active articulator gets close to which passive articulator. Manner of articulation refers to how close
they get. For English, we have:
Stop or plosive: the active articulator touches the passive articulator and completely cuts off the
airflow through the mouth. English stops include: [p], [d], [k], and [m].
Fricative: the active articulator doesn't touch the passive articulator, but gets close enough that the
airflow through the opening becomes turbulent. English fricatives include [f], [v], [z].
Affricate: Affricates can be seen as a sequence of a stop and a fricative which have the same or
similar places of articulation. [d] and [ t ] are affricate sounds in English.
Nasal: The soft palate is lowered, allowing air to flow out through the nose. In English, we find [n], [],
and [m].
Liquids: the tongue produces a partial closure in the mouth, resulting in a resonant, vowel-like
consonant. They include laterals (in which air escapes through the side of the tongue, such as /l/),
and rhotics (in which there are one or more brief occlusions, as in the trill [r] and the flap [].
Glides: pronounced like a vowel but with the tongue closer to the roof of the mouth, so that there is
slight turbulence. English glides include [j] and [w].

The Symbols

A vowel sound is an OPEN sound produced by not blocking the breath with the lips, teeth, or tongue.
It is always voiced and can form a syllable by itself.
Here`s the chart for the vowel sounds in English.

When describing a vowel, we need to pay attention to the following features: tongue height, tongue
backness, lip rounding and tenseness.

Tongue height: Vowels are classified in terms of how much space there is between the tongue
and the roof of the mouth, which is determined by the height of the tongue. There are three primary
height distinctions among vowels: high, low, and mid.

Tongue backness: Vowels are classified in terms of how far the raised body of the tongue is
from the back of the mouth, which is called the backness (also advancement) of the tongue. There
are three primary advancement distinctions among vowels: front, back, and central.

Lip rounding: Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding.
This characteristic gives way to rounded or unrounded vowels.

Tenseness: Another aspect of vowel classification is commonly characterized in terms of the

tenseness or laxness of the articulators. Some vowels are formed with a high degree of tenseness.
Such vowels are called tense vowels. Some vowels are formed without a high degree of tenseness,
and are called lax vowels.

More examples:


Read the following passage:

On Phonetics


The study of the sound system of





Minimal pairs
Natural classes

Allophonic rules


Contrastive distribution
Complementary distribution
Free variation
Phonological problems





Phonology, broadly
speaking, is that subdiscipline within linguistics
concerned with 'the sounds
of language'. More
narrowly, phonology proper
is concerned with the
function, behaviour, and
organization of sounds as
items as opposed to phonetics which is a
rather more neutral study of the sounds themselves as
phenomena in the physical world, and the physiological,
anatomical, neurological, and psychological properties of
the human beings that make them.2

Phones and Phonemes

Within phonetics, a phone is a speech sound or gesture considered a physical event without regard
to its place in the phonology of a language

a speech segment that possesses distinct physical or perceptual properties

the basic unit revealed via phonetic speech analysis

A phone is an unanalyzed sound of a language. It is the smallest identifiable unit found in a stream of
speech that is able to be transcribed with an IPA symbol.
On the other hand, a phoneme is the smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of
conveying a distinction in meaning, as the m of mat and the b of bat in English. That is, phonemes
are sounds can be grouped into distinctive units within a language.


Here is a chart that compares phones and phonemes:

A phone is
One of many possible
sounds in the languages of
the world.
The smallest identifiable
unit found in a stream of
Pronounced in a defined

A phoneme is
A contrastive unit in the sound
system of a particular language.

Represented between
brackets by convention.

A minimal unit that serves to

distinguish between meanings of
Pronounced in one or more
ways, depending on the number
of allophones.
Represented between slashes
by convention.



[b], [j], [o]

/b/, /j/, /o/

Note: There are approximately 44 phonemes in English, and 22 to 24 in Spanish.

Minimal Pairs: In phonetics, a pair of words that differ in one phoneme such as pin and bin /pn,
bn/ or rich and wretch /rt, rt/ are called minimal pairs. Slink and shrink are not minimal, as they
differ in two phonemes. Minimal pairs are used in order to ascertain the phonemes of a language or



























If we didnt know any English, these words will help us identify the phonemes in this language. That
is, the phonetic alphabet of the native speakers of English.

Natural Classes: A natural class is a set of sounds that have certain phonetic features in
common. All the members of a natural class are affected in the same way in the same environment.
Similarly, all members of a natural class have the same effect on other sounds that occur in their
environment. For a group of sounds to constitute a natural class: they must all share one or more
features and there should be no other sounds in the language that have this feature or combination of
In English, voiceless plosives form a natural class; rounded vowels form another, etc. Additional
features include coronals (articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue), sibilant (characterized
by, or producing a hissing sound like that of s or sh), obstruent (formed by obstructing airflow,
causing increased air pressure in the vocal tract, that is stops, fricative, and affricates), and sonorant
(produced without turbulent airflow in the vocal tract)

An allophone is a phonetic variant of a phoneme in a particular language.
Examples in English include the phones [p] and [ph] as in [spt] and [pht]. The [ph] sound is aspirated
(the h is the diacritic used in those cases) produced with an extra puff of air. All voiceless stops in
English are aspirated when they are word-initial or begin a stressed syllable, as in pen, ten or Ken. A
characteristic most native speakers are unaware of, as they only recognize the phonemes /p//t/or/k/.
This is not necessary true for other languages. In Hindi, for instance, [phl] means fruit and [pl]
means moment. That is they are minimal pairs. This means speakers of the Hindi language
recognize both phones as two different entities, two separate phonemes.
In final position, some speakers of English do not release the air when producing voiceless stops.
This phone is represented by [p]. So if we are to map the allophones for the /p/ phoneme, for
instance, we will have something like


[p] as in [spt]

[ph] as in [pht]



[p] as in [lp]

Note: slashes // are used for phonemic transcriptions (only phonemes are transcribed) whereas
square brackets [ ] are used for phonetic transcriptions.

The map for /t/ would be


[t] as in [stip] [th] as in [thk]

[t] as in [spt]



[] as in [phr i:]

[]as in [sr n]

Allophonic rules: An allophonic rule is a phonological rule that says which allophone realizes a
phoneme in a given phonemic environment. In other words, an allophonic rule is a rule that converts
the phonemes in a phonemic transcription into the allophones of the corresponding phonetic
Look at the following pairs of words:
[bit] & [bim]

[bt] & [b]

[pht] & [phn]

[bt] & [b:d]

[pht]& [ ph:d]

[bt] & [b:d]

When analyzing vowels in English, we realized they are nasalized (produced with a lowering of the
velum so that air escapes both through nose as well as the mouth) before nasal sounds within the
same syllable. This is shown using the [~] diacritic. We can say this is an allophonic rule for the
English language.
The nasalization rule for the English vowels can be graphically represented as follows:
V [ + NASAL] / ___ [ + NASAL] (C) # ($)
In which:
V (capital letter) means any vowel sound
means becomes or is changed to
/ means in the environment of
____ is placed before or after segments that condition the change.
( ) enclose optional segments, whose presence or absence is irrelevant to the rule
$ indicates a syllable boundary; you can also just use #

In French, on the other hand, nasal vowels are not allophonic. That is to say they do not follow any
rule. Speakers of that language store oral and nasal vowels separately. They are recognized as
different phonemes.
Compare the following minimal pairs:
[la] tired

[la] slow


[lo] long

Theres also another rule for producing vowel sounds in English: when a stressed syllable ends in a
voiced consonant, we make the vowel before it longer. The [:] diacritic is used to show such
lengthening. The rule for the vowel lengthening is:
V [+ LONG] / ___ + VOICED

Each language has its own set of allophonic rules. In Spanish, for example, the word beb is
pronounced [b], the [] phone being a fricative variant of the /b/ phoneme. The [] occurs in
between vowels. Write the formal representation for this rule:

In phonetics, distribution is the set of phonetic environments in which a phone (i.e. speech sound)

Contrastive Distribution

A pair of phones is contrastive if interchanging the two can change the meaning of a word
Phones in contrastive distribution are allophones of different phonemes
They are unpredictable
We can determine that two phones are in contrastive distribution by identifying a minimal
pair. Example: [l] and [r] are in contrastive distribution in [lif] and [rif]

Complementary Distribution

A pair of phones is complementary if they never appear in the same phonetic environment
Phones in complementary distribution are allophones of the same phoneme
They are predictable
No minimal pairs can be constructed for allophones of a single phoneme. Example: [p] and
[ph] in English

Free Variation
 More than one pronunciation of a given sound may be possible in some phonetic contexts
 No contrast in meaning is created
 They are not predictable. Example: [p] [p] are in free variation in [lp] and [lp]
Now, distribution depends on the sound system of particular languages. Thus, nasal vowels are
in complementary distribution in the English language (oral vowels and nasal vowels are considered
to be the same sounds), but in a contrastive one in French (speakers recognize them as distinctive
phonemes). Free variation, on the other hand, may be due to dialectal or sociolectal divide. In some
cases, the same person realizes the same phoneme in a different manner in different situations.

Phonological Problems: Part of the phonological study of a language involves looking at

data (phonetic transcriptions of the speech of native speakers) and trying to deduce what the
underlying phonemes are and what the sound inventory of the language is. When analyzing this data,
it is important to discover the distribution of phones. This way we will know whether two (or more)
phones are considered allophones of the same phoneme (complementary or free variation
distribution) or distinctive allophones of different phonemes (contrastive distribution). To solve
phonological problems, the following flow chart may prove useful:
Minimal pairs?


Contrastive distribution



Same environment?

Same meaning?




Free variation

Complementary distribution

Write the rule


Let`s see how it works!

Phonological problem 1: look at the following data from Hindi. Are [t] and [th] allophones of
different phonemes or allophones of the same phoneme in this language?
[tal] postpone

[thal] place for buying wood

[tan] mode of singing

[than] roll of cloth

As there is a difference in meaning when using [t] or [th] that is, they form minimal pairs (pairs of
words which differ in only one string of sound) we must conclude that these phones are allophones
of different phonemes.

Phonological problem 2: Analyze this data from Jaqaru (spoken in the Province of Yauyos,
Department of Lima, Peru). Are [i] and [e] allophones of different phonemes? Or are they allophones
of a same phoneme?
[jaqi] 'people'

[jaqe] 'people'

They are not minimal pairs (as they have the same meaning). They have the same environment. That
is, in both cases they are in final position and proceeded by a [q] sound. This is clearly seen if we list
the context in which they appear:




Note: the underscore sign (_) is the segment being studied, and # marks word boundaries.
They have the same meaning, so we must conclude the two phones are in free variation.

Phonological problem 3: Consider the distribution of [r] and [l] in Korean in the following
words. Are [r] and [l] allophones of one or two phonemes? (That is, are these sounds stored
differently in the memory of Korean speakers?)
rubi 'ruby'
kiri 'road'
saram 'person'
irmi 'name'
radio 'radio'

mul 'water'
pal 'big'
sul 'Seoul'
ilgop 'seven'
ipalsa 'barber'

There are not minimal pairs, so we have to list the environments.




# _u








# _a


We can see the contexts do not overlap. The [r] is always used before vowel sounds. The [l] is never
used before vowels. Now, we need to determine the rule. The base phone is the less predictable one,
in this case [l].
[l] [r] / ___ [+ VOWEL]

Phonological problem 4: Consider the following data from Italian. Are [n] and [] in
complementary or contrastive distribution?
1. [tinta]
2. [tnda]
3. [dansa]
4. [nero]
5. [jnte]
6. [sapone]


7. [tigo]
8. [tgo]
9. [fugo]
10. [byaka]
11. [ake]
12. [fago]

I dye
I keep

Although [tigo] and [tgo] are in fact minimal pairs, it only means that [i] and [] are considered two
different phonemes in this language. But we are interested in the distribution for [n]and []. There are
not minimal pairs with these two phones, so we list the environment.


There are not overlapping contexts. The [] is always used before [g] and [k]. On the other hand, [n]
is never used before [g] and [k]. These two phones share one characteristic: they are velar sounds
(so is []). We state the rule (the less predictable element is [n]): [n] [] / ___ [+ VELAR]



1. Examine the following words of Tongan, a Polynesian language:

[tauhi] 'to take care'

[sino] 'body'


[totonu 'correct'


[motu] 'island'

[pasi] 'to clap'

[mosimosi] 'to drizzle'

[fata] 'shelf'

[motomoto] 'unripe'

[movete] 'to come apart'

[fesi] 'to break'

[misi] 'to dream'

(a) On the basis of these data, determine whether Tongan [s] and [t] are allophones of a single
phoneme or are two separate phonemes. If you find that they are allophones of the same phoneme,
state the rule that describes the distribution of each allophone. If they are different phonemes, justify
your answer. (In Tongan all syllables must end in a vowel.)
(b) In each of the following Tongan words, one sound has been replaced by a blank. This sound is
either [s] or [t]. Without more knowledge of Tongan than you were able to figure out from (a), is it
possible to make an educated guess as to which of these sounds fits in the blank? If so, provide the
sound; if not, explain why.
[__ili] 'fishing net'

[fe__e] 'lump'

[__uku] 'to place'

[lama__i] 'to ambush'

2. The words below come from Maxakali, an Indian language spoken in Brazil. Examine them closely,
then answer the questions below them. ([] is a palatal nasal.)
[mbep] 'fox'

[gahap] 'bottle'

[da] 'pot'

[okoma] 'below'

[gahap] 'bottle'

[nda ] 'pot'

[bep] 'fox'

[okama] 'below'

(a) Are any of [m], [n], [], or [] (a) phoneme?

(b) Are [m], [n], [], [] allophones of some phoneme?


3. Veps is a Finno-Ugric language related to Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian, spoken by peoples
living in Norther Russia and Karelia. It possesses a series of palatalized consonants parallelling the
non-palatalized ones. Examine the stops in the following data ([p] : [p'], [t] : [t'], [d] : [d'], [k] : [k'] and
[g] : [g'] and determine if the palatalized consonants are phonemic or not. If not, what are the
conditions on their variation? Remember:
[] = rounded [e]

[y] = rounded [i]

[pada] 'pot'

[pordaz] 'ladder'

[toda] 'bring'

[p'eza] 'nest'

[p'ijo] 'handful'

[panda] 'put'

[tomiine] 'wild cherry'

[t'yp'k] 'dull'

[darom] 'let'

[upota] 'sink'

[redukaz] 'dirty'

[kod'i] 'house'

[t'ed'i] 'he knew'

[k'ida] 'scream' [

sokaz] 'swampy'

[g'gut] 'creek'

[pugad] 'geese'

[s'tan] 'I will feed'

[kata] 'cut'

[g'tab] 'leave'

[rogo] 'stone'

[t'p'tada] 'inherit'

[d'egad] 'money'

[g'] 'ice'

4. Examine the distribution of the phones [p], [ph], and [b] in the Sindhi language. Determine if the
three are allophones of separate phonemes or allophones of the same phoneme. What is your
evidence? Is the relationship among the sounds the same as in English? Why or why not?

5. Tojolabal is a Mayan language of the Kanjobalan-Chujean family, spoken in Mexico. Determine

whether plain [k] and ejective [k] are allophones of a single phonemeor in contrast. Support your
answer with specific examples.


6. Russian is an Indo-European language of the Slavic family. Determine from the following data
whether [a] and [] complement each other as allophones of the same phoneme, or whether they are
in contrast as separate phonemes. If they are separate phonemes, provide evidence for your claim. If
they are in complementary distribution, pick one allophone as the basic sound, and give the
conditioning phonetic contexts for its allophones.

[a] is a front vowel. [] is more back. [] represents a velarized [l]. [sj] and [mj] are palatalized
consonants: front part of the tongue is raised, as a secondary articulation.

7. Fijian is an example of a language with prenasalized stops in its phonological inventory. (The
prenasalized stop [nd] consists of a nasal pronounced immediately before the stop, with which it
forms a single sound unit.) Consider the following Fijian words as they are pronounced in fast
vindi 'to spring up'

dina 'true'

kenda 'we'

dalo 'taro plant'

tiko 'to stay'

vundi 'plantain banana'

tutu 'grandfather'

manda 'first'

viti 'Fiji'

tina 'mother'

dovu 'sugarcane'

mata 'eye'

mokiti 'round'

dondo 'to stretch out one's hand'

vevendu (a type of plant)

On the basis of these data, determine whether in Fijian [d], [nd], and [t] are allophones of a single
phoneme or are two or three distinct phonemes. If you find that two of them (or all of them) are
allophones of a single phoneme, state the rule that describes the distribution of each allophone. If
they are all different phonemes, justify your answer.
Note: In Fijian all syllables must end in a vowel.


8. Consider the following sounds in the Greek words below.

[x] voiceless velar fricative
[k] voiceless velar stop

[c] voiceless palatal stop

[] voiceless palatal fricative

Which of these sounds are contrastive and which are in complementary distribution? Give the
phonetic environments where each sound occurs.
[kano] do
[xano] lose
[cino] move
[ino] pour
[xufta] handful
[kufeta] bonbons
[eri] hand
[kali] charms

[kori] daughter
[xori] dances
[xrima] money
[krima] shame
[ceri] candle
[eli] eel
[oi] no
[xali] plight

Phonological Processes
In speech production, there are several processes that occur when we combine certain sounds. They
are called phonological processes. Here are some of them:

Assimilation: A sound becomes more like a following or a preceding sound (regressive and
progressive assimilation respectively). Ex. In English, /t/ changes to /p/ before /m/ /b/ or /p/: best man,
cat burglar, and set point. /m/ /b/ and /p/ are all bilabials, so the /t/ assimilates the point of articulation.
Vowel nasalization for both English and Spanish is another good example of assimilation.

Dissimilation: one of two similar sounds in a word becomes less like the other. For example,
[ffs] fifths is usually pronounced [ffts], as it is easier to articulate fricative+stop+fricative rather
than fricative+fricative+fricative.

Insertion (or Epenthesis): the insertion of a segment or a feature. Ex. in Dutch, melk 'milk' may be
pronounced as [melk]. In Spanish, turpial 'troupial' may be pronounced [turupial].

Deletion: the removal of a segment from certain phonetic contexts. In English, a schwa [] is often
deleted when the next vowel in the word is stressed. For example: suppose: [s`poz] is pronounced
[s`poz]. Likewise, when one /r/ sound occurs before another in the middle of a word in some dialects
of English, the first tends to drop out, as in "supprise" for surprise, "paticular" for particular, and
"govenor" for governor.

Metathesis: the reordering of a sequence of segments. For instance some people say /ks/ for
/`sk/ ask or /rvlnt/ for /rlvnt/ relevant.

Find examples for these processes in your own language.
'Haitch' or 'aitch'? How do you pronounce 'H'?
By David Sillito
BBC arts correspondent
The pronunciation of common words has changed drastically over time. So, as the
British Library begins a quest to record people's articulations, what do the
differences in how we pronounce words say about us?
Pedants, beware. The sound of says, ate, mischievous, harass, garage,
schedule and aitch is shifting.
Once upon a time, there were gales of laughter when Frank Spencer in Some
Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em pronounced harass with the emphasis on the second
Now, according to the British Library, evidence suggests that for people under the
age of 35, it is becoming the favoured pronunciation.
Indeed the younger you are, the more likely you are to make says rhyme
with lays rather than fez, ate rhyme with late rather than bet and to add a whole
new syllable to mischievous, turning it in to miss-CHEEVY-us rather than MISSchiv-us.
More on:

On Phonology


The study of the internal structure of





Root & affixes
Free & bound morphemes
Inflectional & derivational morphemes


WORD FORMATION (derivation)

Major word formation processes
Minor word formation processes


Inflectional processes



The term morphology is

generally attributed to the
German poet, novelist,
playwright, and philosopher
Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe (17491832), who
coined it early in the
nineteenth century in a
biological context. Its
etymology is Greek: morphmeans shape, form, and
morphology is the study of form or forms. In biology
morphology refers to the study of the form and structure
of organisms, and in geology it refers to the study of the
configuration and evolution of land forms. In linguistics
morphology refers to the mental system
system involved in word
formation or to the branch of linguistics that deals with
words, their internal structure, and how they are formed.
formed iii

Simple, Complex and Compound Words

The smallest units of meaning may be whole simple words (e.g. man, run, big) or parts of complex
words (e.g. un-, -faith- and -ful in unfaithful) which are called morphemes. Some morphemes, such
as faith (in unfaithful) or dream (in dreaming) can stand alone as words which make sense. These
are known as free morphemes. You will see how very many simple words are free morphemes, but
can combine with other morphemes, both free and bound (see below) to form complex words.
Where two simple words are joined together to form a new complete word, this is called a compound
word. Examples include teapot, starlight and careworn. When these terms are first coined, they are
shown in some dictionaries with a hyphen, as in light-house or fish-finger.
Classify the following into simple, complex or compound words:
Banana, socks, international, newspaper, everything, message, super-housekeeper,

In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning (such as tall and est in tallest).

Root and affixes: a root is the primary lexical unit of a word, which carries the most significant
aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents (such as tall in tallest).
On the other hand, an affix is a morpheme that is attached to a base morpheme such as a root or to
a stem, to form a word. These morphemes (collectively called affixes) cannot stand alone they
need to be part of a complex word to make sense.
Affixes can be classified depending on their position with reference to the root:
* Prefixes (attached before another morpheme). Ex.: disadvantage, copilot.
* Suffixes (attached after another morpheme). Ex.: childish, bravery.
* Infixes (inserted within another morpheme). Ex.: in Tagalog, sulat means "write", while sinulat
means "written."
* Circumfixes (attached before and after another morpheme or set of morphemes). Ex.: In Hungarian,
legnagyobb means "biggest". The root is nagy, which means "big."

Free and bound morphemes: affixes are said to be bound morphemes in that they have to
be attached to other morphemes. Some roots cannot stand alone as words as well. They are also
bound morphemes (bound roots). Geo as in geology is a good example of a bound root. The others
are called free morphemes as they do not need to be accompanied by other particles.

Inflectional and derivational morphemes: according to their function, morphemes can

also be classified into inflectional or derivational.
An inflectional morpheme creates a change in the function of the word. Example: the ed in invited
indicates past tense. English has only seven inflectional morphemes: -s (plural) and -s (possessive)
are noun inflections; -s (3rd-person singular), -ed (past tense), -ed /-en (past participle), and -ing
(present participle) are verb inflections; -er (comparative) and -est (superlative) are adjective and
adverb inflections. In English, inflectional morphemes can only be suffixes, which is not necessarily
true for other languages.
On the other hand, a derivational morpheme changes the meaning of the word or the part of
speech or both. Derivational morphemes create new words. Example: the prefix and derivational
morpheme un added to invited changes the meaning of the word (uninvited).

Allomorphs: Morphemes can undergo certain changes. Allomorphs are different phonetic forms
or variations of a morpheme. Example: The final morphemes in the following words are pronounced
differently, but they all indicate plurality: dogs, cats, and horses. Likewise, an is an allomorph for
a, as in an apple.

Separate the following words into roots and affixes:
Different enrichment awareness antioxidants illegal
Classify the morphemes into free or bound:
Aircrafts fruitful elephant morphology contraceptive
Classify the bound morphemes into inflectional or derivational:
Productivity capitalism deserved clicks darker undo

Extra practice
Try and divide different words into morphemes, then classify them.

Word Formation (Derivation)

In its wider sense word formation denotes the processes of creation of new lexical units.

Major word formation processes

Affixation: morphological process whereby a base may be extended by one or more affixes.
Examples (from English):
Repaint, disable, ultrasonic, successful, improvement, disciplinary.
Compounding: a process in which two different words are joined together to denote one thing.
Examples (from English):
Flower-pot, fingerprint, looking glass, fire-fly, keyboard, blood-vessel.

Minor word formation processes

Null affixation: a process by which new words are formed by adding an affix which happens to be
phonologically null. In simpler terms, a null morpheme is an "invisible" affix. It's also called zero
morpheme. Examples (from English):
I always stay in that hotel.
He`ll have a short stay in this town.
You cannot conduct business like this.
Their conduct was intolerable.

Reduplication: a morphological process by which the root or stem of a word, or part of it, is
repeated. Examples:
kagir 'belt' kagirgir 'to wear a belt' (from Marshallese)
mahuta 'to sleep' mahutamahuta 'to sleep constantly' (from Motu)
Blend: this process is very similar to compounding, but it is characterized by taking only parts of
words and joining them. Examples (from English):
smoke and fog smog
Spanish and English Spanglish
motor and hotel motel
Work and alcoholic workaholic
Abbreviations: An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. Clipped words, acronyms,
stub compounds, and alphabetisms are all referred to as abbreviations.
Acronyms are words made from the first part of several words, usually from the first sound. Examples
(from English):
Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus scuba
RAdio Detection And Ranging radar
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome aids
Alphabetisms are groups of letters that are pronounced separately, but form a word. Examples (from
Disk Jockey DJ
United States of America USA
Very Important People VIP
Compact Disc CD
Clipping is the reduction of a word to one of its parts. Examples (from English):
Bicycle bike
Veterinarian vet
Laboratory lab
Doctor doc
Stub- compounds are phonological sub-parts of compound elements. Examples (from English):
Science fiction Sci-fi
Physical education Physed
Back formation: the process of creating a new "word" by removing actual or supposed affixes.
Examples (from English):
Editor edit (a verb was created from an existing noun)
Enthusiasm enthuse (a verb was created from an existing noun)
Pease pea (pease was originally the singular form)
Borrowings: taking over words from other languages. Examples:
From Arabic to English alcohol
From Turkish to English yoghurt
From German to English pretzel
From Czech to English pistol
Coinage: the invention of totally new terms. Examples (from English):
Aspirin, Nylon, Kleenex
Look for examples of these processes in English and/or in your own language.

Inflection indicates something about a words syntactic context or role in the sentence. Inflectional
morphemes signal grammatical information such as number (plural), tense, possession and so on.
They are thus often called bound grammatical morphemes.

Inflectional processes
Affixation: the result of adding an affix to a root word. Examples (from English):
Accept accepted
Tall taller
Reduplication: a morphological process by which the root or stem of a word, or part of it, is
repeated. Example (from Warlpiri):
kamina girl kamina-kamina girls
Suppletion: the replacement of one stem with another, resulting in an allomorph of a morpheme
which has no phonological similarity to the other allomorphs. Examples (from English):
Good better
Go went
Partial suppletion: the partial replacement of one stem with another. Examples (from English):
Bring brought
Send sent
Ablaut: a vowel change that accompanies a change in grammatical function. Examples (from
Sing sang
Foot feet
Name the inflectional process in each case:
Cutest mice studying chosen was

On Morphology


The study of the principles and rules for
constructing sentences in natural



Lexical categories
Functional categories
Phrasal categories


Constituency tests






Lexical and structural ambiguity





The term 'syntax' is from the Ancient

Greek sntaxis, a verbal noun which
literally means 'arrangement' or
'setting out together'. Traditionally, it
refers to the branch of grammar
dealing with the ways in which
words with or without appropriate
inflections, are arranged to show
connections of meaning within the
sentence First and foremost, syntax
deals with how sentences are
constructed and users of human languages employ a
striking variety of possible arrangement of the elements in
Syntactic Categories
Sentences are made of different elements at different levels. Every element is a sub-unit, and each
one of them belongs to a syntactic category. In the sentence my sister bought a new car, the word
sister is a unit (a noun), the phrase my sister is also a unit (the subject), and even bought a new
car works as a one (predicate). Thus, a syntactic category is a set of words and/or phrases in a
language which share a significant number of common characteristics. The classification is based on
similar structure and distribution, and not on meaning. There are three types of syntactic categories.

Lexical categories: a lexical category is a syntactic category for elements that are part of the
lexicon of a language. These elements are at the word level. They are also known as parts of
speech, and here is a rough description:


A noun is a naming word. It names a person, place, thing, idea, living creature, quality, or
action. Examples: cowboy, theatre, box, thought, tree, kindness, arrival.


A verb is a word which describes an action (doing something) or a state (being something).
Examples: walk, talk, think, believe, live, like, want.

Adjective: An adjective is a word that describes a noun. It tells you something about the noun.
Examples: big, yellow, thin, amazing, beautiful, quick, important.



An adverb is a word which usually describes a verb. It tells you how something is done. It
may also tell you when or where something happened. Examples: slowly, intelligently, well,
yesterday, tomorrow, here, everywhere.


A pronoun is used instead of a noun, to avoid repeating the noun. Examples: I, you, he,
she, it, we, they.


A conjunction joins two words, phrases or sentences together. Examples: but, so,

and, because, or.


A preposition usually comes before a noun, pronoun or noun phrase. Examples: of,

with, for, about.

Phrasal categories: A phrasal category is a unit of language larger than a word but smaller
than a sentence. They include:

Noun phrases: a phrase whose head is a noun or a pronoun, optionally accompanied by a set of
modifiers. Examples: Mary, a nice guy, a long trip to Europe.

Verb phrases: a verb phrase is a syntactic unit that corresponds to the predicate and whose
head is the verb. Examples: work, is studying, reads a magazine.

Adjective phrases: a phrase whose head is an adjective, optionally accompanied by a set of

modifiers. Examples: really bad, attractive, good at math.

Prepositional phrases: a phrase whose head is preposition and is accompanied by a noun or

pronoun as complement. Examples: for your information, on that desk, near me.

Adverbial phrases: a phrase whose head is an adverb. Examples: beautifully, really loudly.
Functional categories: a functional category fulfills a grammatical purpose, such as that of
determiners and auxiliaries.
NOTE: There are about 50 different determiners in the English language they include:

a, an, the
this, that, these, those, etc.
my, your, our, their, his, hers, whose, my friend's, our friends', etc.
few, a few, many, much, each, every, some, any etc.
one, two, three, twenty, forty
first, second, last, next, etc.

Label each word according to their parts of speech. Then, separate and classify the phrases.
 A good catchword can obscure analysis for fifty years. (Wendell L. Willkie)
 Our language is funny - a fat chance and slim chance are the same thing. (J. Gustav White)
 A different language is a different vision of life. (Federico Fellini)

In syntactic analysis, a constituent is a word or a group of words that functions as a single unit within
a hierarchical structure, that is, a constituent is one of two or more grammatical units that enter
syntactically or morphologically into a construction at any level. Words are the smallest constituents
in a sentence, and they combine into larger constituents. When constituents in a sentence can be
combined into larger and larger units, these ever larger units form a hierarchy of sentence
For instance, the noun plan (which is a constituent) combined with the determiner this (which is
another constituent) forms the noun phrase this plan (yet another constituent). We can add a verb to
form a sentence: this plan works. We can expand the predicate adding the prepositional phrase for
me and/or the noun phrase every time, and we will have: this plan works for me every time.
The hierarchy of these sentence constituents can be seen in the following:

(Noun phrase)

(Verb phrase)







(Noun phrase)


(Verb phrase)




NP Det. N






every time

Note: every blue dot corresponds to a sentence constituent.

Constituency tests: these are certain ways to know whether a string of words form a constituent
within a particular sentence. They may prove very useful when you are in doubt. Some of them are:

Substitution: My niece read that book

She read it

(But niece read is not a constituent)

Questions: My niece read that book for her upcoming test last week
My niece
read that book for her upcoming test last week
that book
for her upcoming test
last week
(But book for her is not a constituent)

She did

Movement: Susan went shopping at noon yesterday

Yesterday, Susan went shopping at noon
At noon, Susan went shopping yesterday
(But noon yesterday is not a constituent)

Deletion: Your most talented father teaches poetry in the summer

Your father teaches poetry in the summer
Your most talented father teaches in the summer
Your most talented father teaches poetry.
(But your most is not a constituent)
Apply suitable constituency tests in order to find constituents in the following sentences:
 Michael Jackson will now be buried on September 3rd in Los Angeles.
 Michael Jackson's death was a huge blow to his fans around the world, and naturally, it has
generated a resurgence of interest in Michael Jackson memorabilia.
 American superstar Michael Jackson was born in Indiana, on August 29, 1958, and
entertained audiences nearly his entire life. Michael's singing and dancing talents were
amazingly mature, and he soon became the dominant voice and focus of The Jackson 5.

Phrase Structure Rules (PSR)

Phrase-structure rules are a way to describe a given language's syntax. That is, they are a
representation of the syntactic structures of those languages, and are used to break a natural
language sentence down into its constituent parts.
Phrase structure rules are usually of the form X
separated into the two sub-constituents Y and Z.
Here are some (simplified) PSRs for the English language:
(Det) (AP) (N) N (PP) (CP)
(ADV P )Adj (PP)
(ADV P ) Prep NP
(Adv P) V (NP) (AP) (Adv P) (PP) (CP)
ADV P (Adv P) Adv
Compl S


Y Z, meaning that the constituent X is

Elements in
parenthesis are not
constituents within
the phrases.

In theory, we can generate all sorts of grammatically correct sentences following these rules. Thus,
from the rule: NP (Det) (AP) (N) N (PP) (CP), we can get:

The secret
The big secret


The big secret in your closet


Generate English phrases and sentences using PSRs

Syntactic Tree Diagrams

The structure of phrases and sentences can be graphically represented using syntactic tree
diagrams. For instance, the phrase
phrases angry with you, proud of it, sorry about that,, and the agreement
between the boards of the two companies are represented as follows:


Now, let`s look at several sentences



For more information on tree structure diagrams:
Draw syntactic tree diagrams for the following sentences:

Huck Finn was a homeless boy.

Tom started a fight with the new boy in town.
Peters friends were painting the fence for him.
The guy you hired yesterday was living in the streets.
Susie sold the car she won last year.

In some cases, a phrase or sentence can be interpreted two or more ways as a result of their
grammatical construction. This syntactic ambiguity arises not from the range of meanings of single
words, but from the relationship between the words and clauses of a sentence, and the sentence
structure implied thereby.

Lexical and Structural Ambiguity

A word, phrase, or sentence is ambiguous if it has more than one meaning. The word 'light', for
example, can mean not very heavy or not very dark. Words like 'light', 'note', 'bear' and 'over' are
lexically ambiguous. They induce ambiguity in phrases or sentences in which they occur, such as
'light suit' and 'The duchess can't bear children'. However, phrases and sentences can be ambiguous
even if none of their constituents is. The phrase 'porcelain egg container' is structurally ambiguous,
as is the sentence 'The police shot the rioters with guns'. Ambiguity can have both a lexical and a
structural basis, as with sentences like 'I left her behind for you' and 'He saw her duck'.
Read more on:
Let`s take a look at the following sentences:
I know a man with a dog who has fleas
Who`s got fleas? Is it the man or the dog?
Free whales
Is it a command to let them loose? Are they giving away whales?
They gave the children the books on the floor
Were the children on the floor? Were the books on the floor?

Tree diagrams should solve the ambiguity:









with a dog who has fleas

MEANING: the dog has fleas










with a dog who has fleas

MEANING: the man has fleas

It is not uncommon to see ambiguity in newspaper headlines:



Draw trees to solve the ambiguity:
 Free whales
 They gave the children the books on the floor

Word Order
In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a
language, and how different languages can employ different orders. There are six theoretically
possible basic word orders for the transitive sentence: subject verb object (SVO), subject object verb
(SOV), verb subject object (VSO), verb object subject (VOS), object subject verb (OSV) and object
verb subject (OVS). The overwhelming majority of the world's languages are either SVO or SOV, with
a much smaller but still significant portion using VSO word order.
An example of SVO order in English is:
Sam ate the oranges
This example from Japanese shows a SOV word order:
watashi wa hako wo akemasu
(I) (a/the box/boxes) (open)
Arabic favors VSO:
al-kitba al-mudarrisu Qara'a
(read) (the teacher) (the book)
We can see a VOS structure in the Fijian language:
E rai-c-a na no-na vale na gone
(his house) (the child)
The rare sequence OSV is found in Nadb (spoken in Brazil):
awad kalap hapuh
(jaguar) (child) (sees)
Hixkaryana (also spoken in Brazil) has an OVS sequence:
toto y-ahos-ye kamara
(man) (grabbed) (jaguar)


Note: Word order MEANS in English. That is, one of the important ways we secure meaning in
English is by putting words in a certain order. Consider the following sentences.

The dog chases the cat.

The cat chases the dog.
Blowing down the chimney, the wind chilled the girl.
The wind chilled the girl blowing down the chimney.
He also longs for great success abroad in the field of dramatic music.
He longs for great success also abroad in the field of dramatic music.
He longs for great success abroad also in the field of dramatic music.

You can easily see that each member of a group means differently, but the only difference in each
case is a different word order. On the other hand, consider these Latin sentences and my word-byword rendering into English.

Puer amat puellam.

Puellam amat puer.

Puellam puer amat.

Amat puer puellam.

In each, the order is different, but each means "the boy loves the girl," because Latin is an inflected
language and doesn't depend on word order to convey meaning.

On Syntax


The study of meaning























Semantics is the study of

meaning communicated
through language
language One of
the insights of modern
linguistics is that that speakers
of a language have different
types of linguistic knowledge
including how to pronounce
words, how to construct sentences, and about the
meaning of individual words and sentences. To reflect
this, linguistic description has different levels of analysis.
So phonology is the study of what sounds a language has
and how these sounds combine to form words; syntax is
the study of how words can be combined into sentences;
and semantics is the study of the meaning of words and

In linguistics, lexicon is a term used to describe the total inventory of morphemes in a given
language, and the inventory of base morphemes plus their combinations with derivational
morphemes. Mental lexicon, on the other hand, is the store of words in a person's mind, that is, it
refers to a language user's knowledge of words, the vocabulary and the representation of knowledge
about words in minds. The mental lexicon differs radically from a dictionary. There are so many
words and they are found so fast. Native speakers can recognize a word of their language in 200
microseconds or less and can reject a non-word sound sequence in about half a second. In a 1940
study Seashore & Erickson estimated that an educated adult knows more than 150,000 words and is
able to use 90% of these.

1 the lexicon technical all the words and phrases used in a language or that a particular person knows
2 [countable] an alphabetical list of words with their meanings, especially on a particular subject or in a
particular language: a lexicon of geographical terms


The Principle of Compositionality

The meaning of the whole is a function of the meaning of the parts.
The principle of compositionality states that the meaning of a compound expression is a function of
the meaning of its parts and of the syntactic rule by which they are combined. In plain words, the
meaning of a complex expression is the result of both, the meaning of individual units and the way
those units are combined. For instance, the expressions a good scare and a bad scare have just
about the same meaning, even though good and bad are opposites. Likewise, the sentences the tired
girl arrived and the girl arrived tired do not have the same meaning (same words, different order). In
Spanish, for example, una mesa buena (in good condition) is not the same as una buena mesa (with
plenty of food). The expressions "half full" and "half empty" don't really have the same meanings but
happen to be applicable to the same state of affairs.

Sense and Reference

Sense and reference are two different aspect of meaning. Roughly speaking, a term's reference is
the object it refers to and its sense is the way in which it refers to that object. For example, the two
expressions 'the morning star' and 'the evening star' have the same reference, since they each
referred to the same planet. But they could not be said to have the same sense. The phrases the
man who wrote Cien aos de Soledad, el Gabo and Gabriel Garca Marquez have the same
reference, but different sense, so do the Big Apple, the City That Never Sleeps, and New York City.

Semantic Property, Semantic Class & Semantic Feature

The term semantic property refers to the components of meaning of a particular word. Thus, male is
a semantic property that helps to define father, son, dad, stud, man, rooster, bull among others. The
first three in the list are also distinguished by the semantic property human, which is also found in
construction worker, actor, artist, writer, astronaut, child, or baby. The last two of these words are
also distinguished by "young." Words that share a semantic property form a semantic class.
Semantic classes may intersect. The intersection of female and young can be girl.
A semantic feature is a notational method which can be used to express the existence or nonexistence of semantic properties by using plus and minus signs.
Man is
Woman is
Boy is
Our knowledge of the semantic properties of words prevents us from saying things like: The Pope is
pregnant, or my sister is an only child.

Nym (name) Words

The particle nym comes from Greek (meaning name), and is usually used as a suffix.

Homonyms: words that sound like one another but have different meanings.
Sea and See

Ate and Eight

Bank and Bank

Heteronyms: words that are spelled identically but have different meanings.
Lead /lid/and Lead /ld/

Bow /bow/ and Bow /baw/

Antonyms: a word opposite in meaning to another.

Gradable antonyms: Antonyms that have degrees of variation between the two opposites:
Complementary antonyms: Antonyms that an either/or relationship:
Married/Single Absent/Present
Relational opposites: One exists only because the other does:
Husband/Wife Doctor/ Patient

Synonyms: different words with identical or very similar meanings.

Sick/Ill Buy/Purchase


Retronyms: A word or phrase created because an existing term that was once used alone needs
to be distinguished from a term referring to a new development.
Pocket Watch
Analog Phone Acoustic Guitar

Hypernyms: a word that is more generic than a given word.




Hyponyms: a specific term used to designate a member of a class.

Rose, Tulip, Forget-Me-Not, Lilies/ Red, White, Blue, Black/ Monkeys, Gorillas, Chimpanzees

Metonyms: A word or phrase used in place of another with which it is closely associated.
The White House (meaning the American government)
The number one racquet (tennis player)
The British Crown (Monarchy of the United Kingdom)

Polysemy comes from Neo-Latin polysemia, which comes from Greek polusemous [poly- (many) +
sema (sign)] giving us a linguistic term, "having many meanings" or multiple meanings. The words
polysemy and polysemous are defined as "having or characterized by many meanings; the existence
of several meanings for a single word or phrase". This should not be confused with homonymy, for a
word is polysemous when it has multiple (semantically or historically) related meanings. On the other
hand, homonymy refers to two or more different words that happen to have the same pronunciation.
In the sentences:
a) Dogs would always bark at strangers. (Bark: sound made by a dog)
b) She barked into the Dictaphone. (Bark: speak in an unfriendly tone)
c) Plants with bark include trees, woody vines and shrubs. (Bark: tough protective covering of the
woody stems and roots of trees and other woody plants)
Bark in sentence a) and b) is the same word (used differently), in c) is another word.

Polysemy and homonymy could bring about semantic ambiguity. That is, words, phrases and
sentences may have multiple (plausible) interpretations. For instance, the sentence: she cant bear
children may be interpreted two ways. Either she cannot have children, or she doesnt like them.
Other examples:
 1683 guitar players assembled in the stadium to play a song together from Deep Purple, and
there was not a single woman among them. (Were all the women married?)
 John loves his mother and so does Bill. (Whose mother does Bill love?)
 Kids make nutritious snacks. (Can we eat them?)
 Local high school dropouts cut in half. (Did any survived?)
 Crack Found on Governor's Daughter. (Did it hurt?)

Thematic Roles
Thematic role is the semantic relationship between a predicate (a verb) and an argument (the noun
phrases) of a sentence. Thematic roles include:

Agent: deliberately performs the action. Examples:

Bill ate his soup quietly/ The second letter was written by Max
Experiencer: receives sensory or emotional input. Examples:
His little girl adores him /The smell of lilies filled Jennifer's nostrils

Theme: Is the recipient of an action but does not change its state. Examples:
Jimmy was first considered to fill the vacancy / Bill saw a giant tree.

Patient: undergoes the action and has its state changed. Examples:
The falling rocks crushed the car/ The forest was completely destroyed by the hurricane.

Instrument: used to carry out the action. Examples:

This corkscrew has opened a wide variety of wines /Jamie cut the ribbon with a pair of scissors

Cause: mindlessly performs the action. Examples:

The forest was completely destroyed by the hurricane/ An avalanche destroyed the ancient temple.

Locative: where the action occurs. Examples:

The hotel hosted seven hundred guests/ Johnny and Linda played carelessly in the park.

Goal: what the action is directed towards. Examples:

The M60 bus goes from La Guardia to Manhattan/ It continued on toward the distant oasis.

Source: where the action originated. Examples:

The bus goes from La Guardia to Manhattan/ The rocket was launched from Central Command.

Temporal: when the action occurs. Examples:

That day was a little bit hectic/ The rocket was launched that night

Path: the path taken in moving from one place to another. Examples:
The ball rolled from the door down the hallway to the kitchen/ He traveled over the mountains.

Recipient: Entity receiving some entity. Examples:

The workers were given a raise / John bought Mary a present


Anomaly, Idioms & Metaphors

At some level, the sentence colorless green ideas
sleep furiously is OK; at another, however, it is
wildly wrong. At the syntactic level, it is the
equivalent of "Colorful red umbrellas moved
playfully", with a subject noun modified by an
adjective and a verb modified by an adverb.
However, the sentence does not make sense
because things logically cannot be colorless and
green simultaneously, ideas cannot sleep and
nothing can sleep furiously. Such sentences are
grammatically correct but semantically anomalous.
So, it would seem that the structure of sentences and their meaning are two distinct things,
representing two different levels of language processing.

A metaphor, on the other hand, is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that denotes a
certain object or idea is applied to another word or phrase to imply some similarity between them.
Metaphors are well known as a stylistic feature of literature, but in fact are found in almost all
language use, other than simple explanations of physical events in the material world. Speakers and
writers use metaphors for several reasons:
 Metaphors can help readers or listeners to better understand something about the object or
idea to which the metaphor is being applied.
 Metaphors can make speaking and writing more lively and interesting.
 Metaphors can communicate a great deal of meaning with just a word or a phrase.
 Metaphors, because they imply rather than directly state relationships, can get listeners and
readers to think about what they are hearing or reading.
For example, if someone says my father was an ice cube, it might mean that he
was showing no emotions whatsoever (as cold as an ice cube), or that he was
freezing (from cold weather).

On the other hand, if someone says my friend is hot, it might

understood literal or metaphorically.


Finally, an idiom is a group of words which, when used together, has a different meaning from the
one which the individual words have. For example:
- How do you know about John's illness?
- Oh, a little bird told me.

Of course, the second speaker does not mean he heard the news from a little bird.
We use idioms to express something that other words do not express as
clearly or as cleverly. We often use an image or symbol to describe
something as clearly as possible and thus make our point as effectively
as possible. For example, "in a nutshell" suggests the idea of having all
the information contained within very few words. Idioms tend to be
informal and are best used in spoken rather than written English.

On Semantics:


The study of the ways context
contributes to meaning
















Crystal (1997) proposes that

pragmatics is "the study of
language from the point of view
of users, especially of the choices
they make, the constraints they
encounter in using language in
social interaction and effects their
use of language has on the other
communication". In other words, pragmatics is the study
of communicative action in its sociosocio-cultural context.
context vi

Types of Pragmatic Contexts

In order to fully understand any utterances, we must consider the contextual information. We
distinguish the following contexts:

Physical context: the location of a given word, the situation in which it is used, as well as
timing, all of which aid proper understating of the words.
Ex. Please, be here on time. (The place depends on the location of speakers.)

Epistemic context: what speakers know about the world.

Ex. I told my BF to google it, but he`s kind of a NOOB. (We have to be familiar with the Internet

Linguistic context: the set of words that surround the lexical item in question in the same
phrase, or sentence.
Ex. I told you so. (What?)

Social context: the social relationship among speakers and hearers.

Ex. Yes, your honor. (You`re probably addressing a judge)


Maxims of Conversation
In linguistics, maxims of conversation refer to the (usually) unwritten, subconscious rules that govern
how people talk to each other, and what constitutes cooperative (or "polite") conversation. Grice's
Conversational Maxims include:
Maxim of Quantity:
 Make your contribution to the conversation as informative as necessary.
 Do not make your contribution to the conversation more informative than necessary.
Maxim of Quality:
 Do not say what you believe to be false.
 Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
Maxim of Relevance:
 Be relevant (i.e., say things related to the current topic of the conversation).
Maxim of Manner:
 Avoid obscurity of expression.
 Avoid ambiguity.
 Be brief (avoid unnecessary wordiness).
 Be orderly.
Maxims can be used in three basic ways:
1. Exploit - to exploit a maxim is to follow it. Example:
A- Hows your husband?
B- Much better, thanks.
2. Flout - to go against the command of a maxim in order to achieve a certain end (certain effect that
is understood by the listener). Example:
A- Hows your husband?
B- Thanks God hell doesnt need another lawyer.
3. Violate - to go against a maxim, causing communicational breakdown. Example:
A- Hows your husband?
B- Yes thanks.


Speech Acts
The philosopher J.L. Austin (1911-1960) claims that many utterances (things people say) are
equivalent to actions. When someone says: I name this ship or I now pronounce you man and
wife, the utterance creates a new social or psychological reality. We can add many more examples:

Sergeant Major:

Squad, by the left left turn!


(Pointing to the centre circle) Goal!


With this ring, I thee wed.

There are all sorts of other things we can do with words. We can make requests, ask questions, give
orders, make promises, give thanks, offer apologies, and so on.
When analyzing speech acts, we must pay attention to two aspects: form and function. According to
syntactic forms, sentences can be classified into declarative, interrogative or imperative. If we take
into consideration their function, we may have assertion, question or directive sentences.









For instance, the statement Susan goes to the movies every Thursday has the form of a declarative
sentence (subject-verb-complement), and its an assertion (speech act in which something is claimed
to hold). Likewise, Does Susan go to the movies every Thursday? is an interrogative sentence
(auxiliaries, or subject-verb inversion, question marks), and a question (it asks for information). The
sentence Go to your room is in the imperative form (predicates that only contain verbs in infinitive
form), and fulfills the directive function (a command or request).
But, this is not always the case. The statement Those dishes aren't going to clean themselves is in
the declarative form, but may be a directive. Even if it is made into an interrogative one Do you think
those dishes aren't going to clean themselves, it still can be a request or command.
Analyze the following sentences in terms of form and function
A- Will you be here early tomorrow?
B- Have I ever been late to class?
A- Why dont you be quiet?

The term deixis refers to the use of words or phrases that can only be understood from the context of
the text or utterance where they are found. Deictic words are language features that refer to the who,
where and when of language. They provide context in relation to the speaker. There are several

Person deixis: deictic reference to the participant role of a referent, such as the speaker, the
addressee, and referents which are neither speaker nor addressee (I, you, she).

Place deixis: words describing the speaker in space or in relation to other objects such as here
and there.

Time deixis: words describing the speaker in terms of time such as now, then, yesterday and verb

Discourse deixis: deictic reference to a portion of a discourse relative to the speaker's current
location in the discourse.

Social deixis: The use of forms which reflect the social status of a speaker in relation either to the
addressee or to someone else referred to (French: tu and vous).
Find deictic elements in the following extract:

Kristi was devastated. She wanted to get back together with ex-boyfriend Thad. Thad
had told her that he needed some space. Thad said that he still cared for her but
didnt want to date exclusively any more.
What should Kristi do to get back together with ex Thad? Should she call him and text
him? Should she show up and flirt with his friends? Should she ignore him completely?
Actually, she should do none of these. Instead, she should listen to him.
He says that he loves her but that he needs space. While this may seem like a clich,
the truth is that many times when people use this line they mean what they say



The Meaning of Sentences

Paraphrases: two or more sentences that mean exactly the same though using different words or
structures. (Ex. the aurora borealis can be observed in the early morning hours, and you can watch
the aurora borealis early in the morning.)

Analytic sentences: sentences that are true by definition, and are generally self-explanatory
(Ex. Bachelors are unmarried men, two halves make up a whole).

Ambiguous sentences: sentences that have more than one possible meaning. (Ex. Put the
box on the table by the window in the kitchen.)
Contradictory sentences: statements which are necessarily false for there is a logical
incompatibility. (Ex. I accidentally did it on purpose)

A presupposition is a background belief relating to an utterance, which must be mutually known or
assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context.
This will generally remain such a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form
of an assertion, denial, or question. For instance, if someone says Ill never watch that show again,
it means the person has watched the show at least once.
Which are the presuppositions in the following statements?
 Jane no longer writes fiction.
 John regrets that he stopped doing linguistics before he left Cambridge.
 I couldnt sleep at all after I saw Friday the 13th.

On Pragmatics:




Recommended websites
MORPHOLOGY: (part 2)


Hewlett N. and Mackenzie Beck, J. (2006). An introduction to the science of phonetics. NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.
Lass, R. (1984). Phonology: an introduction to basic concepts. Cambridge: Cambridge Textbooks in
Aronoff, M. and Fudeman, K. A. (2005). What is morphology? Malden, M.A.: Wiley-Blackwell.
Van Valin, R. D. (2001). An introduction to syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Saeed, J. (2002). Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell publishing
Rose, K. R. and Kasper, G. (Eds.) (2001). Pragmatics in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.