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Phonology

• Phonetics -- What are the sounds? How are they made in the mouth?
• Phonology -- How do sounds combine? How are they memorized?

Speaker's Mind → Speaker's Mouth → Listener's Ear → Listener's Mind

We will write rules to connect the Mind and Mouth.

Phonemes

The amazing discovery is that people systematically ignore certain properties of


sounds. They perceive two different sounds as the same sound. We call the
stored versions of speech sounds phonemes. Thus phonemes are the phonetic
alphabet of the mind. That is, phonemes are how we mentally represent speech;
how we store the sounds of words in our memory.

Though the phonetic alphabet is universal (we can write down the speech
sounds actually uttered in any language), the phonemic alphabet varies from
language to language. For example, English has no memorized front rounded
vowels like German or French, and French has no [θ]. This leads to seemming
contradictions when we consider both actual productions of speech sounds as
well as their memorized representations. English has no memorized nasal
vowels, but English speakers do make nasalized vowels when vowels and nasal
consonants come together in speech. The changes between memory and
pronuciation are what we will be discovering in this section of the course

Finding Phonemes

How do we find out what's in someone's mind?

How do we figure out how people store the sounds of words in their memories?
One trick that we can use is to look for minimal pairs of words. A minimal pair is a
pair of words that have different meanings and which differ in only one sound.
Since the difference between the two sounds is meaningful, the words must be
stored differently in memory. Since the words differ in only one sound, this
difference must be stored in memory. Thus the difference in sounds is significant,
and so the two sounds must both be phonemes.

Here is an example from English:

• [sɪp] and [zɪp]

These two words aredifferent words of English. But they differ only in their initial
sound. Therefore, the [s]/[z] difference is significant for English speakers.
Therefore both [s] and [z] are stored in the memory. Thus, [s] and [z] are part of
the English mental alphabet. We notate elements in the memory by putting them
in-between slashes / /. In this case /s/ and /z/ are part of an English speaker's
alphabet for memorizing words.

Another example from English:

• [ræm] and [ræn] and [ræŋ]

These three words are all distinct words of English. Therefore, the speech
sounds (in the mouth) [m], [n] and [ŋ] are all significant to the mind. And therefore,
English includes the phonemes /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/.

Sometimes it isn't possible to find minimal pairs for all words. But speakers can
also tell when a contrast would yield a distinct possible word, even if this is not an
actual word.

The phonetic context (or frame) [b_t] can be used to find minimal pairs for many
English vowels:
• [bit] ("beat") /i/
• [bɪt] ("bit") /ɪ/
• [bet] ("bait") /e/
• [bɛt] ("bet") /ɛ/
• [bæt] ("bat") /æ/
• [but] ("boot") /u/
• [bot] ("boat") /o/
• [bɔt] ("bought") /ɔ/ (You may have [ɑ] here.)
• [bʌt] ("but") /ʌ/

This minimal set establishes all these vowels as mentally distinct, and therefore
phonemic.

Near minimal cases can be found for the other two vowels:

• [pʊt] ("put") /ʊ/


• [pɑt] ("pot") /ɑ/

And additional minimal pairs can be constructed to justify all 11 vowels, pair by
pair as necessary. Since other minimal pairs can be found ([lʊk] "look" versus
[luk] "Luke"), ([kɑt] "cot" versus [kɔt] "caught"), these vowels are also mentally
significant, and are therefore phonemes.

Features for Speech Sounds

We will use the articulatory phonetic descriptions to write pronunciation rules.

We will add additional features as necessary.

Rules of pronunciation
The fact that speakers have a mental representation of what they say, and that
this can be different from what they actually do when they speak, shows us that
speakers do not memorize every aspect of speech sound production. Only the
essential (contrastive, phonemic) features are stored in memory. Other features
(specifics of pronunciation) are added during speech planning and production.
Predictable information about speech is not memorized. Predictable features are
added by rules of pronunciation (phonological rules).

A Rule of English

English speakers pronounce vowels either with the velum closed (oral) or with
the velum open (nasal). By careful listening or experimental investigation, we can
determine that the velum is open during the entire production of the word "man":

• [mæ̃n]

In contrast, speakers do not have the velum open at all in the production of the
word "bat":

• [bæt]

Most important, however, is that English speakers perceive that both "man" and
"bat" have the same vowel. That is, English speakers are ignoring the difference
in nasality between the two words. English speakers feel that this difference in
nasality is unimportant for recognizing a word in their memory. We can
understand this behavior through understanding that speakers memorize vowels
without the feature [nasal]. English speakers believe that there are no nasal
vowels in English, at least for the purpose of memorizing words.

The reason for this is that in English nasality in vowels is predictable. In English,
nasal vowels only occur before nasal consonants. Everywhere else English
speakers use oral vowels. Therefore [nasal] is predictable for English vowels,
and is governed by a rule of pronunciation:

• Vowels become nasal when a nasal consonant immediately follows.


• [vowel] → [nasal] / _ [nasal, consonant]

We can contrast the situations in the Memory and in the Mouth:

Memory: /æ/
[æ̃] [æ]
Mouth:
only before nasal consonants Everywhere else (Elsewhere)

We call the mental representation a phoneme, and we call the distinct


pronunciations allophones.

The predictable aspects of pronunciation (here [nasal] in vowels) are added by


the rules in the phonology of the language. The rules of pronunciation determine
the variants in speech sounds. This particular rule makes one sound (the vowel)
more similar to an adjacent sound (the following nasal consonant), by making the
vowel [nasal]. Rules that make sounds more similar are called assimilation rules.
Rules that make sounds less similar are called dissimilation rules. Assimilation
rules are much more common than dissimilation rules.

Language variation

Which features are predictable varies from language to language. In French


speakers must memorize [+nasal] for vowels because in French this is important
for the meaning of the word. That is, French has minimal pairs for nasality in
vowels.

Feature redundancies
Within a single sound some of the aspects of speech sound production (features)
may be predictable from the other features. Here are some examples from
English:

• All nasals are voiced: [nasal] → [voiced]


• all high back vowels are round: [vowel, high, back] → [rounded]
• all front vowels are not round: [vowel, front] → [unrounded]

These particular rules are rules of English. Other languages may or may not
have these rules. So, for instance French has frount rounded vowels, but no high
back unround vowels. Russian has the reverse: high back unround vowels but no
front round vowels. Turkish has both front round vowels and high back unround
vowels.

Changes due to context

All languages impose certain restrictions on the sequences of sounds in the


language. Some languages like to alternate consonants and vowels. These
language do not allow sequences of consonants nor sequences of vowels.

There are two possible responses a language can make to an unwanted


sequence. One is to change one of the sounds, through a rule. This is what we
observed with English nasal vowels. Oral vowels are not allowed to be followed
by nasal consonants, so the vowel is changed to be nasal.

The other possible response is to simply ban the sequence from words as they
are stored in memory. In English there is a general ban on words beginning with
*[tl] and *[dl], even though words starting with [pl], [bl], [kl] and [gl] are fine. But
there is no general rule to repair these bad sequences.

Neutralization
We have seen the case of one mental sound having two mouth pronunciations,
repeated here:

Memory: /æ/
[æ̃] [æ]
Mouth:
only before nasal consonants Everywhere else (Elsewhere)

It is also possible to have the situation where sound that are memorized
differently are nevertheless pronounced identically under certain circumstances.
Consider the pronuncation of the vowels in these two words:

• [tɛləgræf] "telegraph"
• [təlɛgrəfi] "telegraphy"

But since both of these words involve the same morpheme, meaning "telegraph",
this morpheme must have the same memorized representation, namely,

• /tɛlɛgræf/

Therefore the changes in pronunciation are insignificant for memory here, and
must be due to a rule of pronunciation. The rules is very simple, unstressed
vowels reduce to schwa in English.

• [vowel, unstressed] → [ə]


• [vowel, unstressed] → [mid, central, unrounded, plain]

This means that in this case we have two different sounds as far as the mind
goes, and yet when unstressed, only one pronunciation:

Mind: /æ/ /ɛ/


[ə]
Mouth:
when unstressed
The pronunciation of the English plural

The plural marker in English has several different pronuncations:

• [∅] (zero): [dir], [ʃip], [fɪʃ], etc.


• [ə̃n]: [ɑksə̃n], etc.
• [s]: [kæts], [pɑts], [sæks], etc.
• [z]: [dɑgz], [rɪbz], [bænz], etc.
• [əz]: [bʊʃəz], [rozəz], etc.

The choice of zero or [ə̃n] is handled in the Morphology, because it is not


predictable from the speech sounds. The choice of [s], [z] or [əz] is handled in the
Phonology, because it is predictable from the speech sounds.

So we need to figure out what conditions the appearance of the various


pronunciations of the plural. Where do we get which pronunciations?

Pronunciations: [s] [z] [əz]


Examples: cats dads bushes
beliefs sleeves roses
cups cabs kisses
tacks tags churches
paths wreathes judges
dams
cans
songs
fears
peels
bees
bays
boos
bows
boys

We want to predict the pronunciations, so we need to pick one of the


pronunciations to be stored in memory. We should pick the least predictable one
to store in memory, here [z]. Therefore, the memorized representation for the
plural morpheme is /z/.

Now we need to write rules to get the other pronunciations.


What is similar about all the stems in the first column, the ones that take [s] in the
plural? They are end in voiceless sounds! So the rule for these must be:

/z/ becomes [s] when it comes after a voiceless sound

But we can do better than this. What is the difference between /z/ and [s]? /z/ is
[voiced] and [s] is [voiceless]. So we can write the rule as:

/z/ becomes [voiceless] when it comes after a [voiceless] sound

/z/ → [voiceless] / [voiceless] _

Thus, this is a rule of assimilation.

What is the characteristic shared by the words in the third column, where they
say [əz] for the plural? All of these words end in sibilant (see FRH p. 300) sounds.
So we can write the rule:

Insert [ə] in between a sibilant and /z/

Again, we can ask if we can do better. Is /z/ sibilant? Yes! So we can write the
rule:

Insert [ə] inbetween two sibilants

∅ → [ə] / [sibilant] __ [sibilant]

The use of the zero here for "no sound" or "nothing" is similar to the concept of
zero morphemes. For insertion, ∅ → something; for deletion, something → ∅.

Doing Phonology Problems

The basic steps in doing phonology problems are:

1. Look for minimal pairs (If yes, then both sounds are phonemes)
2. Look for alternations in the pronunciation of one morpheme
3. List the environments for the different pronunciations
4. Find the part of the environment that predicts the change in pronunciation
5. Make a mind and mouth diagram
6. Write the rule (in words, then in symbols)
7. Check to see that the rule works

Exercise 7.3: Korean (part 1)

Question

Consider the distribution of [r] and [l] in Korean in the following words. Some
additional details of Korean pronunciation which are not indicated in the book are
given here.

rubi 'ruby'
kiri 'road'
saram 'person'
irɯmi 'name'
radio 'radio'

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

Are [r] and [l] allophones of one or two phonemes? (That is, are these sounds
stored differently in the memory of Korean speakers?) State your reasons, and
give the rule to derive the surface phones if you conclude that they are allophonic.

Answer

1. Look for minimal pairs

There are none. Therefore, probably allophones of one phoneme. Two


sounds in the mouth, one sound in the mind.
2. Look for morphemes with changing pronunciation

There are none.

3. List the environments for the sounds

(Zoom in on the things of interest. Get rid of extraneous information.) Work


from the things closest to the sounds of interest.

[r] [l]

sounds sounds
sounds sounds
immediately immediately
immediately after immediately after
before before

# (beginning of # (end of word),


u, i, a, ɯ u, a, i
word), i, a k, s

4. Find the part of the environment that predicts the change in pronunciation

Does the "before" environment predict which sound? NO! The sounds [i]
and [a] occur before both [r] and [l]. Therefore we cannot predict [r] versus
[l] on the basis of the immediately preceding sound. In the case of [i] or [a]
both [r] and [l] can occur.

Does the "after" environment predict [r] versus [l]? YES! The "after"
environments do not overlap!

What is the difference between the two environments? [r] occurs only
when a vowel follows; [l] occurs when either a consonant follows or when
nothing follows (i.e. at the end of the word).

Which is the simpler one to predict? [r], "vowel" is simpler than "consonant
or nothing". Therefore the [r] is predictable, and /l/ (the unpredictable one)
must be the phoneme.
5. Make a mind and mouth diagram
6. Mind: /l/
7. Mouth: [r] / _ [vowel] [l] / Elsewhere
8. Write the rule (in words, then in symbols)
9. Koreans pronounce /l/ as [r] when a vowel immediately follows.
10.
11. /l/ → [r] / __ [vowel]

Can we do better? What's the difference between [l] and [r]? [l] is [lateral];
[r] is [alveolar].

[lateral] → [alveolar] / __ [vowel]

12. Check to see that the rule works

Finnish (From an earlier edition of the textbook)

Consider the following data from Finnish:

a. [ku:zi] 'six'
b. [kudot] 'failures'
c. [kate] 'cover'
d. [katot] 'roofs'
e. [kade] 'envious'
f. [ku:si] 'six'
g. [li:sa] 'Lisa'
h. [maton] 'of a worm'
i. [madon] 'of a rug'
j. [ratas] 'wheel'
k. [li:za] 'Lisa'
l. [radan] 'of a track'

1. Do [s] and [z] represent different phonemes? (Do Finnish speakers use
both /s/ and /z/ to store words in their memories?)
1. Look for minimal pairs (If yes, then both sounds are phonemes)

a. [ku:zi] and f. [ku:si] differ minimally in pronunciation in the right


way: a. has [z] and f. has [s].
BUT they both have the same meaning: 'six'. Because the
difference in pronunciation does NOT cause a change in meaning,
this is not a minimal pair. Therefore these two words do not
establish a mental memorized distinction between [s] and [z].

2. Look for alternations in the pronunciation of one morpheme

We already found one: a. [ku:zi] or f. [ku:si] 'six'. And there's


another: g. [li:sa] or k. [li:za] 'Lisa'.

3. List the environments for the different pronunciations

[s] [z]

sounds sounds sounds sounds


immediately immediately immediately immediately
before after before after

i, a, # (end of
u:, i:, a u:, i: i, a
word)

4. Find the part of the environment that predicts the change in


pronunciation.

Can we predict [s] versus [z] from the "before" environment? NO!
The "before" environments overlap, both [s] and [z] can occur when
the immediately preceding sound is [u:] or [i:]. Therefore, knowing
the immediately preceding sound won't predict which of [s] or [z] we
get.

Can we predict [s] versus [z] from the "after" environment? NO! The
"after" environments overlap, both [s] and [z] can occur when the
immediately following sound is [i] or [a]. Therefore, knowing the
immediately following sound won't predict which of [s] or [z] we get.
Moreover, in the cases of the false minimal pairs,
a. [ku:zi] and f. [ku:si] 'six'
g. [li:sa] and k. [li:za] 'Lisa'
the environments are exactly the same.
(They look like minimal pairs, but they aren't because the change in
pronunciation doesn't cause a change in meaning.) Since the
environments are exactly the same in these alternative
pronunciations of 'Lisa' and 'six', nothing in the speech sounds
themselves can predict which one of [s] or [z] will be used. This
case is not phonologically predictable. It might be the case that
looking at social or dialect factors would tell us how Finnish
speakers choose between [s] and [z]. At this point all we know is
that they don't make the choice between [s] and [z] based on the
surrounding sounds.

However, we can notice that [s] occurs in more environments than


[z] does. For example, j. [ratas] 'whell' has an [s] at the end of the
word. We don't see any words ending in [z]. So it would be best to
memorize the sound as /s/, and then sometimes pronounce /s/ as
[z]. For this case we just can't predict exactly when /s/ is
pronounced as [z].

5. Make a mind and mouth diagram


6. Mind: /s/
7. Mouth: [s] [z]
8. Overlapping environments--unpredictable
9. Write the rule (first in words, then in symbols)
10. /s/ becomes [z] unpredictably
11.
12. /s/ → [z] unpredictably
13.
14. /s/ → [voiced] unpredictably

[s] and [z] are in free variation


2. Do [d] and [t] represent different phonemes? (Do Finnish speakers use
both /d/ and /t/ to store words in their memories?)
1. Look for minimal pairs (If yes, then both sounds are phonemes)

There are minimal pairs:

ƒ h. [madon] 'of a worm'


ƒ i. [maton] 'of a rug'

[madon] and [maton] differ minimally in their pronounciation, AND


this change in pronunciation goes along with a change in meaning:
[madon] means 'of a worm' and [maton] means 'of a rug'. Because
we found minimal pairs, both sounds are phonemes.

2. Look for alternations in the pronunciation of one morpheme

There are no alternations for [t] and [d].

3. List the environments for the different pronunciations

Because they are both phonemes (both used in memory) and there
are no alternations, we do not need to calculate the environment,
because there is nothing to predict.

In Finnish, /t/ is pronounced as [t] and /d/ is pronounced as [d].

4. Find the part of the environment that predicts the change in


pronunciation

There is nothing to predict here. Both /t/ and /d/ are phonemes, and
they maintain separate pronunciations (there are no alternations).

5. Make a mind and mouth diagram


6. Mind: /t/ /d/
7. Mouth: [t] [d]
8. Write the rule

No rule here, they're both phonemes with no alternations.

Exercise 7.12: Hebrew

Consider the phonetic forms of Hebrew words:

[v]-[b]
bika 'lamented'
mugbal 'limited'
ʃavar 'broke masculine'
ʃavra 'broke feminine'
ʔikev 'delayed'
bara 'created'

[f]-[p]
litef 'stroked'
sefer 'book'
sataf 'washed'
para 'cow'
mitpaxat 'handkerchief'
haʔalpim 'the Alps'

Assume that these words and their phonetic sequences are representative of
what may occur in Hebrew. In your answers below, consider classes of sounds
rather than individual sounds.

1. Are [b] and [v] allophones of one phoneme? (Are [b] and [v] memorized as
separate sounds, or are they stored in memory as the same sound?)
(Hint: Are they in complementary distribution? Do the environments
overlap? Can you predict which will occur?)
1. Look for minimal pairs (If yes, then both sounds are phonemes)

There are no minimal pairs for [b] versus [v].

2. Look for alternations in the pronunciation of one morpheme


The morpheme for 'broke' shows different pronunciations for the
masculine and the feminine: [ʃavar] 'broke masculine' and [ʃavra]
'broke feminine'. But these two forms do not illustrate a [b]-[v]
change. Therefore they don't immediately let us figure out what
causes either [b] or [v] to occur. So we have to go on to listing the
environments.

3. List the environments for the different pronunciations

[b] [v]

sounds sounds sounds sounds


immediately immediately immediately immediately
before after before after

# (beginning of a, r, # (end of
i, a a, e
word), g word)

4. Find the part of the environment that predicts the change in


pronunciation

The "after" environments overlap. The sound [a] can come


immediately after both [v] and [b]. Therefore we cannot predict
which of [v] or [b] would occur just given the information about what
sound comes immediately after.

The "before" environments do not overlap. Therefore the before


environment is sufficient to predict which of [b] or [v] will occur.
Therefore for speakers of Hebrew, [b] and [v] are stored as one
sound.

But which sound do you store in memory? We figure this out by


asking which environment is harder to predict. In this data, [v] only
occurs after vowels. [b] never occurs after vowels. [b] only occurs
after consonants, or at the beginning of the word. The environment
"after vowels" is simpler than "after consonants or at the beginning
of the word", so the environment for [b] is harder to predict.
Therefore, for Hebrew speakers [b] and [v] are different
pronunciations of the memorized sound /b/.

5. Make a mind and mouth diagram


6. Mind: /b/
7. Mouth: [b] / Elsewhere [v] / [vowel] _
8. Write the rule (in words, then in symbols)
9. /b/ becomes [v] when there is a vowel immediately before
it
10.
11. /b/ → [v] / [vowel] __
12.
13. [voiced oral bilabial stop] → [fricative] / [vowel] __
2. Does the same rule that describes the distribution of [b] and [v] apply to [p]
and [f]?

What do we want to compare? [b] with [p] or [b] with [f]? We want to
compare stops with stops and fricatives with fricatives. Therefore, we want
to compare [b] with [p]. Therefore, we are considering whether the rule
should be extended to include:

/p/ --> [f] / [-consonantal] __

How would we know? The rule says that we get [f] if and only if it is
preceded by a vowel. Therefore, there can be two kinds of
counterexamples:

o [f] preceded by something other than a vowel (consonant or at the


beginning of the word -- the undergeneration case)
o [p] preceded by a vowel (the overgeneration case)

So we look. All [f]'s are immediately preceded by vowels. No [p] is


immediately preceded by a vowel. Therefore the rule works here too.
Now we need to write one rule that covers both cases. What
characteristics do [p] and [b] share? They're both labial stops. Therefore
the rule must be:

A labial oral stop becomes a fricative when a vowel comes


immediately before it

[labial oral stop] → [fricative] / [vowel] __

3. Here is a word with one phone missing. A blank appears in place of the
missing sound: hid__ik.

What determines the choice of [b, p] versus [v, f]? The sound immediately
before. What sound is immediately before the blank? [d]. What kind of
sound is [d]? A consonant. So fricatives cannot appear here, because
fricatives only appear when there is a vowel immediately before them.

So "(1) [b] but not [v] could occur in the empty slot" is the only correct
statement.

4. Which one of the following statements is correct about the incomplete


word __ana?

No vowel preceding, so fricatives cannot occur in this position.

So "(2) [p] but not [f] could occur in the empty slot" is the only correct
statement.

5. Now consider the following possible words (in phonetic transcription)


(Assume that all words have different meanings.)
6. laval
7. surva
8. labal
9. palar
10. falu
11. razif

If these words actually occured in Hebrew would they:


0. Force you to revise the conclusions about the distribution of labial
stops and fricatives you reached on the basis of the first group of
words given above.
1. Support your original conslusions?
2. Neither support not disprove your original conclusions.

Let's check to see if we need to rethink anything.

3. Look for minimal pairs (If yes, then both sounds are phonemes)

The new data introduces a minimal pair: [laval] versus [labal]. This
would lead us to conclude that the distinction between [b] and [v] is
significant, because it goes along with a change in meaning. Then
we would conclude that Hebrew speakers memorize both [b] and
[v], giving two phonemes /b/ and /v/. This is clearly a different
conclusion than what we came up with, so the right answer is (1),
we would be forced to revise our conclusions.

Author: William James Idsardi Email: idsardi@udel.edu Last Updated: Sept. 2,


2003