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phonology

phonology, study of the sound systems of languages. It is distinguished from phonetics, which is the study of the production, perception, and physical properties of speech sounds; phonology attempts to account for how they are combined, organized, and convey meaning in particular languages. Only a fraction of the sounds humans can articulate is found in any particular language. For example, English lacks the click sounds common to many languages of S Africa, while the sound th often poses problems for people learning English. Also, possible combinations of sounds vary widely from language to language—the combination kt at the beginning of a word, for example, would be impossible in some languages but is unexceptional in Greek. In phonology, speech sounds are analyzed into phonemes, the smallest units of sound that can change the meaning of a word. A phoneme may have several allophones, related sounds that are distinct but do not change the meaning of a word when they are interchanged. In English, l at the beginning of a word and l after a vowel are pronounced differently, so that the l in lit and the l in gold are allophones of the phoneme l; in other languages the difference between the two sounds could change the meaning of a word and so would be considered different phonemes.

See N. Chomsky and M. Halle, The Sound Pattern of English (1968); M. Kenstowicz and C. Kisseberth, Generative Phonology (1979); P. Hawkins, Introducing Phonology (1984).

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PHONOLOGY

PHONOLOGY. The study of sound patterns in languages, sometimes regarded as part of PHONETICS, sometimes as a separate study included in LINGUISTICS. Phonologists study both PHONEMES (vowels and consonants) and prosody (STRESS, RHYTHM, and INTONATION) as subsystems of spoken language. Phonological patterns relate the sounds of speech to the grammar of the language; a common 20c model has three levels or components: phonology, SYNTAX, and SEMANTICS. Patterns that can be measured on laboratory instruments are generally regarded as part of phonetics, whereas phonological patterns tend to be more abstract and idealized. Until the 1960s, phonology was largely concerned with phonemics, the study of phonemes and phonemic systems, and often considered synonymous with it, especially in the US. Since then, however, attention has concentrated on the formulation of rules to account for sound patterns, its scope widening to include prosodic phenomena and patterns of connected texts. See LEVEL OF LANGUAGE, LINGUISTIC TYPOLOGY.

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phonology

pho·nol·o·gy / fəˈnäləjē; fō-/ • n. the branch of linguistics that deals with systems of sounds (including or excluding phonetics), esp. in a particular language. ∎  the system of relationships among the speech sounds that constitute the fundamental components of a language. DERIVATIVES: pho·no·log·i·cal / ˌfōnəˈläjikəl/ adj. pho·no·log·i·cal·ly / ˌfōnəˈläjik(ə)lē/ adv. pho·nol·o·gist / -jist/ n.

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