Guide to phonology
Phonology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the sounds in languages.
What's a phoneme?
Phonemes are the individual sounds of a language. This is not the same as the spelling of a language (which is the orthography). Phonemes are represented by the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which is used to transcribe the exact pronunciation of words in all languages worldwide. IPA even accounts for regional accents. Linguists use forward slashes to represent the IPA pronunciation of a word:
Here are the IPA symbols for English consonants and vowels:
|b||but, web, rubble|
|ʧ||chat, teach, nature|
|d||dot, idea, nod|
|f||fan, left, enough, photo|
|ʤ||joy, agile, age|
|m||man, animal, him|
|n||note, ant, pan|
|p||pen, spin, top, apple|
|s||set, list, ice|
|ʃ||ash, sure, ration|
|θ||thin, nothing, moth|
|ð||this, father, clothe|
|z||zoo, quiz, rose|
|British||General American||Canadian||Australian||New Zealand|
|æ, a||æ||ɛ||bad, cat, ran|
|eɪ, ɛi||eɪ||æe||day, pain|
|ɛə, ɛː||ɛɹ, eɹ||ɛɹ||eː||eə||hair, there|
|ɪ||ɪ, i||ɘ||sit, city, bit|
|ɪ||i||city, very, ready|
|ɪ̈ , ɨ||ə||ɘ||roses|
|ɪə, ɪː||ɪɹ, iɹ||ɪə, ɪː||iə||near, here, serious|
|aɪ, ɑi||aɪ||aɪ, ʌɪ||ɑe||my, rice|
|ɒ, ɔ||ɑ||ɒ||ɔ||ɒ, ɔ||not, wasp|
|əʊ||oʊ||əʉ||ɐʉ||no, go, hope|
|ɔə, ɔː, oː||oɹ, ɔɹ||ɔɹ||oː||hoarse|
|ɔː, oː||ɔ||ɒ||oː||law, caught|
|ɔɪ, oi||ɔɪ||oe||boy, noise|
|(ʊə) ɵː||ʊɹ||ʊə||ʉə||tour, tourism|
|uː||u||ʉː||lose, soon, through|
|aʊ||aʊ, ʌʊ||æo||house, now|
|ʌ||ɐ||run, enough, up|
|ɜː||ɝ, əɹ||ɝ||ɜː||ɵː||fur, bird|
Word stress in IPA is indicated with a ˈ before the stressed syllable: linGUIStics
A longer vowel is represented by the ː symbol. The word
Languages can have a short and long version of the exact same vowel. For instance in English the
However, in many dialects of English (American included) there is a no meaningful difference between the sounds
Other languages that make a meaningful difference between vowel lengths include Arabic, Japanese, Hebrew, Finnish and Hungarian.
Nasal vowels are, as the name suggests, vowels with a nasaly sound. They are best illustrated by the nasal sound quality in the words "huh?" and "uh-huh". Physiologically they are produced when air is allowed to escape through the nose as the vowel is being said. Any phoneme can be nasalised, however nasalisation is more common for vowels. Nasalisation is represented with a tilde:
Like vowel lengthening, some languages may make a meaningful difference between nasal and non-nasal vowels. French is one such language, where the words
Other symbols for adding extra information to the sound quality of phonemes can be found here. However, many of these sounds qualities are quite rare in languages, and/or are only used when concerned with being overly precise with documenting sounds qualities of the language.
All languages have sounds that change slightly (or sometimes dramatically) based on the effects of other phonemes around it. These are known as phonological processes. We express them in writing as phonological rules. In technical terms, it is a way of expressing when and where a phoneme changes into one of its allophones.
There are a few examples in English. My favourite is probably the
where → means 'turns into', / means 'in the environment of' and V mean any vowel. We can package the two rules into one:
When a word goes through a phonological rule such as this one we can give it a "narrow" pronunciation in square brackets:
The "broad" pronunciation (between forward slashes) can be thought of as the abstract pronunciation of the word; it is what we think the pronunciation is until we consciously analyse it and ties back to the meaning of the word (including its root word) and perhaps to the spelling of the word too. Meanwhile the narrow pronunciation is what the mouth and tongue are actually doing.
Another English phonological rule is vowel nasalisation. The rule is: vowels turn into nasal vowels before nasal consonants. Example:
Phonological rules have implications for how words will change pronunciation based on what affixes get attached. For example, imagine in your constructed language you make up a rule that
Past-tense: rito + t
Types of Consonants
Consonants are phonemes that are articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. They contrast with vowels, which are articulated with the vocal tract relatively open.
Consonants can be broken down into classes based on a matrix of 1) where in the mouth the tongue is placed to article the sound (place of articulation) and 2) how the sound is articulated from that place (manner of articulation). You can see this on the standard IPA chart.
Manners of articulation
Stops are probably the most common type of consonants. Examples in English are
"Stop" describes a manner of articulation. Manners of articulation can be performed at various different places in the mouth (place of articulation). Note that the only difference between
In phonological rule notation a capital S may be used to mean all stop consonants. Example: a > e /_S (
Nasal consonants are produced by allowing air to escape through the nose. In English they are
Fricatives are produced by forcing air through a narrow channel in the vocal tract, to create turbulent airflow. In English these include
Affricates are a combination of a stop and fricative in short succession. The best example in English is the ‘ch’ sound, which is actually a combination of a
Flap or tap
Flaps or taps are similar to stops but more brief. An example is
Trills are produced with the tongue vibrating against some part of the mouth. A Spanish ‘r’ is a classic example of a trill, however they do not occur in most dialects of English.
Approximants in English include
Laterals are various L-like consonants. In English the only lateral is
Places of articulation
Bilabial means ‘two lipped’ in Latin. These are consonants that are produced by closing lips together is some way or another. In English they include stops
Labio-dental consonants are with the upper teeth touching the lower lip. In English they include /f/ and /v/.
Dentals and alveolars
Dental consonants are articulated with the tongue against the upper teeth, consonants such as
Dental consonants are sometimes further broken down into interdental, where the tongue is between upper and lower teeth: the ‘th’ sounds in English are interdental,
Postalveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue slightly further behind where alveolar consonants are produced. These include
Palatal consonants are articulated with the tongue against the middle part of the roof of the mouth (hard palate). In English the only palatal consonant is
Velar consonants are articulated with the back part of the tongue against the back part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate). In English these are
Voicing is best illustrated by the difference between phonemes