Linguists have identified five basic components (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) found across languages. Phonology is the study of the patterns of sounds in a language and across languages.

The core principle in phonology is the idea of contrast. Let’s say we have two sounds that are different from each other. If the difference between those two sounds leads to a difference in meaning in a given language, then we say that those two sounds contrast in that language.

Phonological awareness standards fall into the four developmental levels: word, syllable, onset-rime, and phoneme. It is the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of sentences and words. Examples include being able to identify words that rhyme, recognizing alliteration, segmenting a sentence into words, identifying the syllables in a word, and blending and segmenting onset-rimes.

Did you know?

The First Rhyme

The first Greek to write rhyming poetry was the fourteenth-century Cretan Stephanos Sachlikis. Rhyme is now a common fixture of Greek poetry.

Related: Types of Rhyme

What are the 7 syllables?

There are 7 types of syllables that occur in all words of the English language. Every word can be broken down into these syllables. These 7 syllables include: closed, open, magic e, vowel teams, r-controlled, dipthongs and consonant le.

Lexical Phonology

Lexical phonology is an approach to phonology that accounts for the interactions of morphology and phonology in the word building process.

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Branches of Phonology

segmental phonology

In linguistics, a segment is “any discrete unit that can be identified, either physically or auditorily, in the stream of speech”. The term is most used in phonetics and phonology to refer to the smallest elements in a language, and this usage can be synonymous with the term phone. A segment is the smallest unit of language: any individual sound. Segment theory is also used in morphology and syntax to break down languages into their component parts.

Suprasegmental phonology refers to intonation patterns, stress placement and rhythm in spoken language; also called prosody. To date, however, longitudinal studies combining measures of both segmental and suprasegmental phonology, escpecially in older school children, are scarce.

Diachronic phonology

Diachronic (historical) phonology examines and constructs theories about the changes and modifications in speech sounds and sound systems over a period of time. For example, it is concerned with the process by which the English words “sea” and “see,” once pronounced with different vowel sounds (as indicated by the spelling), have come to be pronounced alike today. Synchronic (descriptive) phonology investigates sounds at a single stage in the development of a language, to discover the sound patterns that can occur. For example, in English, nt and dm can appear within or at the end of words (“rent,” “admit”) but not at the beginning.

Synchronic phonology

Also called descriptive phonology as linguists seek to describe the phonetics of a language, not trace the evolution of sounds through the development of a language across time. Synchronic linguistics is the study of language at any given point in time while diachronic linguistics is the study of language through different periods in history.

Types of Phonological Rules

1. Assimilation – phonological process in which a sound changes to resemble a nearby sound and can occur both forward and backward, within a word or between words.

Ex. The prefix in- where sometimes it appears as in– and others as im-. In front of bilabial words, like put or between, in– we pronounce with an m, “imput” or “im between.”

2. Dissimilation – phonological process in which two close sounds, similar consonants or vowels, change to become less alike

Ex. Manner dissimilation, in which a stop becomes a fricative when followed by another stop. We pronounce the word sixth sikst where /sθ/ becomes /st/.

3. Insertion – phonological process in which we add a sound to a word.

Ex. Voiceless stop insertion where, between a nasal consonant and a voiceless fricative, a voiceless stop with the same place of articulation as we insert the nasal consonant. In English, many add a /p/ to hamster and say “hampster”.

4. Deletion (or Elision) – phonological process in which speech sounds disappear from words

Ex. We can delete vowels to make one-syllable words that are easier to pronounce in a fast manner. Police becomes “plice”, and friendship is said as “frienship”.


5. Metathesis – phonological process in which sounds switch places in the phonemic structure of a word

Ex. To make words easier to pronounce and understand, we switch letters. Two historical examples include Old English (brid and aks) becoming Modern English (bird and ask).

6. Strengthening (or Fortition) – phonological process in which we make a sound stronger

Ex. Aspiration is where voiceless stops become aspirated when they occur at the beginning of a stressed syllable. Top is said with an h.

7. Weakening (or Lenition) – phonological process in which a sound becomes weaker

Ex. Flapping is a phonological process of weakening whereby the voiceless alveolar stop consonant phoneme /t/ is pronounced as a voiced alveolar flap [ɾ], like in the word kitty. This usually happens before a stressed vowel and before and unstressed vowel where we pronounce the sound with articulation resembling a flap.

Related: Rhetorical Devices

theories of phonology

Contemporary theories of phonology include optimality theory, nonlinear phonology, and representation-based accounts of children’s speech. Each of these offers alternative explanations as well as descriptions of speech acquisition and SSD in children.

Optimality Theory is a linguistic model proposing that the observed forms of language arise from the optimal satisfaction of conflicting constraints. In fact, OT differs from other approaches to phonological analysis, which typically use rules rather than constraints.

Metrical Phonology

Metrical phonology is a theory of stress or linguistic prominence. The innovative feature of this theory is that the prominence of a unit is defined relative to other units in the same phrase.

For example, in the most common pronunciation of the phrase “doctors use penicillin” (if said out-of-the-blue), the syllable ‘-ci-‘ is the strongest or most stressed syllable in the phrase. However, the syllable ‘doc-‘ is more stressed than the syllable ‘-tors’.

Lexical phonology

Lexical phonology is an approach to phonology that accounts for the interactions of morphology and phonology in the word building process. The lexicon plays a central, productive role in the theory. It consists of ordered levels, which are the domain for certain phonological or morphological processes.

Autosegmental phonology

And another theory is autosegmental phonology a non-linear approach to phonology that allows phonological processes. Such as tone and vowel harmony, to be independent of and extend beyond individual consonants and vowels. As a result, the phonological processes may influence more than one vowel or consonant at a time.

Phonological underspecification theories

Lastly, there is phonological underspecification theories propose that only the distinctive features that differentiate a phoneme are present in the adult phonological representation. (Kiparsky, 1985; Archangeli, 1988; Mohanan, 1991; Steriade, 1995).

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