what is language the side of sound phonetics and phonology and the beginning of morphology
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What is language? The side of sound: Phonetics and phonology and the beginning of morphology. Linguistics. The study of language may treat a language as a self-contained system; or it may treat it as an object that varies over space, time, and social class.

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what is language the side of sound phonetics and phonology and the beginning of morphology

What is language?The side of sound: Phonetics and phonologyand the beginning of morphology

  • The study of language may treat a language as a self-contained system; or it may treat it as an object that varies over space, time, and social class.
  • We will consider only the first (and ignore diachronic linguistics and sociolinguistics).
another distinction to bear in mind
Another distinction to bear in mind


  • We can study the way in which language organizes thought and expresses statements about (perceived) reality; or,
  • We can study the internal structure of language systems.

I\'ll focus on the second. We will aim to determine the distribution of items in particular languages; and to establish any universal principles that can be extracted from those to simplify the entire process.




Bear in mind...


…that English is an outlier among languages...

(This is really because

almost all of the volume

of a hypersphere becomes

arbitrarily close

to the skin, as the

dimensionality increases)


We humans manage to analyze an extremely complex acoustic signal and translate it into an internal representation linked to meaning with little conscious awareness of the intermediate steps or the complexity of the operation.


Phonetics: sound, described as an acoustic and articulatory event

Phonology: the study of systems of discrete sounds

Morphology: ... the internal structure of words

Syntax: ...the principles governing combinations of words.

Semantics:...the relationship between syntactic structures and meaning.

a list of false statements about speech
A list of false statements about speech
  • The speech stream can be divided into words on the basis of short pauses between words.
  • The speech stream can be divided into words on the basis of something acoustic.
  • Words can be divided into individual sounds on the basis of their acoustic properties.
Words can be analyzed as a sequence of phones of roughly equal length.
  • Words can be analyzed as a sequence of syllables of roughly equal length.
  • Words (syllables) have the same duration regardless of their context.
  • Words of two syllables are longer than words of one syllable.
dad 520 msec
  • daddy 420 msec.
language is fast
Language is fast!
  • Individual sounds can go by extremely fast (40 to 200 msec) and yet be easily grasped by the native speaker. There’s nothing else that I know of that we can do anywhere near that fast that appears to be under conscious control.
  • Native speakers reconstruct sounds from extremely degraded sensory input:
    • Jeetjet? Nah, juw?

The word text: the k is 40 msec

out of a total of 480 msec.





t: closure + burst

language is a brain function
Language is a brain function

Since 19th century, we’ve known about

  • Broca’s area (posterior inferior frontal lob) (damage leads to nonfluent speech, lack of grammatical markers)
  • Wernicke’s area (left temporal lobe, auditory association area). Damage leads to aphasia with fluent speech lacking in content.
but what is language
But what is language?
  • A system of great complexity
  • Much of the complexity is learned (we know that, because it is “language-specifïc”)
  • It still eludes our attempts to accurately model it on computers (witness continuous speech recognition products).
1 phonetics16
1. Phonetics
  • We know more about how sound is produced than how it is perceived, generally speaking.
  • Source-filter model: Upon exhilation, the vocal cords vibrate freely if there is little blockage or obstruction through the mouth and nose. The frequency of that vibration is the fundamental frequency (50-200hz in males, double that in females).
  • For vowels, the mouth/nose acts as an echo chamber, enhancing those harmonics that resonate there.
  • These resonances are called formants. The first 2 formants are especially important in characterizing particular vowels.

“Hi” /haj/


we were away a year ago


/i/ green

/ae/ hat

/u/ boot

graphics thanks to

Kevin Russell, Univ of Manitoba

vowels crudely
Vowels, crudely…
  • To identify a vowel is to identify its location in a 2-dimensional F1-F2 space.


  • … in 3-dimensional F1-F2-F3 space
  • …normalized by

See e.g. Harvey Sussman, The Neurogenesis of Phonology

Phonological processes and brain mechanisms 1988

  • Stops: p, t, k, b, d, g
  • Fricatives, affricates: ch, j, sh, th...
  • Nasals: m, n, ng (as in sing)
  • Stops and fricatives create their own turbulence, and the oral shape determines what spectrum is enhanced.
spectral character of sounds
Spectral character of sounds
  • Stops show rapid change of formant frequency from their position to that of the neighboring vowel;
  • Fricatives should wide band of noise
  • Vowels show 3 (major) bands of formants whose energy is an enhancement of harmonics of the fundamental frequency (1st, 2nd, 3rd formant)
3 aspects of the signal
3 aspects of the signal

The linguistic signal can be divided into three parts:

  • The fundamental frequency (intonation in many languages, tone in others)
  • The cues to the oral gestures: energy and formant structure: vowel and consonants
  • Temporal (rhythmic) structure

Big point:

Simultaneous and co-organized

analysis of these aspects

fundamental frequency
Fundamental Frequency
  • Intonation languages
  • Tone languages -- we’ll get to them
cues to oral gestures formants formant changes and spread out noise
Cues to oral gestures: formants, formant changes, and spread-out noise
  • Formants for vowels;
  • Long pauses inside of stops, followed by rapid formant transitions to the following vowel
  • Spread out regions of noise for fricatives

How do we do this? -- recognizing as many as 10 consecutive “objects” per second!

rhythm and timing
Rhythm and timing
  • Japanese: based on moras. A mora is:
  • a CV: ka zo ku ‘family’ wa ta shi ‘I’
  • the V in CVV: ko-o-ko-o ‘high school’
  • N at end of syllable: o-ba-a-sa-n ‘grandmother’
  • C at end of syllable: cho - t - to ‘a little’

The length of individual moras varies greatly in duration. BUT -- the length of an entire word varies linearly with the number of moras!


English Syllables

Japanese Moras

thinking about speech like vision
Thinking about speech like vision…
  • Low-level feature detectors and their kin (edge detectors, orientation detectors, movement detectors: features, rhythm)
  • Identification of a signal as a piece of language X (this is a tall 3 dimensional object)
  • Identification of the object (John; the word “spinach”)
laryngeal pitch versus oral gestures which is faster
Laryngeal (pitch) versus oral gestures: which is “faster”?

Determining pitch could mean doing a Fourier transform and looking for peaks in the 50-300 range; or it could be done by sensitivity to resonances inside the cochlea (low level dedicated hardware!)

But the length of time over which a piece of tone is stretched tends to be longer than a single phoneme.

main points
Main points
  • Phonology of a language imposes highly, tightly structured organization.
  • Languages differ greatly from one another, but there are many deep generalizations relating them. (That is, the range of possible phonologies is large; but the range is also much smaller than it might be logically.)
  • The main principle to bear in mind is simultaneous signals and simultaneous constraints.
sounds and sound inventories
Sounds and sound inventories
  • 1. The phonemic principle in languages
  • 2. Categorization into vowels and consonants
  • 3. More refined analysis along sonority hierarchy
  • 4. Strong universal (anthropophonic) tendencies in selection of vowel and consonant inventories
  • 5. Strong symmetry tendencies: which means that sounds are composed of parts...
1 the phonemic principle
1. The phonemic principle
  • Humans perceive sound chunks (“phonemes”) in discrete categories; hence ability to discriminate between exemplars is extremely good at the boundary between phonemes, and poor for within-category cases.
  • Difference between /b/ and /p/ is voicing, realized phonetically as Voice-Onset Time



Voice Onset Time:

length of time between

opening the mouth and the

onset of vocal fold


50 msec

each language has its own inventory of phonemes
Each language has its own inventory of phonemes
  • English distinguishes /b/ from /v/
  • Spanish does not
3 sonority hierarchy
3. Sonority hierarchy
  • Vowels a > i, u
  • Liquids: l, r
  • Nasals: n, m , N (ng)
  • Fricatives: s, f, v, z, th, …h
  • Affricates: ch, j
  • Stops: b,d,g…p,t,k



Sonority plays a very important role in determining what sequences of sounds are permissible in a language
  • It’s not the case that a word is just a sequence of sounds permitted in a language.
  • The set of permissible sequences is much smaller than the set of imaginable sequences...
  • Words are sequences of permissible syllables, and in general,
  • Syllables are waves of sonority:

decreasing sonority



peak: the vowel



  • The most basic syllable structure: CV
  • Most languages put very heavy restrictions on what consonants can appear after the vowel, in the coda:






h e l p

english syllable
English syllable

b l a c k is OK, but

l b a c k:

l b a ck

Not a permissible sonority sequence

b u m p is OK,


b u p m is not.

b u p m

tashlhiyt berber
Tashlhiyt Berber

…allows any sequence of phonemes, and divides the sequence up into waves of 2 and 3 letters based on inherent sonority

t r g l+ t >> t R . g L t ‘you locked’

t r g l + a s >> t R g . l A s ‘you locked him’

i + l d i >> i l . d i ‘he pulled’

t + l d i >> t L . d i ‘she pulled’

t l w a t >> t L . w a t

competition for sonority
Competition for sonority...

All phonemes must be organized into syllables;

an segment will ‘capture’ a less sonorous segment on its immediate left.

limitations on the syllable
Limitations on the syllable

Many languages permit no more than three items in a syllable:

Consonant + Vowel + 1 thing

  • C V
  • C V V
  • C V C
they will kill delete to achieve that restriction
They will kill (delete) to achieve that restriction….

Yokuts passive verb:

Future (nit) Aorist (it)

maxnit maxit (max)

tannit taanit (taan)

taan + nit >> tan.nit

panaanit panat (panaa)

panaa + it >> panat

4 functional orientation
4. Functional orientation…

Bjorn Lindblom (for example):

  • suggests that the inventory of vowels selected is done to maximize discriminability (or a more complex objective measure, such as maximize discriminability but pay a tax on complexity [difficulty] of action).
  • Basic sounds (present in babble stage, perhaps): p t k m n i e a o u
  • Elaborated: add one complex gesture: clicks, ejectives, impoloseives, more vowel features like nasalization, aspiration, palatalizaiton, creaky voice
  • Complex systems: add two or more complexities to permissible combinations
5 symmetries
5. Symmetries

Inventories of sounds in language are strong symmetric: which means we’re far more likely to find a system:

p t k

b d g

m n ng


p k

b d

m ng

  • Because sound inventories are really made up of smaller gestural pieces, and inventories are statements of permissible combinatorics. Symmetry follows from that (is that clear?).
fundamental domains of phonology
Fundamental domains of phonology
  • Theory of gestures (actions)
  • Theory of rhythm
  • Theory of information (contrasts, redundancies)
  • Theory of audition: not much here
prime effect synchronization
Prime effect: synchronization
  • Speech is not the linear concatenation of atomic units (phonemes);
  • It is the organization over time of units on a large number (~15) of independent tiers
  • Just like the production of an orchestra: each instrument’s production is autonomous vis-à-vis the other instruments...
orchestral score
Orchestral score
  • One instrument may be silent for a while;
  • Another may play 2 notes over the same period that a third plays only 1 note;
  • But all the instruments are locked onto a over-all guidance metronome-- the conductor’s baton
pin pin
“pin” [pIn]
  • A labial gesture aligned with glottal widening;
  • A rise of the tongue body combined with a narrowing of the glottis, leading eventually to spontaneous vibration of the vocal folds
  • a raising of the tongue to the top of the mouth together with a drop of the velum to permit air to flow throught the nose.
let s focus on tone
Let’s focus on tone
  • First, a simple system like that of English!
  • English assigns a tonal melody such as HL or LH to certain specific syllables.
  • This melody is then stretched out or squeezed into the time available, given the syllables of the utterance...
question versus statement
Question versus statement
  • Did you go to the store?

I went to the store yesterday.

I went to the store yesterday.

but wh questions are different
But wh-questions are different:
  • When did you go to the store?

When did you go to the store?

  • The High-Low melody is a “thing” in itself -- an intonational melody -- but to understand the sentence, you must know how it lines up with the words.
  • Tone and words: separate, autonomous, interbraided. Good word: symplectic structure.
tone languages
Tone languages
  • Q: Why look at something so exotic?
  • Answer: because it’s not exotic. More languages are tone languages than aren’t.
  • Tone languages provide us with intricate details of how the brain can organize parallel streams of linguistic information.
more complex case bambara so called isolation tones
More complex case: Bambaraso-called “isolation tones”

bâ ‘the river’ bâ ‘the goat’

ba ba


bálâ ‘the balaphone’ bàlâ ‘the porcupine’

bala bala


x d n it s a x with an h suffix to the noun
X dòn “it’s a X” withan H suffix to the noun

bá dôn bà dôn

ba don ba don


bálá dôn bàlà dôn

bala don bala don



X té “it’s not a X” withan H suffix to the noun

bá té bà té

ba te ba te


bálá té bàlà té

bala te bala te



X don “it’s the X” “the” = L suffix!

Its effect here is to

block the suffix H

from linking to

next word(don)

bá dòn bà dòn

ba don ba don


bálá dòn bàlá dòn

bala don bala don



X isolation forms

bâ bâ

ba ba


bálâ bàlâ

bala bala


tonga bantu zambia
Tonga (Bantu, Zambia)

acute accent marks High tone; no accent marks Low tone


ba lá mú bon a



lexical packages

flap d in american english
Flap (D) in American English
  • We find the flap of water (wa[D]er) under these conditions strictly inside a word:
but across words
But across words:
  • Word initial t never flaps, regardless of stresses before or after*; eat my tomato, see Topeka...
  • Word-final t followed by a vowel-initial wordnormally does flap, regardless of stresses before or after. at all, sit on it...

*But in the words to, tonight, today, tomorrow, the toacts as if it were linked to the preceding word.

  • English permits phonemes to belong simultaneously to two syllables ( = be ambisyllabic) under certain conditions.
  • Ambisyllabic t\'s convert to flaps.

Generally speaking:

Within a word:

  • C becomes part of syllable with a following onset ("maximize syllable onset"):
this also applies across words in english and in many languages but not e g in german
This also applies across words --in English, and in many languages, but not (e.g.) in German






but not across word boundaries
But not across word boundaries

we don\'t say my tomato my [D]omato



Phonetics: sound, described as an acoustic and articulatory event

Phonology: the study of systems of discrete sounds

Morphology: ... the internal structure of words

Syntax: ...the principles governing combinations of words.

Semantics:...the relationship between syntactic structures and meaning.

classic distinctions in morphology
Classic distinctions in morphology:

Analytic (isolating) languages:

  • no morphology of derivational or inflectional sort.

Synthetic (inflecting) languages:

  • Agglutinative: 1 function per morpheme
  • Fusional: > 1 function per morpheme
agglutinative finnish nominal declension
Agglutinative:Finnish Nominal Declension

talo \'the-house\' kaup-pa \'the-shop\'

talo-ni \'my house\' kaup-pa-ni \'my shop\'

talo-ssa \'in the-house\' kaup-a-ssa \'in the-shop\'

talo-ssa-ni \'in my house’ kaup-a-ssa-ni \'in my shop\'

talo-i-ssa \'in the-houses’ kaup-o-i-ssa \'in the-shops\'

talo-i-ssa-ni \'in my houses’ kaup-o-i-ssa-ni \'in my shops\'

Courtesy of Bucknell Univ. web page

fusional latin latin declension of hortus garden
Fusional: LatinLatin Declension of hortus \'garden\'

Singular Plural

Nominative (Subject) hort-us hort-i

Genitive (of) hort-i hort-rum

Dative (for/to) hort-o hort-is

Accusative (Direct Obj) hort-um hort-us

Vocative (Call) hort-e hort-i

Ablative (from/with) hort-o hort-is

incorporation syntax inside morphology
Incorporation: syntax inside morphology

“let’s play ball all night long”

let’s night-long ball play

example thanks to Bucknell web page


The internal structure of words:

  • phonological characteristics
  • interaction with syntax
most words in most languages are composed of several morphemes
Most words in most languages are composed of several morphemes
  • Recall the case of Tonga (Bantu):

tu - la - ba - bon - a

we Present them see - indicative.

  • Has a morphology most similar to that of the other Germanic languages; and Germanic languages are similar to other Indo-European languages.
  • A small number of prefixes, quite a few suffixes.
inflectional and derivational morphology
Inflectional and derivational morphology

I sing, you sing, he sings, we sang; all different inflectional forms of the same lexemesing. Different forms are required in different contexts (syntactic contexts, we say).

  • I read; I am a reader. You out-wit me. You\'re a mind-reader.

derivational morphology: creates new lexemes.

That\'s one functional dimension along which morphemes differ; they also differ with regard to the effects they have on the stem to which they attach.
  • Some affixes leave the base unchanged, while in other cases, the base + affix is modified so as to better satisfy the phonotactics (=well-formedness conditions, high-frequency patterns) of monomorphemic lexemes.

Two layers of morphology in English

Layer 1: causes change in stress pattern, vowel-shortening, vowel-deletion, c->s;

Layer 2: little change in the base.

Catholicism: the religion; versus

Catholic-ism: speech forms particular to Catholics?



Phonetics: sound, described as an acoustic and articulatory event

Phonology: the study of systems of discrete sounds

Morphology: ... the internal structure of words

Syntax: ...the principles governing combinations of words.

Semantics:...the relationship between syntactic structures and meaning.


The task of syntax is to:

  • account for word-order in a given language;
  • specify constituent structure in the language;
  • account for the alignment of syntactic and logical structure.
levels of syntactic structure
Levels of syntactic structure:

Clause = smallest proposition-like grouping.

  • [ John thought [ the Earth was flat ] ]

2 clauses.

Top level of structure in a clause:

Subject Verb Object John ate the bread.

Subject Object Verb John the bread ate.

Verb Subject Object Ate John the bread.

Verb Object Subject Ate the bread John.

Object Subject Verb The bread John ate.

Object Verb Subject The bread ate John.

these 6 don t exhaust the possibilities
These 6 don\'t exhaust the possibilities
  • Very common is:
  • X inflected-verb everything-else...
  • "Verb goes into the second position..."
structure within the phrase
Structure within the phrase
  • the golden apples det adjective noun
  • les pommes dorées det noun adjective
  • den bok the book (Norwegian)
  • bok-en book-a
automatic syntactic analysis
Automatic syntactic analysis
  • Assigment of words to categories;
  • determination of constituent structure.