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Chapter7 Phonemic Analysis

What is Phonology?. It\'s a field of linguistics which studies the distribution of sounds in a language as well as the interaction between those different sounds.. What is Phonology?. Phonology tackles the following questions:What sounds in a language are predictable?What is the phonetic context

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Chapter7 Phonemic Analysis

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Chapter7Phonemic Analysis

PHONOLOGY (Lane 335)

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What is Phonology?

It’s a field of linguistics which studies the distribution of sounds in a language as well as the interaction between those different sounds.

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What is Phonology?

Phonology tackles the following questions:

  • What sounds in a language are predictable?

  • What is the phonetic context that predict the occurrence of these sounds?

  • Which sounds affect the meaning of words?

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Phonetics Vs Phonology

  • Phonetics: studies how speech sounds are produced, their physical properties & how they are interpreted.

  • Phonology: studies the organization of speech sounds in a particular language.

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Distinctive and Non-distinctive Sounds

  • Distinctive (contrastive) Sounds: make a difference in meaning; e.g. /p/ & /b/ in pin, bin.

  • Non-distinctive (non-contrastive) Sounds: Does Not make a difference in meaning; e.g. /p/ in pin & spin.


    /t/ in : top [thɒp]

    Stop [stɒp]

    Little [liɾ l]

    Kitten [kiʔ n]

    Hunter [hʌ nr]


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Phoneme and Allophone

  • A phoneme: a class of speech sounds that are identified by a native speaker as the same sound; e.g. /t/; unpredictable

  • A phoneme is an abstract representation & can’t be pronounced (not a speech sound)

  • An allophone: the actual phonetic segment produced by a speaker & has been classified as belonging to some phoneme; e.g. [th]; predictable

  • Or an allophone: the various ways that a phoneme is pronounced; e.g. [ʔ], [ɾ]

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Phoneme and Allophone

  • The phonological system of a language has two levels:

    1- the more concrete level which involves the physical reality of phonetics segments, the allophones represented by [ ](greater number).

    2- The abstract (underlying) level which involves phonemes represented by / / (small inventory).

  • /p/ has 3 allophones ([p], [ph], [p̚ ])

  • Similar to natural sciences (H2O is realized as ice, water, & water vapor)

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Distribution of Speech Sounds

  • The distribution of a phone: the set of phonetic environments in which it occurs.

  • Contrastive Sounds: if two sounds are separate phonemes, they are contrastive

    (interchanging the two, change the meaning of a word)

  • Non-contrastive Sounds: if two phones are allophones of the same phoneme, they are non-contrastive

    (interchanging the phones, doesn’t change the meaning of a word)

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Minimal Pairs

  • A way to determine whether sounds are distinctive or not.

  • Defined as a pair of words with different meanings which are pronounced exactly the same way except for one sound that differs.

  • In some languages, no minimal pairs, but we can establish phonemes

  • Near Minima Pairs ‘mission’ & ‘vision’

  • Example:

  • [ti:m] and [di:m]: /t/ & /d/ are separate phonemes.

  • [ti:m] & [ti:n]

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Kinds of Phonemic Distribution

  • Overlapping Distribution: when the sets of phonetic environments in which two sounds occur are partially or completely identical.

    bait [bet] date [det]

    lobe [lob] load [lod]

    knobs [nabz] nods [nadz]

    bleat [blit]

    Two Kinds:

    1- contrastive distribution (give different meanings= belong to different phonemes = appear in minimal pairs)

    2- Free Variation (never cause a contrast in meaning = allophones of the same phoneme = no minimal pairs)

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Kinds of Phonemic Distribution

  • Complementary Distribution (mutually exclusive, non-overlapping): when sounds DON’T occur in the same phonetic environment

    spat [spæt] pat [phæt]

    spool [spul] pool [phul]

    speak [spik] peek [phik]

  • No minimal pairs for such sounds

  • Phones in CD are allophones of a single phoneme

  • The appearance of one allophone or the other is PREDICTABLE.

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Phonological Rules

  • Two levels of representation:

    1- underlying (phonemic, mental)

    2- surface (phonetic)

  • Why do we need rules?

    - link the two levels

    - show when a particular allophone should show up on the surface

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Phonological Rules


(underlying form)



(surface form)

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Phonological Rules

  • state that some item becomes some other item in some specific environment

  • The common way of expressing rules:

    A B/ X____ Y

  • A becomes ( ) B in the environment of (/) being preceded by X and followed by Y

  • ____ represents the position of the item affected by the rule

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Phonological Rules

  • Example:

    ˷ ˷

  • [fæn]: /æ/ /æ//____/n/

  • Vowels in English are nasalized before any nasal stop.

  • [+ syllabic] [+nasal]/ __ [+nasal]

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Choosing the Underlying Form

  • How we decide on the representation at the phonemic level?

  • Phonemes and their allophones SHARE some phonetic features

  • The choice is “phonetically natural”

  • Take the form which has the widest distribution (occurs in the largest number of environments)

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Phonetic naturalness & Phonological Analysis

  • Natural means “to be expected”, “frequently found across languages”

  • Does NOT mean “English-like”

  • No words in English begin with onset clusters like [ps], [pn], [pt].

  • Clusters appear word initial in other languages like German, Greek, & French.

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Phonetic Similarity

  • To choose the phonemic form, we have to consider phonetic similarity.

  • Example: [h] occurs syllable-initially [hæ m]

    [ŋ ] occurs only syllable-finally [brɪ ŋ]

  • Not allophones of the same phoneme

  • They lack phonetic similarity

  • [h]: non-nasal, obstruent, continuant

  • [ŋ] nasal, sonorant, non-continuant

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Pattern Congruity

  • Phonologists consider the consequences of choosing one morpheme over the other

  • Pattern Congruity: the systematic organization of the set of phonemes and their distribution.

  • Choosing an allophone depends on the overall patterns found in the phonological system (pattern congruity)

  • For example:

    In English: obstruent clusters have uniform voicing

    Either all members of the cluster are [+ voice], or [- voice].

    ‘Mixed voice’ DON’T occur phonemically

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Process Naturalness

  • In choosing the underlying form, the linking processes should be considered

  • pass [pæ s] pass you [pæʃ ju]

  • this [ðɪ s] this year [ðɪʃjiə ]

  • [s] appears in more environments

  • Assimilation:

  • [s] alveolar [+coronal, +anterior] becomes [ʃ] palato-alveolar [+coronal, - anterior] when followed by [j] palatal [+ coronal, - anterior]

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  • Phonology is concerned with the organization of the system underlying the speech sounds

  • The phonemic level represents native speakers’ knowledge of the sound system of their language

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Phonology vs. phonetics

  • Phonology: is a cognitive study deals with the representation of knowledge in the mind

  • Phonetics: deals with the physical properties of speech sounds