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Phonology. October 24, 2012. Housekeeping. To begin with... Phonetics homeworks to hand in! Then: Another Simpsons-based Quick Write Today: We start working on Phonology… Friday: mid-term! Note: I changed my mind about the tables of consonants and vowels…

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October 24, 2012


  • To begin with...

    • Phonetics homeworks to hand in!

  • Then:

    • Another Simpsons-based Quick Write

  • Today: We start working on Phonology…

  • Friday: mid-term!

  • Note: I changed my mind about the tables of consonants and vowels…

    • I won’t be providing partial replications of them on the exam.

    • Which means: you should learn them!

Broad and narrow
Broad and Narrow

  •  Broad transcriptions

    • Represent only contrastive sounds (phonemes)

    • Enclosed in slashes: / /

    • Generally use only alphabetic symbols

  • Narrow transcriptions

    • Represent phones

    • Capture as much phonetic detail as possible

    • Enclosed in brackets: [ ]

    • Can require use of diacritics


  • The study of how the pronunciation of sounds changes according to context is called phonology.

  • We have already seen some phonological changes with respect to the phoneme /t/.

  • English /t/

  • Word Broad Narrow Description

  • ‘top’ aspirated

‘stop’ unaspirated

‘batter’ flapped

‘kitten’ glottalized

‘nitrate’ /najtrejt/ palatalized

Phonemes and allophones
Phonemes and Allophones

  • Recall: the basic idea behind the IPA is to have one symbol for each sound.

  • Principle of Contrast:

    • “There should be a separate letter for each distinctive sound; that is, for each sound which, being used instead of another, in the same language, can change the meaning of the word.”

  • Phonemes contrast with each other; they are “distinctive sounds”

  • Allophones do not contrast with each other;

    • They cannot distinguish between words.

Phonemes and allophones1
Phonemes and Allophones

  • For example--[t] and [d] are two different sounds (phonemes) in English;

    • they can change the meaning of a word--

      tip vs. dip ~ [t] vs. [d] ~ pat vs. pad

  • Remember: two words that differ in only one sound are called a minimal pair.

  • However, there is no minimal pair in English distinguished by a flap vs. a voiceless stop.

  • Canadian English: “bottom”

  • British English: “bottom”

Wait a second
Wait a second…

  • Sounds that are distinctive, or contrast, in one language, are not necessarily distinctive in another.

  • Ex: [s] and are distinctive in English.

  • sheep vs. seep

  • shack vs. sack

  • shoot vs. suit

  • mash vs. mass

  • etc.

  • But they are not distinctive in Japanese…

Some japanese words
Some Japanese Words

‘this year’‘outside’

‘a little’ ‘to know’

‘world’ ‘to do’

‘sugar’ ‘to force/cause’

  • Q: What’s the pattern?

  • A: appears before [i]: ____ [i]

  • [s] appears elsewhere

  • There are no minimal pairs for and [s] in Japanese.

 In Japanese, they are not contrastive sounds.

Biblical parallels
Biblical Parallels

“And the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, ‘Let me go over,’ the men of Gilead said to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ When he said, ‘No,’ they said to him, ‘Then say Shibboleth,’ and he said, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it right; then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan.”

--Judges 12:5-6

Modern day shibboleths
Modern-day Shibboleths

(Canadian) Jon (American) Steve





  • Also note (Canadian) Amber:

Modern day shibboleths1
Modern-day Shibboleths

  • Canadian English is distinctive in that it “raises” the first part of the diphthongs [aj] and [aw].

  • In both cases, [a] 

[aj] 

[aw] 

  • This is “raising” because a low vowel becomes a mid vowel.

  • Technical term: Canadian Raising.

Canadian raising
Canadian Raising

  • Canadian Raising only occurs in certain sound environments:

  • “house” “loud”

  • “write” “ride”

  • “pipe” “bribe”

  • “like”

  • Q: When does Canadian Raising occur?

    • (what is the relevant sound environment?)

  • A: [aj] and [aw] “raise” whenever they appear before a voiceless consonant.

Another pattern
Another Pattern

  • Here’s one that we’ve seen before:

    • [phæt] ‘pat’ [spæt] ‘spat’

    • [thap] ‘top’ [stap] ‘stop’

    • [khar] ‘car’ [skar] ‘scar’

  • Voiceless stops are aspirated when they appear at the start of a stressed syllable.

    • Unless they appear immediately after s: s___

  • Because aspirated and unaspirated stops don’t appear in the same phonetic environment in English….

    • They are not contrastive sounds.


  • In languages like Quechua, there are meaningful contrasts between aspirated and unaspirated stops and affricates.

  • Some minimal pairs:

Different levels
Different Levels

  • In all languages, there are sounds which contrast.

    • They make meaningful differences between words.

    • = “phonemes”

  • Phonemes also have variants which do not contrast.

    • …but reliably appear in particular phonetic environments.

    • = “allophones”

  • Phonemes represent abstract, psychological reality

    • broad transcriptions

  • allophones represent concrete, physical reality.

    • narrow transcriptions

Big picture flashback
Big Picture Flashback

  • Knowing how the broad level of transcription relates to the narrow level of transcription is part of what you know as a competent speaker of a language.

    • = knowing which allophone to use for a particular phoneme, in some particular circumstance.

  • Another word for this knowledge is phonology.

    • This is subconscious knowledge

  • This knowledge takes the form of rules…

    • For that reason, it can apply to new, creative forms.

  • Try, for example, nonsense words like “mowch” or “skype”.

Example rule
Example Rule

  • In Japanese, [s] and are allophones of the same phoneme.

Phoneme: /s/

Allophones: [s]

  • Observations:

    • appears only in front of /i/

    • [s] appears everywhere else

  • Rule: /s/ surfaces as in front of /i/

    • Speakers of Japanese “know” this rule

Phonological rules formalized
Phonological Rules, formalized

  • Phonological rules can be written in the following form:

    • /Phoneme/  [Allophone] / Environment

  • The environment is where we see the phonological transformation taking place.

    • Usually, the phonetic environment consists of the sounds surrounding the phoneme in question.

  • Example rule (Japanese):

    • /s/  / __ [i]

    • (__ [i] = before an [i])


  • Question:

    • How do we know that the /s/ changes to an in Japanese, and not the other way around?

  • We have to take into consideration the distribution of the two sounds.

  • The distribution is the set of phonetic environments in which a sound appears.

  • Two kinds of distributions:

    • contrastive

    • complementary