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Phonology is the study of the sound system of a lang



A phonetic segment which consists of a stop followed immediately by a fricative. Affricates act as units phonologically and are synchronically indivisible, e.g. /tʃ/ in church /tʃɜ:tʃ/ or judge /dʒʌdʒ/.



The realisation of a phoneme. Each segment has different realisations which are only partly distinguishable for speakers. A phoneme can have different allophones, frequently depending on position in the word or on a preceding vowel, e.g. [l] and [ɫ] in English (at the beginning and end of a word respectively) or [ç] and [x] in German (depending on whether the preceding vowel is front or not). Allophones are written in square brackets.



A system of letters intended to represent the sounds of a language in writing. For all west European languages the Latin alphabet has been the outset for their writing systems. However, because each language has a different sound system different combinations of letters have arisen and letters have come to be written with additional symbols attached to them.



A classification of sounds which are formed at the alveolar ridge (the bone plate behind the upper teeth). Alveolar sounds are formed with the tip or the blade of the tongue. Examples are /t,d,s,z,l,n/ in English or German.



A classification of sounds which are formed with the hard palate as passive articulator and the blade of the tongue as active articulator. Examples are the two English fricatives [ʃ] and [ʒ].



A description of the manner of articulation of the Modern English fricatives /θ/ and /ð/. It is preferred to inter-dental as the tongue is not usually positioned between the teeth for these sounds.


articulatory phonetics

One of three standard divisions of phonetics which concerns itself with the production of sounds (compare acoustic and auditive phonetics).


auditory phonetics

One of the three standard divisions of phonetics which is concerned with the perception of sounds.



Any sound produced using both lips, e.g. [p] oder [m].


cardinal vowels

A system of 8 rounded and 8 unrounded vowels which was originally developed by the English phonetician Daniel Jones and which is intended as a system of reference for the unambiguous classification of vowel values in a language. The cardinal vowels are represented in a quadrangle with vowels at each corner and two closed mid and open mid vowels, a pair in the front and a pair in the back of the quadrangle.



One of the two main classes of sound. Consonants are formed by a constriction in the supra-glottal tract (or occasionally at the vocal folds as with the glottal stop [ʔ]). They divide into the chief types stops — /p,t,k/ for instance, fricatives — /f, θ, s/ — and approximants — /j, w/. Consonants contrast with vowels in their relatively low sonority and are hence found typically in the margins of syllables, i.e. in onsets and codas as in stopped /stɒpt/.



Refers to any elements which are in opposition to each other. A phonetic distinction is contrastive if it has significance on the phonological level, i.e. if it distinguishes meaning.



A place of articulation characterised by the tip of the tongue being held against the back of the upper teeth, for instance in the pronunciation of /t,d/ in Italian, Swedish, etc. Indicated by a subscript diacritic representing a tooth, i.e. [ṯ, ḏ]. The initial sounds in English this and think are sometime referred to as dental fricatives but the description ambi-dental is more appropriate as the tip of the tongue need only be in the region of the teeth.



A vowel which is articulated with a change in tongue position between the beginning and end, e.g. /ai/ in English or German. Not all diphthongs have phonological status in a language. Historically, diphthongs tend to develop from long vowels.



A characteristic of human language where there is no continuous transition from one unit to another, e.g. /p/ and /b/ are separate, discrete sounds and speakers pronounce one or the other but not something intermediary between the two.


ease of articulation

A putative reason for sound change. It may play a role in allegro speech and possibly effect the sound system over time but cannot be assumed to be a generally valid principle on the phonological level.



A type of sound which is characterised by air passing a constriction somewhere between the glottis and the lips, e.g. [x, s, ʃ, f]. Turbulence arises when air flows through a narrow gap and it is this which causes the noise typical of fricatives. Fricatives can be voiced or voiceless. The equivalent term spirant is sometimes found.



A sound which from the point of view of phonological classification lies between a vowel and a consonant, e.g. /j/ and /w/ in English. It is formed with little friction and has a high degree of sonority which accounts for why glides are found near the nucleus of syllables. Sometimes called a semi-vowel.



A term referring to sounds produced at the gap in the vocal folds. Such sounds can either be stops [ʔ] or fricatives [h, ɦ] — voiceless and voiced respectively.



Any set of words pronounced the same way, e.g. English poor and pour /pɔ:/ (Received Pronunciation) and German Ferse and Verse.



Any set of sounds which are articulated at the same point in the vocal tract, e.g. the sounds in the syllable-coda of mind /maind/ both of which are alveolar.



That part of the sound system of a language which involves the use of pitch to convey information. It consists of both accent (concerns individual words) and sentence melody (concerns word groups).



A system of transcribing the sounds of languages which consists of some Latin and Greek letters and a variety of additional symbols and diacritics. The goal is to represent each recognisable sound in a unique fashion. The IPA was developed at the end of the last century; the acronym stands for International Phonetic Alphabet.



A reference to a sound which is formed at the lips; this encompasses both bilabials like /p, m/ and labio-dentals like /f, v/.



Describes a consonant which is formed by the lower lip making contact with the upper teeth as in English and German [f] and [v].



Describes a consonant which is articulated by a constriction at the velum with rounding of the lips at the same time, e.g. with [w] in English.



The disappearance of contrasts — usually phonological or morphological — in the course of a language's development.


manner of articulation

One of the three conventional parameters (the others are place of articulation and voice) which are used to specific how a sound is produced. Common types are plosives, fricatives and affricates.


minimal pair

Any two words which are only distinguished by different sounds in a single position. Such word pairs are used in traditional phonology to determine the status of sounds as phonemes, e.g. German Kunst # Gunst and English railing # sailing which show that the initial sounds in all these words are phonemes in the respective languages. Note that the spelling of minimal pairs is irrelevant.