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Phonetics and phonology

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    Unit 1 – Phonetics and Phonology
    1.1 Introduction
    Phonetics is an empirical science which studies human speech sounds. It tells us how sound are produced, thus describing the articulatory and acoustic properties of sounds, and furnishes us with methods for this classification. Phonetics is divided into three main branches:

    Articulatory phonetics: Studies the nature and limits of the human ability to produce speech sounds and describes the way these sounds are delivered.

    Acoustic phonetics: Studies the physical properties of speech sound.

    Auditory phonetics: is concerned with hearing and the perception of speech, or our response to speech sounds as received through the ear and brain.

    Phonology is a branch of linguistics, the other major areas being grammar and semantics. Phonology is a kind of functional phonetics which employs this data to study the sound system of languages, so its concern is scientific theory, studying the linguistic functions of sounds.

    The sounds which are used vary from language to language, and within each language these sounds resolve themselves into “families” and form a system of contrasts. It is these contrasts which are of interest to the phonologist, who uses the terms distinctive, contrastive, functional or information – bearing to describe such oppositions as that of /k/ and /b/ in the words cat and bat in English. They serve to distinguish words in English and are called phonemes, which are the basic units of phonology.

    It is important to distinguished these contrastive units, phonemes, which
    have a communicative value within a given language system from other sounds that are non – contrastive. These similar but non – contrastive sounds are called allophones. Other examples of allophones are provided by the [k] – sounds in 1

    the English words cool and keep. But these positional variants are not perceived as different by the native speaker and, as far as s/he is concerned, they are the same sound, just as slightly different shades of red are still reds. This degree of frontness does not bring about a systemic difference. It is a non – systematic feature in English.

    The examples of phonemic opposition which have been given so far are all consonantal, but languages also have different vowel contrasts. English, for example, have the phonemes /i:/ and /ɪ/, long and short varieties of an [i] – type vowel. Speakers of these languages find it difficult to hear and make the difference when learning English. Words like sheep and ship, chip and ship which are distinguished by one phoneme are called minimal pairs. 1.2 Phonotactics

    Two given languages may have certain sounds in common, but these sounds may not be combined in the same way. Both Spanish and English have the consonant sound which we call theta (θ – think) but, whereas in English theta can be followed by [r] at the beginning of the words (three) in Spanish this is not a possible consonant combination.

    Phonotactics deals not only with the way consonants combine but also with the position of consonants and vowels may occupy in the syllable or word. 1.3 The phonetics – phonology interface
    For the phonetician, sounds are phenomena in the physical world; for the phonologist, sounds are linguistics items whose intrinsic interest is their function, behavior and organization. Thus, it may be said that the basic notions in phonology are unit, realization and distribution, concepts which form the backbone of practically all pre-1960’s structural linguistics regardless of linguistic field. In phonology the unit is the phoneme, the realizations are the allophones, and the allophones have a particular
    distribution. The business of phonology is observation and analysis, and the subject is marked by abstraction


    and generality. Phonology draws on phonetic substance. Phonetics and phonology complements one another.
    1.4 Language universals

    Word – order universals:
    o Languages with dominant VSO order almost always have
    o Languages with dominant SOV order often have postpositions.

    Syntactic universals:
    o Languages with dominant VSO order usually have the adjective after the noun.
    o If the pronominal object follows the verb, so does the nominal object.

    Morphological universals:
    o If a language has the category of gender, it also has the category of number.

    If a language has inflection (fright-s), it always has derivation (fright-ful).

    Phonological universals:
    o Short vowels imply long ones.
    o If a language has nasalized vowel phonemes, it also has oral vowel phonemes.
    o /n/ is the commonest nasal phoneme, and the existence of /m/ implies the existence of /n/

    If a language has /ɫ/ (dark [l]) it also has /l/ (clear [l]).


    When a linguistic unit or process is more natural than another, we say that it is unmarked; the term marked being used for units processes which are less expected.

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