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The Sound Systems Of Language English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2938 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Phonology is one of the core fields that compose the discipline of linguistics, which is defined as the scientific study of language structure. One way to understand what the subject matter of phonology is, to contrast it with other fields within linguistics. A very brief explanation is that phonology is the study of sound structure in language, which is different from the study of sentence structure (syntax) or word structure (morphology), or how languages change over time (historical linguistics).

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A common characterization of the different between phonetics and phonology is that phonetics deals with “actual” physical sounds as they are manifested in human speech, and concentrates on acoustic waveforms, formant values, measurements of duration measured in milliseconds, of amplitude and frequency, or in the physical principles underlying the production of sounds. On the other hand, phonology is an abstract cognitive system dealing with rules in a mental grammar: principles of subconscious “thought” as they relate to language sound.


The most important to appreciate at this moment is that the “sound” which phonology is concerned with is symbolic sounds- there are cognitive abstractions which represent but are not the same as physical sounds


One expect of phonology considers what the “sounds” of a language are. We would want to take note in a description of the phonology of English that we lack a particular vowel that exists in German in words like schon ‘beautiful’, a vowel which is also found. In French (Spelled eu, as in jeune ‘Young’) or Norwegian (beer). Similarly, the consonant spelled the in English thing, path does exist in English as well as in Icelandic where it is spelled with the letter p, or Modern Greek where it is spelled with O, or Saami where it is spelled ) but his sound doesn’t occur in German or French and it is not used in Latin American Spanish, although it does occur in continental Spanish in words such as cerveza ‘beer,’ where by the spelling conventions of Spanish, the letters c and z represent the same sound as the one spelled the (in English)


Another aspect of language sound which is phonological analysis would take account of is that in any given language, certain combinations of sounds are allowed, but other combinations are systematically impossible. The fact that English has the words brick, break, bridge, bread is a clear indication that there is no restriction against having words begin with the consonant sequence br; besides these words one can think of many more words beginning with br such as bribe, brow and so on. Similarly, there are many words which begin with bl, such as blue, blatant, blast, blend, blink, showing that there is no rule against words beginning with bl. It is also a fact that there is no words “blink” in English, even though the similar words blink, brick do exit. The nonexistence of blick is English is accidental, the exclusion from English of many other imaginable but nonexistent words is based on a principled restriction of the languages.


In addition to providing an account of possible versus impossible words in a language, a phonological analysis will explain other general patterns in the pronunciation of words. For example, there is a very general rule of English phonology which dictates that the plural suffix on nouns will be pronounced as (iz), represented in spelling as es, when the preceding consonant is one of the certain set of consonants including (S) spelled (sh) as in bushes, (c) (spelled as ch) as in churches, and (j) (spelled j, ge, dge) as in cages, bridge. This pattern of pronunciation is not limited to the plural, so despite the difference in spelling, the possessive suffix s2 is also subject to the same rules of pronunciation: thus, plural bushes is pronounced as same as the possessive bush’s and plural churches is pronounced same as the possessive church’s. This is the sense in which phonology is about the sound of the language. From the phonological perspective, a “sound” is a specific unit which combines with other such specific units and which represent physical sounds.


Phonetics is about the concrete, instrumentally measurable physical properties and production of these cognitive speech sounds. The two basic aspects of speech sounds as there are studied in phonetics, namely acoustics which is the study of the properties of the physical sounds wave that we hear, and articulation, which is the study of how to modify the shape of vocal tract, thereby producing a certain acoustic output(sound)


A “sound” is a complex pattern of rapid variation in air pressure, travelling from a sound source and striking the ear, which causes a series of neural signals to be received in the brain: this is true of speech, music and random noices.


A concrete way to visually represent a sound is with an acoustic waveform. A number of computer programs allow one to record sounds into a file and display the results on the screen. This means one can visually inspect a representation of the physical pattern of the variation in air pressure since we are interested in the part which makes this two words sound different, we might get a clearer picture of the physical difference by expanding the scale and looking just at a part of the vowel. Vowels are periodic, which means that the pattern of their wave form repeats over time. A portion of the vowels from the middle of the words seed and Sid, involving around 30 milliseconds (ms) of each of the words. We can indeed see that there is a pattern which is repeated. Though there are visible differences between the waveforms, the basis for distinguishing these vowels remain unclear.


All sound waves are definably, namely in terms of three properties that characterize a sine wave familiar from trigonometry, namely frequency measure in cycles per second also known as Hertz (Hz), amplitude measure in decibels and phase measured in the angular measure radians. These characteristics suffice to define any sine wave, which is the analytic basis of sounds. The property phase, which describe how far into the infinite cycle of repetition a particular sine wave is, turns out to be unimportant for the study of speech sounds, so it can be ignored. Simple sine waves (termed “pure tones” when speaking of sounds) made up of a single frequency are not commonly encountered in the real worlds, but can be created by a tuning fork or by electronic equipment.

Speech sounds (indeed all sounds) are complex wave forms which are virtually impossible to describe with intuitive description of what they “look like”. Fortunately, complex wave can be mathematically relate to a series of simple waves which have different amplitudes at different frequencies, so that we can say that complex wave from is “build from” asset of simple waves. Inaccuracy in spectral data has three main sources. Half of the information in the original signal, phase, has been discarded. Frequency information is only approximate and it’s related to how much speech is analyzed. Finally, a spectrum assumes that sound properties are constant during the period being analyzed. If too large a piece of speech is taking for analysis, a misrepresentative blending of a continuously changing signal results.

SPECTROGRAM: The spectrogram shows both frequency and amplitude properties as they change over time, by adding a third dimension of information to the display. A spectrogram can be made by a mechanical spectrograph, which uses an adjustable filter to select different frequency ranges and display the changes in amplitude at each frequency ranges; or, it can be created by a computer program, which use fouler analysis to determine these component amplitudes.

A spectrogram is a reasonably informative accurate display of properties of sound. It is less accurate than the spectrum at a single point. Spectrograms are created either by special machinery or specials computer programs, which are not always available. It is therefore quite impractical and also unnecessary to base the scientific study of languages sound systems exclusively on spectrograms.


Phonetics and phonology both study language sounds. Phonology examines language sound as a mental unit, and encapsulated symbolically for example as (ae) or (g) and focus on how these unit function in grammars. Phonetics examines how symbolic sounds are manifested as a continuous physical object. The conversion from physically continues event to symbolic representation requires focusing on the information that is important, which is possible because not all physical properties of speech sounds are cognitively important. One of the goals of phonology is than to discover exactly what these cognately important properties are how they function in expressing Regularities about languages.



PREVIEW: This chapter gives an overview of phonetic transcriptions. It:

Gives the important transcriptional symbols

Introduces the two major schemes of phonetic transcriptions

Present the main articulators classification of sounds

Surveys the main variations in phonetic properties exploited by the languages

Further develops the relevance of phonetics for the study of phonology


In phonetic transcription, speech is represented a small set of symbols with a standard interpretation. This chapter looks at the different systems for phonetic transcription. They are two major schemes, the informal American schemes used in especially North America, sometime known as APA (American Phonetic Alphabet), and the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) promulgated by the international Phonetics association.


The first division in speech sound is made between vowels and consonants. Symbols for vowels will be considered first because they are fewer vowels than consonant. Some dialects English make no distinction in the pronunciation of the words cot and caught; even among speakers who distinguish the pronunciation of cot and caught, the precise pronunciation of the two vowels differs considerable. An important point is that the transcriptional symbols are approximations representing a range of similar values, and that symbols do not always have absolute universal phonetic values.


There are many more consonant than vowels, English only has a fraction of the full range of possible consonants, so illustration of many of these symbols involve more extensive consideration of languages other than English. Consonants symbols are treat as the place of articulation where the major constriction occurs as one axis, and treating properties such as voicing, being a continuant, or nasality as the other axis. Eleven places of articulation for consonants are usually recognized: bilabial, labiodentals, dental, alveolar, alveopalatal, retroflex, palatal, velar, uvular, pharyngeal and laryngeal, and arrangement which proceeds from the furthest forward to furthest back points of the vocal tract.

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MANNER OF ARTICULATION: largely independent of the place where a consonant constriction is formed, the manner in which the constriction is formed can be manipulated in various ways. If a constriction is formed which completely blocks the flow of air, the resulting sound, such as t, is called a stop? A consonant can be produced by forming a narrow constriction which still allows air to pass through the vocal tract, resulting in noise in at the constriction, and such consonants, for example s and v are called fricatives. A combination of complete constriction followed by a period of partial constriction is termed an affricate.


A phonetic property of consonants that may be transcribed is whether the consonant is syllabic. There is a phonetic difference between the n of American English cotton and that of con: the n of cotton is syllabi, where as the n of con is no syllabic. A syllabic consonant is indicated by placing a vertical tick under the consonant, so cotton is transcript (Ka? n) and con is transcribed (Kan). The main phonetic correlate of the distinction between syllabic and no syllabic consonant is duration, where syllabic consonants are generally longer than their no syllabic counterparts. Especially in tone languages, syllabic consonants can have distinctive tone.


The symmetrical universal table consonants were we to list all the consonants found in human languages. In some instances, the gap reflects physiological impossibility, such as the fact that one cannot produce a nasal pharyngeal, analogous to velar nasal but at a pharyngeal place of articulation. A nasal involves making a complete obstruction at a given point of articulation and also requires air to flow through the velum. In order to make a pharyngeal nasal, it would be necessary to make a complete constriction at the pharynx. But since the pharynx lies below the velum, no air can flow through the nasal passages if the pharynx is totally constricted. However a nasalized pharyngeal continuant, i.e. the consonant produced with simultaneous nasal airflow, would not be a physical impossibility, since that consonant doesn’t not require complete constriction of the pharynx. In other cases the gap indicates that no such sound has been found, but there is no immutable physical reason for such a sound not to exist. Thus bilabial affricated not seem to be attested, nor to plain no affricated alvepalatal stops, nor do nasalized pharyngeal fricatives. Similarly, while pharyngeal zed consonant exist and rounded consonants exist, there are apparently no cased of consonants which are both rounded and pharyngeal zed, though such segments are not logically impossible. These lacunae may be an indication of a deeper constraint on sound systems however; it is also possible that these segments do exist in some languages which have not been studied yet, since there are many languages in the world which remain uninvestigated.


The place of articulation of consonants is divided into primarily place of articulation – something that every consonant has – and secondary place of articulation-something some consonants may add to primary place of articulation.


The tip or blade of the tongue is the active articulators in the production of many consonants, including dental, alveolar, alveopalatal, retroflex and palatal consonants. These consonants form constrictions involving the tongue and an appropriate place on the teeth, or hard or soft palates. The contract is with the teeth in the case of dentals, on the hard palate behind the teeth in the case of alveolar, behind the alveolar ridge in the case of alveopalatals and retroflex consonants, and with the blade of the tongue at the boundary between the hard and soft palate in the case of palatals. In many traditional organization in segments, retroflex consonants are classified as a separate place of articulation from alveolar and alveopalatals. This traditional concept of place of articulation combines properties with both active articulators and a passive articulator- the target towards which an active articulator moves. What unifies that various kinds of retroflex consonants across languages is not the specific location of the constriction on the hard palate, but rather the manner in which just the tongue tip approaches the palate.


Consonants may have more than one point of constriction: generally, one of these constrictions is the major (most radical) constriction and other constrictions are less radical – more vowels like in nature.


Phonology views speech sounds symbolically, knowledge of the system of symbols for representing speech is a prerequisite to doing a phonological analysis. It is also vital to know the phonetic parameters for describing the sounds of human languages which have been presented here. The main characteristic of vowels involve fronting of the tongue (front, central and back), rounding, and vowel height (high, mid and low, with tense and lax variant of high and mid vowels. Other properties of vowels include stress, tone and the phonation type’s creaky and breathy voice. Primary consonantal places of articulation include bilabial, labiodentals, alveolar, alveopalatal, retroflex, palatal, velar, uvular, pharyngeal and laryngeal. These may be supplemented by vowel like secondary articulations including palatalization, valorization, and pharyngealization and rounding. Consonant may be produced with a number of constrictions and release types, and is stops. Fricatives or nasals and stop consonants may be unreleased or released, the later type allowing plain versus affricate release. Differences in the laryngeal component for consonants include voicing and aspiration. And the distinction between ejectives and implosives. Vowels and consonant may also exploit differences in nasalization and length.


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