An Introduction to Phonology

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The word ‘phonology’ came from the Greek word ‘phōnḗ’ which means "voice, sound", and the cliché suffix ‘logy’ came from the word ‘logos’ which means “subject of discussion". So, phonology means the study of speech sound.


Phonology is the branch of linguistics that identifies and analyzes the pattern and organization of speech sounds in a language.

Phonology is "the study of sound pertaining to the system of language". - Nikolai Trubetzkoy, Grundzüge der Phonologie(1939)

Phonology is the study of linguistic sound systems. Whereas phoneticians study the physical properties of speech sounds, phonologists, experts in phonology, investigate speech sounds’ functional properties.

The study of how speech sounds develop patterns and work according to it is phonology. Phonology identifies and demonstrates the sounds that form a language. It analyzes how the sounds develop and combine to make words, and explains why it is important to recognize certain phonetic features to identify a word.

Phonological knowledge helps us:

  • produce sounds which are meaningful
  • recognize a different accent
  • form new utterance to make new words
  • identify the perfect pronunciation of every word

The broadest aim of phonology is to isolate the distinct though interacting pressures that underlie both the cross linguistically common, and language-particular sound patterns that our data analyses reveal. Broadly, these derive from speech production and sound perception; the cognitive mechanisms employed to organize the enormously rich content of the ambient speech signal into a functionally coherent linguistic system and the functional pressures underlying the interplay of phonetic and cognitive mechanisms that effect the changes that sound systems may undergo as they are passed from generation to generation, and within and between speech communities.

Phonology, the study of the sound patterns in languages, can be divided into two parts:

  1. Phonemes (vowels and consonants)
  2. Prosody (stress, rhythm and intonation) 

Speaking English is not easy for the people whose mother tongue is not English because it is not a phonographic language. Most of the words of a phonographic language can be pronounced according to their spelling. But most of the words in English do not follow their spelling into the pronunciation. Many speech sounds in English have several different spellings, e.g. ‘go’, though’, ‘row’, ‘foe’, etc. and many “same spellings” have different sounds, e.g. <ough>: ‘though’, ‘cough’, ‘enough’, ‘bough’, ‘through’, etc. Thus, learners of English cannot entrust the spelling of a word when they try to pronounce it. The native speakers of English face the opposite problem as many English schoolchildren take a lot of of time to learn to read and especially to write. Many adults also make spelling mistakes. So, having the knowledge of English phonology and phonetics is of paramount importance if you want to speak English correctly. 

Read Also: An Introduction to Morphology

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