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The phonology (from ancient Greek φωνή Phone , German , sound ' , sound', 'voice', 'language' and λόγος lógos , German , teaching ' ) is a branch of linguistics . Within linguistics, it is primarily to be distinguished from phonetics : while phonetics examines the more specific properties of speech sounds - their acoustic properties, articulation and perception - phonology deals with the function of sounds for the language system of the individual languages. It thus represents a sub-area of grammar , and thus considers speech sounds on a more abstract level.

The central object areas of phonology determining part of so-called distinctive features as well as the Phoneminventaren and syllables structures of different spoken languages . The founders of phonology in Europe are the Russians Nikolai Sergejewitsch Trubetzkoy , ethnologist and linguist, and the structuralist Roman Jakobson .


Phonology has a variety of alternative names; Metzler's lexicon of language names: functional phonetics , functional phonetics , phonematics , phonemics , phoneme theory , language structure theory . Phonemics is still relatively common because of the desired parallelism to phonetics. However, there are also a number of deviating concepts for phonemics and phonematics .

Phonology is also often used for the sound system of a single language.

Basic terms and areas of responsibility in phonology

Minimal pairs and phonemes

Phonology examines, among other things, which sounds can distinguish words from one another under which conditions. In a word pair like “Bass - Pass”, the distinction between the words depends solely on the two initial sounds . This juxtaposition thus illustrates the method of minimal pairs : juxtaposing words that only differ by a single contrast. This is how the smallest units that differ in meaning, called phonemes, appear. The minimal pair "Bass - Pass" therefore has the phonemic status of / ⁠ b ⁠ / and / ⁠ p ⁠ / after (phonemes are listed in slashes, and their phonetic realizations, the phone , however, in square brackets).

This distinguishing function of the sounds, about which phonology asks, is to be separated from the phonetic description of the sounds, which contains their physical sound shape, articulation and perception. It is up to each individual linguistic grammar to determine which of the many sound differences that can be identified phonetically in the language have distinctive powers and which do not.

The determination of individual phonemes is followed as a research subject in phonology z. For example, the question of which regularities can be formulated through the structure of phoneme inventories in the languages ​​of the world (this is an example of the more general research subject of phonological universals ).

Distinctive feature

Phonemes do not have to be seen as elementary units, but are in turn composed of features. One can see that z. B. the minimum pair "bass - pass" is in a certain way even more "minimal" than a pair "pass - wet". Because the difference “bass - pass” lies only in the voicing of the initial sounds, whereas with “pass - wet” the articulation location is different (lips or tongue tip + palate) and also the path through which the air escapes (through the Mouth or through the nose). Therefore, the subject of phonology can also be seen directly in the individual features of the phonemes, the distinctive features. A distinction is made between “upper class features” (such as “ consonant ” or “ sonorous ”) from “ laryngeal features” (such as voicing or aspiration ), the features of the type of articulation (e.g. nasality ) and the features of the location of the articulation (e.g. labiality ). Features can either be binary (e.g. voicing can be [+ sth] or [-sth]) or, according to some theories, also privative, i.e. either present or not present. The latter applies above all to the features that refer to where the sounds are articulated, that is, to location features such as [labial], [dorsal] etc. Such features are not + or -, but present or not present. In some cases, they are also mutually exclusive. Sounds can therefore be represented as a matrix of different features (linear phonology; segmental phonology).

Phonological lexicon

The phoneme composition of a word (or actually a lexeme ) is part of our knowledge of words; the need to save this leads to the existence of a phonological section in the mental lexicon (phonological lexicon). Again, however, this phonological form of the word forms an abstraction from the actual phonetic realization that one forms as a speaker or with which one is confronted as a listener. For example, in German the phonological representation of the word "praise" contains the sequence of phonemes / ⁠ l ⁠ / , / ⁠ o: ⁠ / (o = long), and / ⁠ b ⁠ / . If the voiced / b / is in the debate in final position, it is considered the Phon [⁠ p ⁠] unvoiced realized (the so-called devoicing ). Is a form of the word "praise" is used, which still has an ending, as in "(the) praise" and is therefore / b / not in final position, then the pronunciation [⁠ b ⁠] , d. H. the phoneme / b / only shows itself here in its underlying form. The phonological representation of a word abstracts from different pronunciation variants of a phoneme.

Phonological representation can also be abstract in another sense, namely in that it contains units that are underspecified ; H. which carry individual features, but not yet all features that would be necessary to identify a particular phoneme. It can therefore be the case that phonological representations are only filled with features in the course of use or language understanding.


Phonological rules and processes

The above example of devoicing is already an illustration of a further remit of phonology, namely the development of phonological rules, the variation in the phonetic phenomena explain, for example, the distribution of [⁠ ç ⁠] and [⁠ x ⁠ ] or vowel harmony , such as those in Turkish , Finnish or Hungarian exists.

Furthermore, phonological processes should be explained how


Western phonology often requires an analysis at segment level in a scriptic manner, i.e. it uses consonants and vowels or the like. This is sometimes referred to as "phonemics" and it is complemented by "non-linear", "suprasegmental" or "prosodic phonology", sometimes called prosody . This more holistic approach represents the features in feature trees and tries to adequately describe languages in which pitch or tone progression are meaningful on a lexical level (e.g. Chinese languages ).

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Phonology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ RL Trask: A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology. Routledge, London / New York 1996, p. 276: “ 2. The entire phonological system of a particular language: the phonology of French.
  2. ^ Hall, 2000, pp. 101-138.
  3. ^ Aditi Lahiri, Henning Reetz: Underspecified Recognition. In: Carlos Gussenhoven, Natasha Warner (ed.): Laboratory Phonology 7. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin 2002, pp. 637–675. Also on this problem: D. Crystal: Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language , German 1993, p. 163, under the title Abstract or concrete?