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Key Phonological Terms

A fuller account can be found on the webpage The Sound System of Language. A flow chart of speech production is here.

allophones: different forms that a phoneme takes in particular contexts, e.g. the aspirated /p/ (with a puff of air [ph]) in ‘pill’ versus the unaspirated /p/ (without a puff of air) in ‘lip’.

consonant: phonetically a sound produced by obstructing the air coming from the mouth in some way by blocking it as in plosives like /p/ and /g/, by making friction through contact as in fricatives like/f/ and /§/; phonologically a consonant occurs at the beginning or end of the syllable rather than in the nucleus.

distinctive feature: distinctive features are a way of analysing speech sounds as a certain number of on/off elements. So the /b/ in English bass has the feature +voice, the /p/ of piano has the feature -voice, and so on.

epenthesis: padding out the syllable by adding extra vowels or consonants, e.g. ‘Espain’ for ‘Spain’.

intonation: the systematic rise and fall in the pitch of the voice during speech used in English to convey some emotional and grammatical meanings, but in tone languages like Chinese used to convey lexical meaning, i.e. differences between words, in a similar way to differences between phonemes. Youtube at:

minimal pair: a way of showing and testing for the phonemes of a language through pairs of words differing in a single sound: ‘book’ /buk/ versus ‘look’ /luk/.

nuclear tone: significant change in pitch on one or more syllables, fall, rise-fall etc

phonemes: the sounds of a language that are systematically distinguished from each other, e.g. /s/ from /t/ in ‘same’ and ‘tame’, as opposed to sounds that are phonetically different but do not distinguish words (allophones), e.g. clear /l/ in /lip/ versus dark /l/ in /pil/.

phonetic alphabet /script: a way of transcribing the sounds of language accurately through an agreed set of phonetic symbols, most commonly the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

phonetics: the sub-discipline of linguistics that studies the production and perception of the actual speech sounds themselves, distinct from phonology.

phonology: the area of linguistics that studies the sound systems of particular languages, contrasting with phonetics.

syllable: a unit of phonology consisting of a structure of phonemes, stresses etc.

syllable structure: how consonants (C) and vowels (V) may be combined into syllables in a particular language. For example English has CVC syllables while Japanese has CV. See box 4.14 for examples

tone language: a language in which different words are separated by intonation, for instance Chinese.

voice onset time (VOT): the moment when voicing of the vocal cords starts during the production of a plosive consonant.

vowel: phonetically a sound produced without obstruction of the air /æ/, /u:/ etc; phonologically a sound at the core nucleus of the syllable rather than the beginning or end.