Monday, October 29, 2012


Bhiksu University of Sri Lanka
D.N. Aloysius
Lecturer in English, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale
Website:                                         Residence:            025-2236029/025-2237463
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Phonology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the systematic organization of sounds in languages. It has traditionally focused largely on study of the systems of phonemes in particular languages, but it may also cover any linguistic analysis either at a level beneath the word including syllable, onset and rhyme, articulatory gestures, articulatory features etc. or at all levels of language where sound is considered to be structured for conveying linguistic meaning. Phonology also includes the study of equivalent organizational systems in sign languages.
The word phonology can also refer to the phonological system (sound system) of a given language. This is one of the fundamental systems, which a language is considered to comprise, like its syntax and its vocabulary.
Phonology is often distinguished from phonetics. While phonetics concerns the physical production, acoustic transmission and perception of the sounds of speech, phonology describes the way sounds function within a given language or across languages to encode meaning. In other words, phonetics belongs to descriptive linguistics, and phonology to theoretical linguistics. Note that this distinction was not always made, particularly before the development of the modern concept of phoneme in the mid 20th century. Some subfields of modern phonology have a crossover with phonetics in descriptive disciplines such as psycholinguistics.


Phonology is the study of how sounds are organized and used in natural languages.


The phonological system of a language includes

  • an inventory of sounds and their features, and
  • rules, which specify how sounds interact with each other.

Phonology is just one of several aspects of language. It is related to other aspects such as phonetics, morphology, syntax, and pragmatics.

Here is an illustration that shows the place of phonology in an interacting hierarchy of levels in linguistics:

Comparison: Phonology and phonetics

Phonetics …
Phonology …
Is the basis for phonological analysis.
Is the basis for further work in morphology, syntax, discourse, and orthography design.
Analyzes the production of all human speech sounds, regardless of language.
Analyzes the sound patterns of a particular language by
  • determining which phonetic sounds are significant, and
  • explaining how these sounds are interpreted by the native speaker.


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