What is phonology in linguistics/characteristics/concept/history


Phonology . Science that has often been confused with phonetics ; it studies the sounds themselves, that is, in their physical and physiological aspects. Phonology is a discipline based on the study of phonemes or minimal segments of the phonic current that have an entity as elements of the linguistic system. The number of phonemes in a language ranges from twenty to forty. What is phonology in linguistics?


When talking about phonology, it must be determined that, although throughout history there have been many professional linguists who have determined its development, one of the most important has undoubtedly been the Russian Nikólai Trubetzkoy who made what is considered one of the great works for the study of the aforementioned subject. This is the book entitled Principles of phonology , which was published posthumously in 1939 .

Along with this character, considered the father of structural phonology, are other compatriots who also left their deep mark in the aforementioned area. This would be the case of Roman Jakobson who stood out greatly for the different studies he undertook within what was children’s language. These turned out to be quite an innovation, as was the research he carried out on aphasias, which he divided into paradigmatic and syntagmatic anomalies.

To both phonologists we must inevitably add the Frenchman André Martinet, who brilliantly continued the theories and principles set forth by Trubetzkoy. Of the entire career of this Gallic linguist, it is worth highlighting his work entitled Economics of phonetic changes , published in 1955 , which is considered the first and only great work on diachronic phonology.


The union that establishes the etymological origin of the concept phonology is the one of the Greek terms phonos that means “sound”; logos that can be translated as “study” and the suffix ia which is synonymous with “quality or action”. What is phonology in linguistics?

Phonology is accepted as a branch of linguistics whose exponents have as object of study the phonic elements, taking into account their distinctive and functional value. Just as phonetics contemplates the analysis of the acoustic and physiological profile of sounds, phonology is in charge of interpreting the way in which sounds arise at an abstract or mental level.

Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies the phonic systems of languages, as opposed to the physical articulation of language ( Phonetics ). Among the great variety of sounds that a speaker can make, it is possible to recognize those that represent the “same” sound, although the ways of pronouncing it are different from the acoustic point of view; at the same time you can distinguish the sounds that indicate a difference in meaning.

Different concepts in Phonology

It is very essential to learn about the Phonology and its different concepts with explanation. Phonology is the linguistic discipline that deals with the study of the function of the phonic elements of languages, studies sounds from the point of view of their functioning in language and their use to form linguistic signs. PHONOLOGY is a recent science. Saussure calls synchronic phonetic study phonology, and phonetics for the diachronic study of phonic facts (phonemic or phonemic).

1-PHONOLOGY AND PHONETICS What is phonology in linguistics?

Saussure distinguished, long ago, the two fundamental aspects of language: speech, concrete and individual phenomenon, and language, a constant and general model of all particular linguistic manifestations. SPEAK is a physical reality that varies from subject to subject, language is an abstract system of supra-individual validity. Speak concrete, social and individual norms, and linguistic system. If the Saussurean duality is understood as an opposition between a system and its realization, the LANGUAGE is identified with the system and the SPEECH understands the other aspects.

Everything linguistic has two faces: the expression and the content, or according to Saussurean terminology, the SIGNIFICANT and the MEANING, which associate form the linguistic sign. Meaning is a concrete mention that makes sense in itself; the meaning is constituted by abstract norms of morphological nature. The signifier is a concrete phonic course, physical in nature and perceptible by the ear; constituted by standards that order that sound material. While articulatory movements and their corresponding sounds are infinitive in speech, the norms of the signifier have a limited number of units in the language system. What is phonology in linguistics?

We have two kinds of facts at the level of the expression: an infinitely varied number of sounds made and perceptible in speech; on the other, a limited series of abstract rules that form the expressive system of the language and serve as an ideal model in individual and concrete manifestations. The first are the substance or palpable matter of the signifier; The seconds, its shape. The discipline that deals with sounds, the substance of the signifier, is phonetics, does not take into account the function of the phonic in the order that sound matter, in the form of the signifier, is phonology.

Phonetics can be defined as the science of the material plane of the sounds of human language. The function of the signifier is to evoke a certain meaning, distinguishing it from all other meanings. The expressive matter, the sounds, must be ordered for this purpose by the form of the system and must distinguish a series of differential elements from the signifiers. The number of these elements has to be limited. The function of the phonic elements of language is to distinguish the meaning of words or phrases and thus ensure communication between the speaker and his interlocutor.

However, although phonology should not be confused with phonetics, since their respective purposes are different, it cannot be dispensed with as a starting point to be able to abstract from phonic matter well described the abstract units of phonic form, which are its object own. Thanks to these physical signals (articulatory and acoustic) we limit the abstract entities that constitute the formal system of the language. Without those signals we would not recognize or distinguish these linguistic entities. Phonetics studies the sounds of language, phonology studies forms of phonic substance.


For Saussure, the opposition between these two methods (diachronic and synchronic linguistics) is irreducible, the study of language cannot be more than static or synchronic, since the systems are simultaneities and not successivities; He separated the historical phonetics from the descriptive one, which he called phonology. The historical or diachronic phonology appeared, according to which the evolution of the phonic facts of the languages ​​had to be studied in relation to the system that underwent the changes. Phonology is not necessarily synchronous, its methods are extensible to diachronic investigations. What is phonology in linguistics?

3-PHONOLOGY AND GRAMMAR What is phonology in linguistics?

Some authors extend the phonology term to the study of all the linguistic facts considered from the point of view of their function in the language. There would be a morphological phonology and a syntactic phonology, lexical phonology, that will study the function and systems of the formal elements of the content or meaning of the LINGUISTIC SIGN. Between both types of elements there is a difference, due to what Martinet has called THE DOUBLE ARTICULATION OF THE LANGUAGE. The language is articulated in successive units, the linguistic signs have a meaning and a phonic form, two-sided units. These units are distinguished by having different signifiers; and the signifiers are in turn articulated in successive units, the differential elements, have a specific phonic form and lack significance;


Karl Bürhler distinguished three aspects of human language:

SYMPTOM OR MANIFESTATION of the speaker, ACTION OR APPEAL on the interlocutor and a SYMBOL OR REPRESENTATION of the content. It can be applied to the phonic plane of language. When someone speaks, we distinguish who speaks, tone in which he speaks and what he says. The phonic elements that reflect the symptom and the performance seem to be properly characteristic of the speaker and not of the language, since it requires the presence of a specific speaker who manifests and an interlocutor to whom he appeals, that is, they must be systematic, and belonging to the supra-individual system of the language. Phonology contrary to three sections: symbol phonology, symptom phonology and acting phonology. What is phonology in linguistics?

The characterization of the speaker fulfills a symptomatic function. Language is a conventional system of signs; The voice of a speaker can indicate their age, sex, language to another. They also socially characterize the speaker some sounds.

The phonic elements with actuative function serve to awaken feelings in the listener (sobs and sighs), they are extra-linguistic communications. They allow only distinguish emotional language from neutral language.

The difference between the phonic elements of representative function and expressive function, in the first the meaning is not predictable, while in the second yes, they are associated with a certain content. Onomatopoeia, direct imitations that remain outside the frame of the tongue. The phonology of the symbol covers all the phonic means of the language.

5-LIMITS AND PARTS OF PHONOLOGY What is phonology in linguistics?

Phonology is in contact with other linguistic disciplines:

  • PHONETICS, study the phonic elements of language.
  • GRAMMAR, studies its object from the point of view of the role it plays in the language system.
  • LINGUISTICS, you can direct your interest towards synchrony, diachrony.
  • STYLISTIC, may reflect a personal or collective style, and auxiliary literary studies.The purpose of these disciplines is to classify the phonic facts, based on the function that these facts exert in the economy of the language. The function varies according to the semantic unit. You can choose the word or its smallest semantic components, semantemas and morphemes (proper meaning, not grouped in words), the phrase or grouping of words. What is phonology in linguistics?
  • Phonic elements must differentiate the meaning of some words from others, in the phonology of the phrase they must distinguish some sentences from others. This is the DIFFERENTIAL OR DISTINCTIVE FUNCTION. Also the ascending or descending intonation allows to distinguish between two phrases (where are you ?, where is it).Another function is to separate, within the spoken chain, semantic units from other words or phrases. It is the DELIMITATIVE OR DEMARCATIVE FUNCTION, which allows the words or phrases to be isolated from each other. Both purposes can be fulfilled by the CONTRACTING FUNCTION.


The phonic differences that in a given language make it possible to distinguish meanings, are phonological, distinctive or relevant oppositions. Phonic differences that do not allow this distribution are phonologically irrelevant or not relevant. The opposition is distinctive, because it makes it possible to distinguish the meaning of certain words: moro / morro; Opposition from [s] apical to [s] dental is not distinctive, it does not distinguish any pair of words.

Opposition designates system differences, differences between elements that may appear in the same context, differences between an element that is in the spoken and a virtual course. The differences between successive elements in the spoken course will be called contrasts


Each member of a distinctive opposition is a distinctive, differential or phonological unit, which may have a   greater or lesser extent. These phonological units, which, in a given language, are not divisible into successive smaller and simpler units, are called phonemes. What is phonology in linguistics?

Phonemes do not correspond to each phonic complex. The same phonic complex can be part of a distinctive opposition and an indistinct opposition. Each sound is not distinguished from the other sounds by virtue of all these properties, but only some of them. The occlusive or fricative joint is phonologically irrelevant. Sounds form distinctive oppositions only by virtue of their phonologically valid properties. Therefore, the phonemes do not coincide with concrete sounds, but with their phonologically differential properties. The phoneme can be defined as the set of phonologically relevant properties of a phonic complex.

What is the simplest phonological unit: the phoneme or each of these phonologically valid characters? The signifiers are distinguished by phonemes, they are distinguished and oppose each other thanks to their relevant or differential features. We call relevant, relevant, valid or distinctive feature.

Sounds should not be considered as phonemes, but as realizations or manifestations of phonemes whose differential features contain. The phoneme is a set of distinctive features only; Indistinctive sound is a material symbol of the phoneme. We call phonetic variants of a morpheme to the different realizations of these in speech. Variants of each phoneme occur within certain articulatory limits, called the dispersion field, determined by the safety margin. The phonemes that correspond to the variants that symbolize them in speech have been called switching. What is phonology in linguistics?

What criteria is used to identify as a certain phoneme different variants, different embodiments in speech? As the loose variants never appear in the position of the plenaries, nor vice versa, it must be concluded that both are simple realizations of the same phonemes. The criterion applied to identify a phoneme is that of the complementary distribution: some appear in one position, others in another.

In Spanish, the vowels are central, which alone can be syllable and are always the core of a syllable; consonants are marginal, always precede or follow a vowel nucleus.

The inventory of the phonemes of a language, there are two moments in the analysis: the commutation, allows us to separate the distinctive elements, and the identification of the variants of the same phoneme. The switching would have to be carried out as many times as necessary to distinguish each phoneme from all the others in the same system.


With the switching the inventory is obtained, its phonological content must be determined; It is the set of relevant characteristics of each phoneme. This system is a set of oppositions. It may be the case that a phoneme, in one language, presents a phonetic realization identical to that of a phoneme of another language; but the definition of this phoneme is distinctive in each of the two languages, according to the embodiments presented in the respective systems. The definition of a phoneme only has intralinguistic validity. What is phonology in linguistics?

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