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In
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
and
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...

linguistics
, a phoneme is a unit of sound that can distinguish one
word In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most lang ...

word
from another in a particular
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
. For example, in most
dialects of English The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' and , 'I speak') can refer to either of two distinctly different types of Linguistics, linguistic phenomena: * One usage refers to a variety (linguist ...
, with the notable exception of the
West MidlandsWest Midlands may refer to: Places * West Midlands (region), a region of the United Kingdom **West Midlands (county), the metropolitan county in the West Midlands region ** West Midlands conurbation, the large conurbation in the West Midlands region ...
and the north-west of England, the sound patterns (''sin'') and (''sing'') are two separate words that are distinguished by the substitution of one phoneme, , for another phoneme, . Two words like this that differ in meaning through the contrast of a single phoneme form a ''
minimal pair In phonology, minimal pairs are pairs of words or phrases in a particular language, spoken or Sign language, signed, that differ in only one phonological element, such as a phoneme, toneme or chroneme, and have distinct meanings. They are used to ...
''. If, in another language, any two sequences differing only by
pronunciation Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful d ...
of the final sounds or are perceived as being the same in meaning, then these two sounds are interpreted as phonetic variants of a single phoneme in that language. Phonemes that are established by the use of minimal pairs, such as ''tap'' vs ''tab'' or ''pat'' vs ''bat'', are written between slashes: , . To show pronunciation, linguists use
square brackets A bracket is either of two tall fore- or back-facing punctuation Punctuation (or sometimes interpunction) is the use of spacing, conventional signs (called punctuation marks), and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding ...

square brackets
: (indicating an aspirated ''p'' in ''pat''). There are differing views as to exactly what phonemes are and how a given language should be analyzed in ''phonemic'' (or ''phonematic'') terms. However, a phoneme is generally regarded as an
abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules Rule or ruling may refer to: Human activity * The exercise of political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, mak ...

abstraction
of a set (or
equivalence class In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). ...
) of
speech Speech is human vocal communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''c ...

speech
sounds (''
phones A telephone is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic ...
'') that are perceived as equivalent to each other in a given language. For example, the English ''k'' sounds in the words ''kill'' and ''skill'' are not identical (as described
below Below may refer to: *Earth *Ground (disambiguation) *Soil *Floor *Bottom (disambiguation) *Less than *Temperatures below freezing *Hell or underworld People with the surname *Fred Below (1926–1988), American blues drummer *Fritz von Below (1853 ...
), but they are distributional variants of a single phoneme . Speech sounds that differ but do not create a meaningful change in the word are known as ''
allophone In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of e ...
s'' of the same phoneme. Allophonic variation may be conditioned, in which case a certain phoneme is realized as a certain allophone in particular phonological environments, or it may otherwise be free, and may vary by speaker or by
dialect The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' and , 'I speak') can refer to either of two distinctly different types of Linguistics, linguistic phenomena: * One usage refers to a variety (linguis ...
. Therefore, phonemes are often considered to constitute an abstract
underlying representation In some models of phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language varie ...
for segments of words, while speech sounds make up the corresponding
phonetic Phonetics is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) an ...
realization, or the surface form.


Notation

Phonemes are conventionally placed between slashes in transcription, whereas speech sounds (phones) are placed between square brackets. Thus, represents a sequence of three phonemes, , , (the word ''push'' in Standard English), and represents the phonetic sequence of sounds ( aspirated ''
p
p
''), , (the usual pronunciation of ''push''). This should not be confused with the similar convention of the use of
angle brackets A bracket is either of two tall fore- or back-facing punctuation marks commonly used to isolate a segment of text or data from its surroundings. Typically deployed in symmetric pairs, an individual bracket may be identified as a ''left'' or ...
to enclose the units of
orthography An orthography is a set of conventions for writing Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions b ...
,
grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...

grapheme
s. For example, ⟨f⟩ represents the written letter (grapheme) ''f''. The symbols used for particular phonemes are often taken from the
International Phonetic Alphabet The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest s ...
(IPA), the same set of symbols most commonly used for phones. (For computer-typing purposes,
systems A system is a group of interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundaries, structure and purpose and expres ...
such as
X-SAMPA The Extended Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet (X-SAMPA) is a variant of SAMPA __NOTOC__ The Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet (SAMPA) is a computer-readable phonetic script using 7-bit printable American Standard Code for In ...
exist to represent IPA symbols using only
ASCII ASCII ( ), abbreviated from American Standard Code for Information Interchange, is a character encoding Character encoding is the process of assigning numbers to graphical Graphics (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, ...
characters.) However, descriptions of particular languages may use different conventional symbols to represent the phonemes of those languages. For languages whose writing systems employ the
phonemic principle A phonemic orthography is an orthography An orthography is a set of for a , including norms of , ation, , , , and . Most transnational languages in the modern period have a system of , and for most such languages a standard orthography has ...
, ordinary letters may be used to denote phonemes, although this approach is often hampered by the complexity of the relationship between orthography and pronunciation (see below).


Assignment of speech sounds to phonemes

A phoneme is a sound or a group of different sounds perceived to have the same function by speakers of the language or dialect in question. An example is the
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading lan ...

English
phoneme , which occurs in words such as ''cat'', ''kit'', ''scat'', ''skit''. Although most native speakers do not notice this, in most English dialects, the "c/k" sounds in these words are not identical: in , the sound is aspirated, but in , it is unaspirated. The words, therefore, contain different ''speech sounds'', or ''
phones A telephone is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic ...
'', transcribed for the aspirated form and for the unaspirated one. These different sounds are nonetheless considered to belong to the same phoneme, because if a speaker used one instead of the other, the meaning of the word would not change: using the aspirated form in ''skill'' might sound odd, but the word would still be recognized. By contrast, some other sounds would cause a change in meaning if substituted: for example, substitution of the sound would produce the different word ''still'', and that sound must therefore be considered to represent a different phoneme (the phoneme ). The above shows that in English, and are
allophones In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of e ...
of a single phoneme . In some languages, however, and are perceived by native speakers as different sounds, and substituting one for the other can change the meaning of a word. In those languages, therefore, the two sounds represent different phonemes. For example, in
Icelandic Icelandic refers to anything of, from, or related to Iceland and may refer to: *Icelandic people *Icelandic language *Icelandic alphabet *Icelandic cuisine See also

* Icelander (disambiguation) * Icelandic Airlines, a predecessor of Icelandai ...
, is the first sound of , meaning "cheerful", but is the first sound of , meaning "riddles". Icelandic, therefore, has two separate phonemes and .


Minimal pairs

A pair of words like and (above) that differ only in one phone is called a
minimal pair In phonology, minimal pairs are pairs of words or phrases in a particular language, spoken or Sign language, signed, that differ in only one phonological element, such as a phoneme, toneme or chroneme, and have distinct meanings. They are used to ...
for the two alternative phones in question (in this case, and ). The existence of minimal pairs is a common test to decide whether two phones represent different phonemes or are allophones of the same phoneme. To take another example, the minimal pair ''tip'' and ''dip'' illustrates that in English, and belong to separate phonemes, and ; since both words have different meanings, English-speakers must be conscious of the distinction between the two sounds. In other languages, however, including
Korean Korean may refer to: People and culture * Koreans, ethnic group originating in the Korean Peninsula * Korean cuisine * Korean culture * Korean language **Korean alphabet, known as Hangul or Chosŏn'gŭl **Korean dialects and the Jeju language **S ...
, both sounds and occur, but no such minimal pair exists. The lack of minimal pairs distinguishing and in Korean provides evidence that they are allophones of a single phoneme . The word is pronounced , for example. That is, when they hear this word, Korean-speakers perceive the same sound in both the beginning and middle of the word, but English-speakers perceive different sounds in these two locations. Signed languages, such as
American Sign Language American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural language In neuropsychology Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology. It is concerned with how a person's cognition and behavior are related to the brain and the rest of the nervous system. Pr ...

American Sign Language
(ASL), also have minimal pairs, differing only in (exactly) one of the signs' parameters: handshape, movement, location, palm orientation, and nonmanual signal or marker. A minimal pair may exist in the signed language if the basic sign stays the same, but one of the parameters changes. However, the absence of minimal pairs for a given pair of phones does not always mean that they belong to the same phoneme: they may be so dissimilar phonetically that it is unlikely for speakers to perceive them as the same sound. For example, English has no minimal pair for the sounds (as in ''hat'') and (as in ''bang''), and the fact that they can be shown to be in
complementary distribution In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic br ...
could be used to argue for their being allophones of the same phoneme. However, they are so dissimilar phonetically that they are considered separate phonemes. Phonologists have sometimes had recourse to "near minimal pairs" to show that speakers of the language perceive two sounds as significantly different even if no exact minimal pair exists in the lexicon. It is virtually impossible to find a minimal pair to distinguish English from , yet it seems uncontroversial to claim that the two consonants are distinct phonemes. The two words 'pressure' and 'pleasure' can serve as a near minimal pair.


Suprasegmental phonemes

Besides segmental phonemes such as vowels and consonants, there are also
suprasegmental In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
features of pronunciation (such as
tone Tone may refer to: Color-related * Tone, mix of tint and shade, in painting and color theory * Tone, the lightness Lightness is a visual perception of the luminance (L) of an object. It is often judged relative to a similarly lit object. ...
and stress, syllable boundaries and other forms of
juncture Juncture, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis ...
, nasalization and
vowel harmony In phonology Phonology is a branch of that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound or sign system of any particular lang ...
), which, in many languages, can change the meaning of words and so are phonemic. ''Phonemic stress'' is encountered in languages such as English. For example, the word ''invite'' stressed on the second syllable is a verb, but when stressed on the first syllable (without changing any of the individual sounds), it becomes a noun. The position of the stress in the word affects the meaning, so a full phonemic specification (providing enough detail to enable the word to be pronounced unambiguously) would include indication of the position of the stress: for the verb, for the noun. In other languages, such as
French
French
, word stress cannot have this function (its position is generally predictable) and is therefore not phonemic (and is not usually indicated in dictionaries). ''Phonemic tones'' are found in languages such as
Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of northern and southwestern China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more ...
, in which a given syllable can have five different tonal pronunciations: The tone "phonemes" in such languages are sometimes called ''tonemes''. Languages such as English do not have phonemic tone, although they use intonation for functions such as emphasis and attitude.


Distribution of allophones

When a phoneme has more than one
allophone In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of e ...
, the one actually heard at a given occurrence of that phoneme may be dependent on the phonetic environment (surrounding sounds) – allophones which normally cannot appear in the same environment are said to be in
complementary distribution In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic br ...
. In other cases the choice of allophone may be dependent on the individual speaker or other unpredictable factors – such allophones are said to be in
free variation In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic b ...
, but allophones are still selected in a specific phonetic context, not the other way around.


Background and related ideas

The term ''phonème'' (from grc, φώνημα, phōnēma, "sound made, utterance, thing spoken, speech, language"Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R. (1940). ''A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie.'' Oxford: Clarendon Press.) was reportedly first used by A. Dufriche-Desgenettes in 1873, but it referred only to a speech sound. The term ''phoneme'' as an
abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules Rule or ruling may refer to: Human activity * The exercise of political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, mak ...

abstraction
was developed by the Polish linguist
Jan Niecisław Baudouin de Courtenay
Jan Niecisław Baudouin de Courtenay
and his student
Mikołaj Kruszewski Mikołaj Habdank Kruszewski, (Russianized, ''Nikolay Vyacheslavovich Krushevsky'', Никола́й Вячесла́вович Круше́вский) (December 18, 1851, Lutsk Lutsk ( uk, Луцьк, Luts'k, ; pl, Łuck ; yi, לוצק, Lutzk) ...
during 1875–1895. The term used by these two was ''fonema'', the basic unit of what they called ''psychophonetics''.
Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones
became the first linguist in the western world to use the term ''phoneme'' in its current sense, employing the word in his article "The phonetic structure of the Sechuana Language". The concept of the phoneme was then elaborated in the works of
Nikolai Trubetzkoy Prince Nikolai Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy ( rus, Никола́й Серге́евич Трубецко́й, p=trʊbʲɪtsˈkoj; 16 April 1890 – 25 June 1938) was a Russian linguistics, linguist and historian whose teachings formed a nucleus of the P ...

Nikolai Trubetzkoy
and others of the
Prague School The Prague school or Prague linguistic circle is a language and literature society. It started in 1926 as a group of linguistics, linguists, philology, philologists and literary critics in Prague. Its proponents developed methods of semiotic lite ...
(during the years 1926–1935), and in those of structuralists like
Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland , french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Fed ...

Ferdinand de Saussure
,
Edward Sapir Edward Sapir (; January 26, 1884 – February 4, 1939) was an American Jewish anthropologistAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of aspects of humans within past and present Society, soc ...

Edward Sapir
, and
Leonard Bloomfield Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), ges ...
. Some structuralists (though not Sapir) rejected the idea of a cognitive or psycholinguistic function for the phoneme. Later, it was used and redefined in
generative linguistics Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...
, most famously by
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gesture ...

Noam Chomsky
and
Morris Halle Morris Halle (; July 23, 1923 – April 2, 2018) was a Latvian-born Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites Israelite ...

Morris Halle
, and remains central to many accounts of the development of modern
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
. As a theoretical concept or model, though, it has been supplemented and even replaced by others. Some linguists (such as
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,
and
Morris Halle Morris Halle (; July 23, 1923 – April 2, 2018) was a Latvian-born Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites Israelite ...

Morris Halle
) proposed that phonemes may be further decomposable into
feature Feature may refer to: Computing * Feature (CAD), could be a hole, pocket, or notch * Feature (computer vision), could be an edge, corner or blob * Feature (software design) is an intentional distinguishing characteristic of a software item ( ...
s, such features being the true minimal constituents of language. Features overlap each other in time, as do
suprasegmental In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
phonemes in oral language and many phonemes in sign languages. Features could be characterized in different ways: Jakobson and colleagues defined them in
acoustic Acoustic may refer to: Music Albums * Acoustic (Bayside EP), ''Acoustic'' (Bayside EP) * Acoustic (Britt Nicole EP), ''Acoustic'' (Britt Nicole EP) * Acoustic (Joey Cape and Tony Sly album), ''Acoustic'' (Joey Cape and Tony Sly album), 2004 * Aco ...
terms, Chomsky and Halle used a predominantly articulatory basis, though retaining some acoustic features, while Ladefoged's system is a purely articulatory system apart from the use of the acoustic term 'sibilant'. In the description of some languages, the term
chroneme In linguistics, a chroneme is a basic, theoretical unit of sound that can distinguish words by duration only of a vowel or consonant. The noun ''chroneme'' is derived from Greek χρόνος (chrónos, ''time''), and the suffixed ''-eme'', which ...
has been used to indicate contrastive length or ''duration'' of phonemes. In languages in which tones are phonemic, the tone phonemes may be called
toneme Tone is the use of pitch Pitch may refer to: Acoustic frequency * Pitch (music), the perceived frequency of sound including "definite pitch" and "indefinite pitch" ** Absolute pitch or "perfect pitch" ** Pitch class, a set of all pitches th ...
s. Though not all scholars working on such languages use these terms, they are by no means obsolete. By analogy with the phoneme, linguists have proposed other sorts of underlying objects, giving them names with the suffix ''-eme'', such as ''
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A ...
'' and ''
grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...

grapheme
''. These are sometimes called
emic unit In and related fields, an emic unit is a type of . cited in Kinds of emic units are generally denoted by terms with the suffix ''-eme'', such as ', ', and '. The term "emic unit" is defined by Nöth (1995) to mean "an invariant form obtained fro ...
s. The latter term was first used by
Kenneth Pike Kenneth Lee Pike (June 9, 1912 – December 31, 2000) was an American Linguistics, linguist and Anthropology, anthropologist. He was the originator of the theory of tagmemics, the coiner of the terms Emic and etic, "emic" and "etic" and the ...
, who also generalized the concepts of
emic and etic In anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowi ...
description (from ''phonemic'' and ''phonetic'' respectively) to applications outside linguistics.


Restrictions on occurrence

Languages do not generally allow words or
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels a ...

syllable
s to be built of any arbitrary sequences of phonemes; there are phonotactic restrictions on which sequences of phonemes are possible and in which environments certain phonemes can occur. Phonemes that are significantly limited by such restrictions may be called ''restricted phonemes''. In English, examples of such restrictions include: * , as in ''sing'', occurs only at the end of a syllable, never at the beginning (in many other languages, such as Māori,
Swahili Swahili may refer to: * Swahili language, a Bantu language official in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and widely spoken in the African Great Lakes * Swahili people, an ethnic group in East Africa * Swahili culture, the culture of the Swahili people * Sw ...
,
Tagalog Tagalog may refer to: Language * Tagalog language Tagalog (, ; ) is an Austronesian languages, Austronesian language spoken as a first language by the ethnic Tagalog people, who make up a quarter of the population of the Philippines, and as a se ...
, and
Thai Thai or THAI may refer to: * Of or from Thailand, a country in Southeast Asia ** Thai people, the dominant ethnic group of Thailand ** Thai language, a Tai-Kadai language spoken mainly in and around Thailand *** Thai script *** Thai (Unicode block) ...

Thai
, can appear word-initially). * occurs only before vowels and at the beginning of a syllable, never at the end (a few languages, such as
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

Arabic
, or
Romanian Romanian may refer to: *anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Romania Romania ( ; ro, România ) is a country at the crossroads of Central Europe, Central, Eastern Europe, Eastern and Southeast Europe, Southeastern Euro ...
allow syllable-finally). * In non-rhotic dialects, can only occur immediately before a vowel, never before a consonant. * and occur only before a vowel, never at the end of a syllable (except in interpretations where a word like ''boy'' is analyzed as ). Some phonotactic restrictions can alternatively be analyzed as cases of neutralization. See Neutralization and archiphonemes below, particularly the example of the occurrence of the three English nasals before stops.


Biuniqueness

Biuniqueness is a requirement of classic structuralist phonemics. It means that a given
phone A telephone is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic ...
, wherever it occurs, must unambiguously be assigned to one and only one phoneme. In other words, the mapping between phones and phonemes is required to be many-to-one rather than
many-to-manyMany-to-many communication is a product of the Modern age, age of modernization that captures the increased role of the public in society. Scholar, Damien Pfister, addresses this paradigm's ability for interlocutors to sustain "large-scale, interlink ...
. The notion of biuniqueness was controversial among some pre- generative linguists and was prominently challenged by
Morris Halle Morris Halle (; July 23, 1923 – April 2, 2018) was a Latvian-born Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites Israelite ...

Morris Halle
and
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gesture ...

Noam Chomsky
in the late 1950s and early 1960s. An example of the problems arising from the biuniqueness requirement is provided by the phenomenon of
flapping Flapping or tapping, also known as alveolar flapping, intervocalic flapping, or ''t''-voicing, is a phonological process found in many varieties of English, especially North American North America is a continent entirely within the No ...

flapping
in
North American English North American English (NAmE, NAE) is the most generalized variety Variety may refer to: Science and technology Mathematics * Algebraic variety, the set of solutions of a system of polynomial equations * Variety (universal algebra), classes ...
. This may cause either or (in the appropriate environments) to be realized with the phone (an
alveolar flap The voiced alveolar tap or flap is a type of consonant In articulatory phonetics The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in t ...

alveolar flap
). For example, the same flap sound may be heard in the words ''hitting'' and ''bidding'', although it is clearly intended to realize the phoneme in the first word and in the second. This appears to contradict biuniqueness. For further discussion of such cases, see the next section.


Neutralization and archiphonemes

Phonemes that are contrastive in certain environments may not be contrastive in all environments. In the environments where they do not contrast, the contrast is said to be neutralized. In these positions it may become less clear which phoneme a given phone represents. Absolute neutralization is a phenomenon in which a segment of the
underlying representation In some models of phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language varie ...
is not realized in any of its
phonetic Phonetics is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) an ...
representations (surface forms). The term was introduced by
Paul Kiparsky René Paul Victor Kiparsky (born January 28, 1941) is a Finland, Finnish professor of linguistics at Stanford University. He is the son of the Russian-born linguistics, linguist and Slavicist Valentin Kiparsky. Academic life Kiparsky was born in ...
(1968), and contrasts with contextual neutralization where some phonemes are not contrastive in certain environments. Some phonologists prefer not to specify a unique phoneme in such cases, since to do so would mean providing redundant or even arbitrary information – instead they use the technique of
underspecification In theoretical linguistics, underspecification is a phenomenon in which certain feature (linguistics), features are omitted in underlying representations. Restricted underspecification theory holds that features should only be underspecified if the ...
. An archiphoneme is an object sometimes used to represent an underspecified phoneme. An example of neutralization is provided by the Russian vowels and . These phonemes are contrasting in stressed syllables, but in unstressed syllables the contrast is lost, since both are reduced to the same sound, usually (for details, see
vowel reduction in Russian Vowel reduction in Russian differs in the standard language A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a language variety In sociolinguistics, a variety, also called an isolect or lect, is a specific form o ...
). In order to assign such an instance of to one of the phonemes and , it is necessary to consider morphological factors (such as which of the vowels occurs in other forms of the words, or which
inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical ob ...
al pattern is followed). In some cases even this may not provide an unambiguous answer. A description using the approach of underspecification would not attempt to assign to a specific phoneme in some or all of these cases, although it might be assigned to an archiphoneme, written something like , which reflects the two neutralized phonemes in this position, or , reflecting its unmerged values. A somewhat different example is found in English, with the three nasal phonemes . In word-final position these all contrast, as shown by the minimal triplet ''sum'' , ''sun'' , ''sung'' . However, before a stop such as (provided there is no
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A ...
boundary between them), only one of the nasals is possible in any given position: before , before or , and before , as in ''limp, lint, link'' (, , ). The nasals are therefore not contrastive in these environments, and according to some theorists this makes it inappropriate to assign the nasal phones heard here to any one of the phonemes (even though, in this case, the phonetic evidence is unambiguous). Instead they may analyze these phones as belonging to a single archiphoneme, written something like , and state the
underlying representation In some models of phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language varie ...
s of ''limp, lint, link'' to be . This latter type of analysis is often associated with
Nikolai Trubetzkoy Prince Nikolai Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy ( rus, Никола́й Серге́евич Трубецко́й, p=trʊbʲɪtsˈkoj; 16 April 1890 – 25 June 1938) was a Russian linguistics, linguist and historian whose teachings formed a nucleus of the P ...

Nikolai Trubetzkoy
of the
Prague school The Prague school or Prague linguistic circle is a language and literature society. It started in 1926 as a group of linguistics, linguists, philology, philologists and literary critics in Prague. Its proponents developed methods of semiotic lite ...
. Archiphonemes are often notated with a capital letter within double virgules or pipes, as with the examples and given above. Other ways the second of these has been notated include , and . Another example from English, but this time involving complete phonetic convergence as in the Russian example, is the flapping of and in some American English (described above under Biuniqueness). Here the words ''betting'' and ''bedding'' might both be pronounced . Under the generative grammar theory of linguistics, if a speaker applies such flapping consistently, morphological evidence (the pronunciation of the related forms ''bet'' and ''bed'', for example) would reveal which phoneme the flap represents, once it is known which morpheme is being used. However, other theorists would prefer not to make such a determination, and simply assign the flap in both cases to a single archiphoneme, written (for example) . Further mergers in English are plosives after , where conflate with , as suggested by the alternative spellings ''wikt:sketti, sketti'' and ''sghetti''. That is, there is no particular reason to transcribe ''spin'' as rather than as , other than its historical development, and it might be less ambiguously transcribed .


Morphophonemes

A morphophoneme is a theoretical unit at a deeper level of abstraction than traditional phonemes, and is taken to be a unit from which
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A ...
s are built up. A morphophoneme within a morpheme can be expressed in different ways in different allomorphs of that morpheme (according to morphophonological rules). For example, the English plural morpheme ''-s'' appearing in words such as ''cats'' and ''dogs'' can be considered to be a single morphophoneme, which might be transcribed (for example) or , and which is realized as phonemically after most voiceless consonants (as in ''cats'') and as in other cases (as in ''dogs'').


Numbers of phonemes in different languages

All known languages use only a small subset of the many possible speech sound, sounds that the human speech organs can produce, and, because of allophony, the number of distinct phonemes will generally be smaller than the number of identifiably different sounds. Different languages vary considerably in the number of phonemes they have in their systems (although apparent variation may sometimes result from the different approaches taken by the linguists doing the analysis). The total phonemic inventory in languages varies from as few as 11 in Rotokas and Pirahã language, Pirahã to as many as 141 in !Kung language, !Xũ. The number of phonemically distinct vowels can be as low as two, as in Ubykh language, Ubykh and Arrernte language, Arrernte. At the other extreme, the Bantu languages, Bantu language Ngwe language, Ngwe has 14 vowel qualities, 12 of which may occur long or short, making 26 oral vowels, plus six nasalized vowels, long and short, making a total of 38 vowels; while !Xóõ language, !Xóõ achieves 31 pure vowels, not counting its additional variation by vowel length, by varying the phonation. As regards consonant phonemes, Puinave language, Puinave and the Papuan language Tauade language, Tauade each have just seven, and Rotokas language, Rotokas has only six. !Xóõ language, !Xóõ, on the other hand, has somewhere around 77, and Ubykh phonology, Ubykh 81. The English language uses a rather large set of 13 to 21 vowel phonemes, including diphthongs, although its 22 to 26 English consonants, consonants are close to average. Some languages, such as
French
French
, have no phonemic
tone Tone may refer to: Color-related * Tone, mix of tint and shade, in painting and color theory * Tone, the lightness Lightness is a visual perception of the luminance (L) of an object. It is often judged relative to a similarly lit object. ...
or stress, while Cantonese and several of the Kam–Sui languages have nine tones, and one of the Kru languages, Wobé language, Wobé, has been claimed to have 14, though this is disputed. The most common vowel system consists of the five vowels . The most common consonants are . Relatively few languages lack any of these consonants, although it does happen: for example, Arabic lacks , Hawaiian language, standard Hawaiian lacks , Mohawk language, Mohawk and Tlingit language, Tlingit lack and , Hupa language, Hupa lacks both and a simple , colloquial Samoan language, Samoan lacks and , while Rotokas language, Rotokas and Quileute language, Quileute lack and .


The non-uniqueness of phonemic solutions

During the development of phoneme theory in the mid-20th century phonologists were concerned not only with the procedures and principles involved in producing a phonemic analysis of the sounds of a given language, but also with the reality or uniqueness of the phonemic solution. These were central concerns of
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
. Some writers took the position expressed by
Kenneth Pike Kenneth Lee Pike (June 9, 1912 – December 31, 2000) was an American Linguistics, linguist and Anthropology, anthropologist. He was the originator of the theory of tagmemics, the coiner of the terms Emic and etic, "emic" and "etic" and the ...
: "There is only one accurate phonemic analysis for a given set of data", while others believed that different analyses, equally valid, could be made for the same data. Yuen Ren Chao (1934), in his article "The non-uniqueness of phonemic solutions of phonetic systems" stated "given the sounds of a language, there are usually more than one possible way of reducing them to a set of phonemes, and these different systems or solutions are not simply correct or incorrect, but may be regarded only as being good or bad for various purposes". The linguist Fred Householder, F.W. Householder referred to this argument within linguistics as "God's Truth" (i.e. the stance that a given language has an intrinsic structure to be discovered) vs. "hocus-pocus" (i.e. the stance that any proposed, coherent structure is as good as any other). Different analyses of the English vowel system may be used to illustrate this. The article English phonology states that "English has a particularly large number of vowel phonemes" and that "there are 20 vowel phonemes in Received Pronunciation, 14–16 in General American and 20–21 in Australian English". Although these figures are often quoted as fact, they actually reflect just one of many possible analyses, and later in the English Phonology article an alternative analysis is suggested in which some diphthongs and long vowels may be interpreted as comprising a short vowel linked to either or . The fullest exposition of this approach is found in Trager and Smith (1951), where all long vowels and diphthongs ("complex nuclei") are made up of a short vowel combined with either , or (plus for rhotic accents), each comprising two phonemes. The transcription for the vowel normally transcribed would instead be , would be and would be , or /ar/ in a rhotic accent if there is an in the spelling. It is also possible to treat English long vowels and diphthongs as combinations of two vowel phonemes, with long vowels treated as a sequence of two short vowels, so that 'palm' would be represented as /paam/. English can thus be said to have around seven vowel phonemes, or even six if schwa were treated as an allophone of or of other short vowels. In the same period there was disagreement about the correct basis for a phonemic analysis. The Structural linguistics, structuralist position was that the analysis should be made purely on the basis of the sound elements and their distribution, with no reference to extraneous factors such as grammar, morphology or the intuitions of the native speaker; this position is strongly associated with
Leonard Bloomfield Leonard Bloomfield (April 1, 1887 – April 18, 1949) was an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), ges ...
. Zellig Harris claimed that it is possible to discover the phonemes of a language purely by examining the distribution of phonetic segments. Referring to Mentalism (psychology), mentalistic definitions of the phoneme, Twaddell (1935) stated "Such a definition is invalid because (1) we have no right to guess about the linguistic workings of an inaccessible 'mind', and (2) we can secure no advantage from such guesses. The linguistic processes of the 'mind' as such are quite simply unobservable; and introspection about linguistic processes is notoriously a fire in a wooden stove." This approach was opposed to that of
Edward Sapir Edward Sapir (; January 26, 1884 – February 4, 1939) was an American Jewish anthropologistAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of aspects of humans within past and present Society, soc ...

Edward Sapir
, who gave an important role to native speakers' intuitions about where a particular sound or group of sounds fitted into a pattern. Using English as an example, Sapir argued that, despite the superficial appearance that this sound belongs to a group of three nasal consonant phonemes (/m/, /n/ and /ŋ/), native speakers feel that the velar nasal is really the sequence [ŋɡ]/. The theory of generative phonology which emerged in the 1960s explicitly rejected the Structuralist approach to phonology and favoured the mentalistic or cognitive view of Sapir. These topics are discussed further in English phonology#Controversial issues.


Correspondence between letters and phonemes

Phonemes are considered to be the basis for alphabetic writing systems. In such systems the written symbols (
grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...

grapheme
s) represent, in principle, the phonemes of the language being written. This is most obviously the case when the alphabet was invented with a particular language in mind; for example, the Latin alphabet was devised for Classical Latin, and therefore the Latin of that period enjoyed a near one-to-one correspondence between phonemes and graphemes in most cases, though the devisers of the alphabet chose not to represent the phonemic effect of vowel length. However, because changes in the spoken language are often not accompanied by changes in the established
orthography An orthography is a set of conventions for writing Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions b ...
(as well as other reasons, including
dialect The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' and , 'I speak') can refer to either of two distinctly different types of Linguistics, linguistic phenomena: * One usage refers to a variety (linguis ...
differences, the effects of morphophonology on orthography, and the use of foreign spellings for some loanwords), the correspondence between spelling and pronunciation in a given language may be highly distorted; this is the case with English, for example. The correspondence between symbols and phonemes in alphabetic writing systems is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence. A phoneme might be represented by a combination of two or more letters (Digraph (orthography), digraph, Digraph (orthography), trigraph, ), like in English or in German language, German (both representing phonemes ). Also a single letter may represent two phonemes, as in English representing or . There may also exist spelling/pronunciation rules (such as those for the pronunciation of in Italian language, Italian) that further complicate the correspondence of letters to phonemes, although they need not affect the ability to predict the pronunciation from the spelling and vice versa, provided the rules are known.


In sign languages

Sign language phonemes are bundles of articulation features. Stokoe was the first scholar to describe the phonemic system of American Sign Language, ASL. He identified the bundles ''location (sign language), tab'' (elements of location, from Latin ''tabula''), ''handshape, dez'' (the handshape, from ''designator''), ''movement (sign language), sig'' (the motion, from ''signation''). Some researchers also discern ''orientation (sign language), ori'' (orientation), facial expression (sign language), expression or mouthing. Just as with spoken languages, when features are combined, they create phonemes. As in spoken languages, sign languages have minimal pairs which differ in only one phoneme. For instance, the ASL signs for
father
' and
mother
' differ minimally with respect to location while handshape and movement are identical; location is thus contrastive. Stokoe notation, Stokoe's terminology and notation system are no longer used by researchers to describe the phonemes of sign languages; William Stokoe's research, while still considered seminal, has been found not to characterize American Sign Language or other sign languages sufficiently. For instance, Sign language#Non-manual elements, non-manual features are not included in Stokoe's classification. More sophisticated models of sign language phonology have since been proposed by Brentari, Sandler, and Van der Kooij.


Chereme

Cherology and chereme (from "hand") are synonyms of
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
and phoneme previously used in the study of sign languages. A ''chereme'', as the basic unit of signed communication, is functionally and psychologically equivalent to the phonemes of oral languages, and has been replaced by that term in the academic literature. ''Cherology'', as the study of ''cheremes'' in language, is thus equivalent to phonology. The terms are not in use anymore. Instead, the terms ''phonology'' and ''phoneme'' (or ''distinctive feature'') are used to stress the linguistic similarities between signed and spoken languages. The terms were coined in 1960 by William Stokoe at Gallaudet University to describe sign languages as true and full languages. Once a controversial idea, the position is now universally accepted in linguistics. Stokoe's terminology, however, has been largely abandoned.Seegmiller, 2006. "Stokoe, William (1919–2000)", in ''Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics'', 2nd ed.


See also

* Alphabetic principle * Alternation (linguistics) * Complementary distribution * Diaphoneme * Diphone * Emic and etic * Free variation * Initial-stress-derived noun *
International Phonetic Alphabet The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest s ...
* Minimal pair * Morphophonology * Phone (phonetics), Phone * Phonemic orthography * Phonology * Phonological change * Phonotactics * Sphoṭa * Tone (linguistics), Toneme * Triphone * Viseme


Notes


References


Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * * * * (reprinted in Joos, M. Readings in Linguistics, 1957) * {{Authority control Learning to read Reading (process) Orthography Phonetics Phonology Linguistics terminology