Phonetics and phonology

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Phonetics is the scientific study of speech. The central concerns in phonetics are how speech sounds are produced (Articulatory Phonetics), how they are used in spoken language (Acoustic Phonetics) and how we hear and recognise different sounds (Auditory Phonetics).

Phonology studies the selection and organization of phonic substance into a meaningful pattern. It deals with both aspects of spoken language, the abstract one (encoding , decoding ) and the material one ( speech sounds).

"It is the task of phonology to study which differences in sound are related to differences in meaning in a given language, in which way the discriminative elements ... are related to each other, and the rules according to which they may be combined into words and sentences." Trubetzkoy, 1939

Allophones_Phonemes'>Phonemes and Allophones
Phonemes are the smallest contrastive phonological units or significant sounds (or sets of sounds) of a language capable of changing meaning.

Such a contrast is usually demonstrated by the existence of minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are pairs of words which differ only in one phoneme or segment. for example: the words /mæt/  and /kæt/ differ only in the first segment or phoneme.

Allophones, on the contrary, are concrete variants of the same phoneme which change the pronunciation of a phoneme but do not change the meaning of a word

For example the word “pepper” has two voiceless plosive /p/ phonemes /pepə/.But the first one is stronger or “aspirated” (pronounced with an extra puff of air) because is followed by a prominent vowel /pʰepə/ and the second one is not aspirated. This allophones affects manner of articulation.

Another example of allophone affecting place of articulation is the phoneme /n/ in the sequence “in the” when followed a dental.. The phoneme /n/ in isolation is an alveolar nasal consonant, but in the example above /n/ becomes dental as the tongue anticipates the articulation of the following dental consonant /ð/. So, the result is a dental alveolar nasal /ɪn̠ ðə/. An example in Spanish is the same phoneme in /n/ in the word “tango”, where /n/ is velarized and becomes /ŋ/ under the influence of the following velar /g/ consonant.

The wrong use of an allophone will make your English sound as non-English, or your Spanish as non-Spanish, but it will not change the meaning of a word. A clear instance of an allophone in Spanish in Argentina is the pronunciation of the spelling “ll”. This doble l is pronounced in three different ways in the word “lluvia”. In the North of Argentina (Tucuman) is a fricative, in the North East (Chaco, Corrientes, Entre Rios) is a lateral and in Rioplatence Spanish (BsAs) is pronounced as the English phoneme [ʃ] /ʃubia/

Homophones and Homographs

Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings, for example: blew and blue are pronounced /bluː/.

Homographs are words that have the same spelling, but different pronunciation, for example: live (verb) /lɪv/ and live (adv.) /laɪv/.

Phonemes branches into two big sub-groups: vowel and consonants.


Vowel sounds can be described both phonetically (how they are produced) and phonologically (their function in the syllable).

Phonetically, vowels sounds are oral sounds (the air comes out through the mouth), voiced (there is vibration in the vocal cords) and they are produced without any obstruction to the air passage.

Phonologically, vowel sounds play a central function in the syllable, they are the nucleus of the syllable due to their sonority.

English Vowel Sounds

Pure Vowels







Glides to /ɪ/

Glides to /ʊ/

Glides to /ə/

/ɪ/ tip

/e/ pet

/æ/ cat

/ʌ/ cut

/ɒ/ shop

/ʊ/ put

/ə/ ago

/iː/ sheep

/ɑː/ card

/ɔː/ lord

/uː/ food

/ɜː/ work

/eɪ/ day

/aɪ/ night

/ɔɪ/ boy

/aʊ/ how

/əʊ/ no

/eə/ there

/ʊə/ poor

/ɪə/ here

/eɪə/ player

/aɪə/ fire

/ɔɪə/ royal

/aʊə/ hour

/əʊə/ lower

Note: Description of a consonant sound

/ʃ/ voiceless post-alveolar fricative

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