An ELT Notebook : Phonology / Phonemics

Phonology (also called Phonemicsdeals with :

a)  the sounds of a specific language and how they combine into meaningful units. For example :

  • /p/ and /b/ are distinct sounds in English (phonemes) which contribute to  meaning - substituting one for the other will produce a different word - eg pin /pɪn/versus bin /bɪn/, or cup /kʌp/ vs cub /kʌb/. On the other hand, the the sound /t/ in what or bottle  may be substituted by a glottal stop [ʔ (eg in British English) or an alveolar flap [ɾ](eg in American English)  without changing the meaning of the words. Though phonetically different, they are not therefore considered to be different phonemes of English but allophones of the "same" sound.
  • Some sequences of sounds are possible in a specific language (eg in English /spl/ as in split), while others are not - eg /bzd/. See consonant cluster for more examples

b)   how sounds may be affected by neighbouring sounds in connected speech - eg in the pronunciation of left 
      wing, the /t/ sound may be omitted (elided) : /lef wɪŋ/. See Sandhi variations for more examples. 

c)   how prosodic features such as stress and intonation may contribute to the meaning of words or utterance.       For example :

  • the word import may be either a verb or a noun with the difference being indicated by the stress pattern : the noun is stressed on the first syllable - IMport - while the verb is stressed on the second -imPORT
  • intonation may change an utterance from eg a statement to a question - eg the utterance OK in English will be interpreted as a question with rising intonation on the second syllable, but as a statement if said with falling intonation:
          A : OK?   /əʊ kéɪ/          B : OK.    /əʊ kèɪ/