For the unit of gesture in sign languages, see Chereme

A phoneme (/ˈfoʊniːm/) is one of the units of sound that distinguish one word from another in a particular language.

For example, in most dialects of English, the sound patterns /θʌm/ (thumb) and /dʌm/ (dumb) are two separate words distinguished by the substitution of one phoneme, /θ/, for another phoneme, /d/. (Two words like this that differ in meaning through a contrast of a single phoneme form what is called a minimal pair.) In many other languages these would be interpreted as exactly the same set of phonemes (i.e. /θ/ and /d/ would be considered the same).

In linguistics, phonemes (usually established by the use of minimal pairs, such as kill vs kiss or pat vs bat) are written between slashes, e.g. /p/. To show pronunciation more precisely linguists use square brackets, for example [pʰ] (indicating an aspirated p).

Within linguistics 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 of a set (or equivalence class) of speech sounds (phones) which are perceived as equivalent to each other in a given language. For example, in English, the k sounds in the words kit and skill are not identical (as described below), but they are distributional variants of a single phoneme /k/. Different speech sounds that are realizations of the same phoneme are known as allophones. Allophonic variation may be conditioned, in which case a certain phoneme is realized as a certain allophone in particular phonological environments, or it may be free in which case it may vary randomly. In this way, phonemes are often considered to constitute an abstract underlying representation for segments of words, while speech sounds make up the corresponding phonetic realization, or surface form.


Phonemes are conventionally placed between slashes in transcription, whereas speech sounds (phones) are placed between square brackets. Thus /pʊʃ/ represents a sequence of three phonemes /p/, /ʊ/, /ʃ/ (the word push in standard English), while [pʰʊʃ] represents the phonetic sequence of sounds [pʰ] (aspirated p), [ʊ], [ʃ] (the usual pronunciation of push). This is not to be confused with the similar convention of the use of angle brackets to enclose the units of orthography, namely graphemes; for example, ⟨f⟩ represents the written letter (grapheme) f.

The symbols used for particular phonemes are often taken from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the same set of symbols that are most commonly used for phones. (For computer typing purposes, systems such as X-SAMPA and Kirshenbaum exist to represent IPA symbols using only ASCII 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, 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 § Correspondence between letters and phonemes below).

Assignment of speech sounds to phonemes

A simplified procedure for determining whether two sounds represent the same or different 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 phoneme /k/, 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 kit  [kʰɪt] the sound is aspirated, while in skill  [skɪl] it is unaspirated. The words therefore contain different speech sounds, or phones, transcribed [kʰ] for the aspirated form, [k] 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 [kʰ] 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 [t] would produce the different word still, and that sound must therefore be considered to represent a different phoneme (the phoneme /t/).

The above shows that in English [k] and [kʰ] are allophones of a single phoneme /k/. In some languages, however, [kʰ] and [k] are perceived by native speakers as different sounds, and substituting one for the other can change the meaning of a word; this means that in those languages, the two sounds represent different phonemes. For example, in Icelandic, [kʰ] is the first sound of kátur meaning "cheerful", while [k] is the first sound of gátur meaning "riddles". Icelandic therefore has two separate phonemes /kʰ/ and /k/.

Minimal pairs

A pair of words like kátur and gátur (above) that differ only in one phone is called a minimal pair for the two alternative phones in question (in this case, [kʰ] and [k]). 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, [t] and [d] belong to separate phonemes, /t/ and /d/; since these two words have different meanings, English speakers must be conscious of the distinction between the two sounds. In other languages, though, including Korean, even though both sounds [t] and [d] occur, no such minimal pair exists. The lack of minimal pairs distinguishing [t] and [d] in Korean provides evidence that in this language they are allophones of a single phoneme /t/. The word /tata/ is pronounced [tada], for example. That is, when they hear this word, Korean speakers perceive the same sound in both the beginning and middle of the word, whereas an English speaker would perceive different sounds in these two locations. Signed languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL), also have minimal pairs, differing only in (exactly) one of the signs' parameters: handshape, movement, location, palm orientation, and non-manual signal or marker. A minimal pair may exist in the signed language if the basic sign stays the same but one of these parameters changes.[1]

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 too dissimilar phonetically for it to be likely that speakers perceive them as the same sound. For example, English has no minimal pair for the sounds [h] (as in hat) and [ŋ] (as in bang), and the fact that they can be shown to be in complementary distribution 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.[2]

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 /ʃ/ from /ʒ/, yet it seems uncontroversial to claim that the two consonants are distinct phonemes. The two words 'pressure' /prɛʃər/ and 'pleasure' /plɛʒər/ can serve as a near minimal pair.[3]

Other features with phonemic status

While phonemes are normally conceived of as abstractions of discrete segmental speech sounds (vowels and consonants), there are other features of pronunciation – principally tone and stress – which in some languages can change the meaning of words in the way that phoneme contrasts do, and are consequently called phonemic features of those languages.

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, and therefore a full phonemic specification (providing enough detail to enable the word to be pronounced unambiguously) would include indication of the position of the stress: /ɪnˈvaɪ̯t/ for the verb, /ˈɪnvaɪt/ for the noun. In other languages, such as 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, in which a given syllable can have five different tonal pronunciations.

mother hemp horse scold question particle

Here, the character 媽 (pronounced , high level pitch) means "mother"; 麻 (, rising pitch) means "hemp"; 馬 (, falling then rising) means "horse"; 罵 (, falling) means "scold", and 嗎 (ma, neutral tone) is an interrogative particle. 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, 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 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.

Background and related ideas

The term phonème (from Ancient Greek φώνημα phōnēma, "sound made, utterance, thing spoken, speech, language"[4]) was reportedly first used by A. Dufriche-Desgenettes in 1873, but it referred only to a speech sound. The term phoneme as an abstraction was developed by the Polish linguist Jan Niecisław Baudouin de Courtenay and his student Mikołaj Kruszewski during 1875–1895.[5] The term used by these two was fonema, the basic unit of what they called psychophonetics. 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".[6] The concept of the phoneme was then elaborated in the works of Nikolai Trubetzkoy and others of the Prague School (during the years 1926–1935), and in those of structuralists like Ferdinand de Saussure, Edward Sapir, and Leonard Bloomfield. Some structuralists (though not Sapir) rejected the idea of a cognitive or psycholinguistic function for the phoneme.[7][8]

Later, it was used and redefined in generative linguistics, most famously by Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle,[9] and remains central to many accounts of the development of modern phonology. As a theoretical concept or model, though, it has been supplemented and even replaced by others.[10]

Some linguists (such as Roman Jakobson and Morris Halle) proposed that phonemes may be further decomposable into features, such features being the true minimal constituents of language.[11] Features overlap each other in time, as do suprasegmental phonemes in oral language and many phonemes in sign languages. Features could be characterized in different ways: Jakobson and colleagues defined them in acoustic terms,[12] Chomsky and Halle used a predominantly articulatory basis, though retaining some acoustic features, while Ladefoged's system[13] is a purely articulatory system apart from the use of the acoustic term 'sibilant'.

In the description of some languages, the term chroneme has been used to indicate contrastive length or duration of phonemes. In languages in which tones are phonemic, the tone phonemes may be called tonemes. 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 and grapheme. These are sometimes called emic units. The latter term was first used by Kenneth Pike, who also generalized the concepts of emic and etic description (from phonemic and phonetic respectively) to applications outside linguistics.[14]

Restrictions on occurrence

Languages do not generally allow words or syllables 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:

  • /ŋ/, as in sing, occurs only at the end of a syllable, never at the beginning (in many other languages, such as Māori, Swahili, Tagalog, and Thai, /ŋ/ can appear word-initially).
  • /h/ occurs only before vowels and at the beginning of a syllable, never at the end (a few languages, such as Arabic, or Romanian allow /h/ syllable-finally).
  • In non-rhotic dialects, /ɹ/ can only occur immediately before a vowel, never before a consonant.
  • /w/ and /j/ occur only before a vowel, never at the end of a syllable (except in interpretations where a word like boy is analyzed as /bɔj/).

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 is a requirement of classic structuralist phonemics. It means that a given phone, 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-many. The notion of biuniqueness was controversial among some pre-generative linguists and was prominently challenged by Morris Halle and 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 in North American English. This may cause either /t/ or /d/ (in the appropriate environments) to be realized with the phone [ɾ] (an 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 /t/ in the first word and /d/ 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. 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. An archiphoneme is an object sometimes used to represent an underspecified phoneme.

An example of neutralization is provided by the Russian vowels /a/ and /o/. These phonemes are contrasting in stressed syllables, but in unstressed syllables the contrast is lost, since both are reduced to the same sound, usually [ə] (for details, see vowel reduction in Russian). In order to assign such an instance of [ə] to one of the phonemes /a/ and /o/, it is necessary to consider morphological factors (such as which of the vowels occurs in other forms of the words, or which inflectional 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 [ə] to a specific phoneme in some or all of these cases, although it might be assigned to an archiphoneme, written something like |A|, which reflects the two neutralized phonemes in this position.

A somewhat different example is found in English, with the three nasal phonemes /m, n, ŋ/. In word-final position these all contrast, as shown by the minimal triplet sum /sʌm/, sun /sʌn/, sung /sʌŋ/. However, before a stop such as /p, t, k/ (provided there is no morpheme boundary between them), only one of the nasals is possible in any given position: /m/ before /p/, /n/ before /t/ or /d/, and /ŋ/ before /k/, as in limp, lint, link ( /lɪmp/, /lɪnt/, /lɪŋk/). 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 |N|, and state the underlying representations of limp, lint, link to be |lɪNp|, |lɪNt|, |lɪNk|.

This latter type of analysis is often associated with Nikolai Trubetzkoy of the Prague school. Archiphonemes are often notated with a capital letter within pipes, as with the examples |A| and |N| given above. Other ways the second of these might be notated include |m-n-ŋ|, {m, n, ŋ}, or |n*|.

Another example from English, but this time involving complete phonetic convergence as in the Russian example, is the flapping of /t/ and /d/ in some American English (described above under Biuniqueness). Here the words betting and bedding might both be pronounced [ˈbɛɾɪŋ], and if a speaker applies such flapping consistently, it would be necessary to look for morphological evidence (the pronunciation of the related forms bet and bed, for example) in order to determine which phoneme the flap represents. As in the previous examples, some theorists would prefer not to make such a determination, and simply assign the flap in both cases to a single archiphoneme, written (for example) |D|.

For a special kind of neutralization proposed in generative phonology, see absolute neutralization.


A morphophoneme is a theoretical unit at a deeper level of abstraction than traditional phonemes, and is taken to be a unit from which morphemes 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 consist of a single morphophoneme, which might be written (for example) //z// or |z|, and which is pronounced as [s] after most voiceless consonants (as in cats) and [z] in most other cases (as in dogs).

Numbers of phonemes in different languages

All known languages use only a small subset of the many possible 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 to as many as 141 in !Xũ.[15]

The number of phonemically distinct vowels can be as low as two, as in Ubykh and Arrernte. At the other extreme, the Bantu language Ngwe has 14 vowel qualities, 12 of which may occur long or short, making 26 oral vowels, plus 6 nasalized vowels, long and short, making a total of 38 vowels; while !Xóõ achieves 31 pure vowels, not counting its additional variation by vowel length, by varying the phonation. As regards consonant phonemes, Puinave and the Papuan language Tauade each have just seven, and Rotokas has only six. !Xóõ, on the other hand, has somewhere around 77, and Ubykh 81. The English language uses a rather large set of 13 to 21 vowel phonemes, including diphthongs, although its 22 to 26 consonants are close to average.

Some languages, such as French, have no phonemic tone or stress, while Cantonese and several of the Kam–Sui languages have nine tones, and one of the Kru languages, Wobé, has been claimed to have 14,[16] though this is disputed.[17]

The most common vowel system consists of the five vowels /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/, /u/. The most common consonants are /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/.[18] Relatively few languages lack any of these consonants, although it does happen: for example, Arabic lacks /p/, standard Hawaiian lacks /t/, Mohawk and Tlingit lack /p/ and /m/, Hupa lacks both /p/ and a simple /k/, colloquial Samoan lacks /t/ and /n/, while Rotokas and Quileute lack /m/ and /n/.

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. Some writers took the position expressed by Kenneth Pike: "There is only one accurate phonemic analysis for a given set of data",[19] 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"[20] 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 F.W. Householder referred to this argument within linguistics as "God's Truth vs. hocus-pocus".[21] 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"; the present article (§ Numbers of phonemes in different languages) says that "the English language uses a rather large set of 13 to 21 vowel phonemes". Although these figures are often quoted as a scientific 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 /j/ or /w/. The transcription system for British English (RP) devised by the phonetician Geoff Lindsey and used in the CUBE pronunciation dictionary also treats diphthongs as composed of a vowel plus /j/ or /w/.[22] 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 /j/, /w/ or /h/ (plus /r/ for rhotic accents), each thus comprising two phonemes: they wrote "The conclusion is inescapable that the complex nuclei consist each of two phonemes, one of the short vowels followed by one of three glides".[23] The transcription for the vowel normally transcribed /aɪ/ would instead be /aj/, /aʊ/ would be /aw/ and /ɑː/ would be /ah/. The consequence of this approach is that English could theoretically have only seven vowel phonemes, which might be symbolized /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/, /u/, /ʌ/ and /ə/, or even six if schwa were treated as an allophone of /ʌ/ or of other short vowels, a figure that would put English much closer to the average number of vowel phonemes in other languages.[24]

In the same period there was disagreement about the correct basis for a phonemic analysis. The 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.[25] Zellig Harris claimed that it is possible to discover the phonemes of a language purely by examining the distribution of phonetic segments.[26] Referring to 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."[27] This approach was opposed to that of Edward Sapir, who gave an important role to native speakers' intuitions about where a particular sound or groups of sounds fitted into a pattern. Using English [ŋ] as an example, Sapir argued that, despite the superficial appearance that this sound belongs to a group of nasal consonants, "no naive English-speaking person can be made to feel in his bones that it belongs to a single series with /m/ and /n/. ... It still feels like ŋg".[28] 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.[29][30]

Correspondence between letters and phonemes

Phonemes are considered to be the basis for alphabetic writing systems. In such systems the written symbols (graphemes) 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 (as well as other reasons, including dialect 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, trigraph, etc.), like <sh> in English or <sch> in German (both representing phonemes /ʃ/). Also a single letter may represent two phonemes, as in English <x> representing /gz/ or /ks/. There may also exist spelling/pronunciation rules (such as those for the pronunciation of <c> in 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 ASL. He identified the bundles tab (elements of location, from Latin tabula), dez (the handshape, from designator), sig (the motion, from signation). Some researchers also discern ori (orientation), facial expression and/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'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.[31] For instance, non-manual features are not included in Stokoe's classification. More sophisticated models of sign language phonology have since been proposed by Brentari,[32] Sandler,[33] and van der Kooij.[34]


Cherology and chereme (from Ancient Greek: χείρ "hand") are synonyms of 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.[35]

The terms were coined in 1960 by William Stokoe[36] 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.[37]

See also


  1. ^ Handspeak. "Minimal pairs in sign language phonology". Archived from the original on 14 February 2017. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  2. ^ Wells 1982, p. 44.
  3. ^ Wells 1982, p. 48.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Jones 1957.
  6. ^ Jones, D. (1917), The phonetic structure of the Sechuana language, Transactions of the Philological Society 1917-20, pp. 99–106
  7. ^ Twaddell 1935.
  8. ^ Harris 1951.
  9. ^ Chomsky & Halle 1968.
  10. ^ Clark & Yallop 1995, chpt. 11.
  11. ^ Jakobson & Halle 1968.
  12. ^ Jakobson, Fant & Halle 1952.
  13. ^ Ladefoged 2006, pp. 268–276.
  14. ^ Pike 1967.
  15. ^ Crystal 2010, p. 173.
  16. ^ Singler, John Victor (1984). "On the underlying representation of contour tones in Wobe". Studies in African Linguistics. 15 (1): 59–75.
  17. ^ Moran, Steven; McCloy, Daniel; Wright, Richard, eds. (2014). "PHOIBLE Online". Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  18. ^ Pike, K.L. (1947) Phonemics, University of Michigan Press, p. 64
  19. ^ Chao, Yuen Ren (1934). "The non-uniqueness of phonemic solutions of phonetic systems". Academia Sinica. IV.4: 363–97.
  20. ^ Householder, F.W. (1952). "Review of Methods in structural linguistics by Zellig S. Harris". International Journal of American Linguistics. 18: 260–8. doi:10.1086/464181.
  21. ^ Lindsey, Geoff. "The CUBE searchable dictionary". English Speech Services. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  22. ^ Trager, G.; Smith, H. (1951). An Outline of English Structure. American Council of Learned Societies. p. 20. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  23. ^ Roach, Peter (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology (4th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-521-71740-3.
  24. ^ Bloomfield, Leonard (1933). Language. Henry Holt.
  25. ^ Harris, Zellig (1951). Methods in Structural Linguistics. Chicago University Press. p. 5.
  26. ^ Twaddell, W.F. (1935). "On defining the phoneme". Language. 11 (1): 5–62. JSTOR 522070.
  27. ^ Sapir, Edward (1925). "Sound patterns in language". Language. 1.37. doi:10.2307/409004.
  28. ^ Chomsky, Noam (1964). Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. Mouton.
  29. ^ Chomsky, Noam; Halle, Morris (1968). The Sound Pattern of English. Harper and Row.
  30. ^ Clayton, Valli; Lucas, Ceil (2000). Linguistics of American Sign Language : an introduction (3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press. ISBN 9781563680977. OCLC 57352333.
  31. ^ Brentari, Diane (1998). A prosodic model of sign language phonology. MIT Press.
  32. ^ Sandler, Wendy (1989). Phonological representation of the sign: linearity and nonlinearity in American Sign Language. Foris.
  33. ^ Kooij, Els van der (2002). Phonological categories in Sign Language of the Netherlands. The role of phonetic implementation and iconicity. PhD dissertation, Leiden University.
  34. ^ Bross, Fabian. 2015. "Chereme", in In: Hall, T. A. Pompino-Marschall, B. (ed.): Dictionaries of Linguistics and Communication Science (Wörterbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft, WSK). Volume: Phonetics and Phonology. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  35. ^ Stokoe, William C. 1960. Sign Language Structure: An Outline of the Visual Communication Systems of the American Deaf, Studies in linguistics: Occasional papers (No. 8). Buffalo: Dept. of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Buffalo.
  36. ^ Seegmiller, 2006. "Stokoe, William (1919–2000)", in Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed.


  • Chomsky, N.; Halle, M. (1968), The Sound Pattern of English, Harper and Row, OCLC 317361
  • Clark, J.; Yallop, C. (1995), An Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology (2 ed.), Blackwell, ISBN 978-0-631-19452-1
  • Crystal, D. (1997), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (2 ed.), Cambridge, ISBN 978-0-521-55967-6
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Algiz (also Elhaz) is the name conventionally given to the "z-rune" ᛉ of the Elder Futhark runic alphabet. Its transliteration is z, understood as a phoneme of the Proto-Germanic language, the terminal *z continuing Proto-Indo-European terminal *s.

It is one of two runes which express a phoneme that does not occur word-initially, and thus could not be named acrophonically, the other being the ŋ-rune Ingwaz ᛜ.

As the terminal *-z phoneme marks the nominative singular suffix of masculine nouns, the rune occurs comparatively frequently in early epigraphy.

Because this specific phoneme was lost at an early time, the Elder Futhark rune underwent changes in the medieval runic alphabets. In the Anglo-Saxon futhorc it retained its shape, but it was given the sound value of Latin x. This is a secondary development, possibly due to runic manuscript tradition, and there is no known instance of the rune being used in an Old English inscription.

In Proto-Norse and Old Norse, the Germanic *z phoneme developed into an R sound, perhaps realized as a retroflex approximant [ɻ], which is usually transcribed as ʀ. This sound was written in the Younger Futhark using the Yr rune ᛦ, the Algiz rune turned upside down, from about the 7th century. This phoneme eventually became indistinguishable from the regular r sound in the later stages of Old Norse, at about the 11th or 12th century.

The shape of the rune may be derived from that a letter expressing /x/ in certain Old Italic alphabets (𐌙), which was in turn derived from the Greek letter Ψ which had the value of /kʰ/ (rather than /ps/) in the Western Greek alphabet.


In phonology, an allophone (; from the Greek ἄλλος, állos, "other" and φωνή, phōnē, "voice, sound") is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds, or phones, or signs used to pronounce a single phoneme in a particular language. For example, in English [t] (as in stop [stɔp]) and the aspirated form [tʰ] (as in top [ˈtʰɔp]) are allophones for the phoneme /t/, while these two are considered to be different phonemes in some languages such as Thai and Hindi. On the other hand, in Spanish [d] (as in dolor [doˈloɾ]) and [ð] (as in nada [ˈnaða]) are allophones for the phoneme /d/, while these two are considered to be different phonemes in English.

The specific allophone selected in a given situation is often predictable from the phonetic context, with such allophones being called positional variants, but some allophones occur in free variation. Replacing a sound by another allophone of the same phoneme usually does not change the meaning of a word, but the result may sound non-native or even unintelligible.

Native speakers of a given language perceive one phoneme in the language as a single distinctive sound and are "both unaware of and even shocked by" the allophone variations that are used to pronounce single phonemes.

Arabic script

The Arabic script is the writing system used for writing Arabic and several other languages of Asia and Africa, such as Persian, Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Sindhi, Pashto, Lurish, Urdu, Mandinka, and others. Until the 16th century, it was also used to write some texts in Spanish. Additionally, prior to the language reform in 1928, it was the writing system of Turkish. It is the second-most widely used writing system in the world by the number of countries using it and the third by the number of users, after Latin and Chinese characters.The Arabic script is written from right to left in a cursive style. In most cases, the letters transcribe consonants, or consonants and a few vowels, so most Arabic alphabets are abjads.

The script was first used to write texts in Arabic, most notably the Qurʼān, the holy book of Islam. With the spread of Islam, it came to be used to write languages of many language families, leading to the addition of new letters and other symbols, with some versions, such as Kurdish, Uyghur, and old Bosnian being abugidas or true alphabets. It is also the basis for the tradition of Arabic calligraphy.

Assimilation (phonology)

In phonology, assimilation is a sound change where some phones (typically consonants or vowels) change to be more similar to other nearby sounds. It is a common type of phonological process across languages. Assimilation can occur either within a word or between words. It occurs in normal speech, and it becomes more common in more rapid speech. In some cases, assimilation causes sound spoken to differ from the normal "correct" pronunciation of each sound in isolation. In other cases, the changed sound is considered canonical for that word or phrase.

For an English example, "handbag" (canonically ) is often pronounced in rapid speech. This is because the [m] and [b] sounds are both bilabial consonants and their places of articulation are similar; whereas the sequence [d]-[b] has different places but similar manner of articulation (voiced stop) and is sometimes elided, causing the canonical [n] phone to sometimes assimilate to [m] before the [b]. The pronunciations or are, however, common in normal speech. By contrast, the word "cupboard", historically a compound of "cup" and "board" , is always pronounced and never *, even in slow, highly articulated speech.

As in these examples, sound segments typically assimilate to a following sound, but they may also assimilate to a preceding one. While assimilation most commonly occurs between immediately adjacent sounds, it may occur between sounds separated by others.Assimilation can be synchronic—that is, an active process in a language at a given point in time—or diachronic—that is, a historical sound change.

A related process is coarticulation, where one segment influences another to produce an allophonic variation, such as vowels becoming nasalized before nasal consonants (/n, m, ŋ/) when the soft palate (velum) opens prematurely or /b/ becoming labialized as in "boot" [bʷuːt̚] or "ball" [bʷɔːɫ] in some accents. This article describes both processes under the term assimilation.

Central consonant

A central consonant, also known as a median consonant, is a consonant sound that is produced when air flows across the center of the mouth over the tongue. The class contrasts with lateral consonants, in which air flows over the sides of the tongue rather than down its center.

Examples of central consonants are the voiced alveolar fricative (the "z" in the English word "zoo") and the palatal approximant (the "y" in the English word "yes"). Others are the central fricatives [θ ð s z ʃ ʒ ʂ ʐ ɕ ʑ ç ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ], the central approximants [ɹ ɻ j ɥ ɰ w ʍ], the trills [r ʀ], and the central flaps [ɾ ɽ].

The term is most relevant for approximants and fricatives (for which there are contrasting lateral and central consonants - e.g. [l] versus [ɹ] and [ɮ] versus [z]). Stops that have "lateral release" can be written in the International Phonetic Alphabet using a superscript symbol, e.g. [tˡ], or can be implied by a following lateral consonant, e.g. [tɬ]. The labial fricatives [f v] often—perhaps usually—have lateral airflow, as occlusion between the teeth and lips blocks the airflow in the center, but nonetheless they are not considered lateral consonants because no language makes a distinction between the two.

In some languages, the centrality of a phoneme may be indeterminate. In Japanese, for example, there is a liquid phoneme /r/, which may be either central or lateral, resulting in /ro/ produced as either [ɾo] or [lo].

English phonology

Like many other languages, English has wide variation in pronunciation, both historically and from dialect to dialect. In general, however, the regional dialects of English share a largely similar (but not identical) phonological system. Among other things, most dialects have vowel reduction in unstressed syllables and a complex set of phonological features that distinguish fortis and lenis consonants (stops, affricates, and fricatives). Most dialects of English preserve the consonant /w/ (spelled ⟨w⟩) and many preserve /θ, ð/ (spelled ⟨th⟩), while most other Germanic languages have shifted them to /v/ and /t, d/: compare English will (listen) and then (listen) with German will [vɪl] (listen) ('want') and denn [dɛn] (listen) ('because').

Phonological analysis of English often concentrates on or uses, as a reference point, one or more of the prestige or standard accents, such as Received Pronunciation for England, General American for the United States, and General Australian for Australia. Nevertheless, many other dialects of English are spoken, which have developed independently from these standardized accents, particularly regional dialects. Information about these standardized accents functions only as a limited guide to all of English phonology, which one can later expand upon once one becomes more familiar with some of the many other dialects of English that are spoken.


In linguistics, a grapheme is the smallest unit of a writing system of any given language. An individual grapheme may or may not carry meaning by itself, and may or may not correspond to a single phoneme of the spoken language. Graphemes include alphabetic letters, typographic ligatures, Chinese characters, numerical digits, punctuation marks, and other individual symbols. A grapheme can also be construed as a graphical sign that independently represents a portion of linguistic material.The word grapheme, coined in analogy with phoneme, is derived from Ancient Greek γράφω (gráphō), meaning 'write', and the suffix -eme, by analogy with phoneme and other names of emic units. The study of graphemes is called graphemics.

The concept of graphemes is an abstract one and similar to the notion in computing of a character. By comparison, a specific shape that represents any particular grapheme in a specific typeface is called a glyph. For example, the grapheme corresponding to the abstract concept of "the Arabic numeral one" has two distinct glyphs (allographs) in the fonts Times New Roman and Helvetica.


Hiriq (Hebrew: חִירִיק ḥiriq IPA: [χiˈʁik]) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign represented by a single dot ⟨ ִ ⟩ underneath the letter. In Modern Hebrew, it indicates the phoneme /i/ which is similar to the "ee" sound in the English word deep and is transliterated with "i". In Yiddish, it indicates the phoneme /ɪ/ which is the same as the "i" sound in the English word skip and is transliterated with "i".

Hungarian ly

Ly is a digraph of the Latin alphabet, used in Hungarian.

Open front rounded vowel

The (near) open front rounded vowel, or (near) low front rounded vowel, is a type of vowel sound, not confirmed to be phonemic in any spoken languages. While traditionally characterized as a fully open (low) vowel, the rounded equivalent of [a], acoustically it is near-open (or near-low), the rounded equivalent of [æ]. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɶ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is &. The letter ⟨ɶ⟩ is a small caps rendition of ⟨Œ⟩. Note that ⟨œ⟩, the lowercase version of the ligature, is used for the open-mid front rounded vowel.

A phoneme generally transcribed by this symbol is reported from the Bavarian subdialect of Amstetten. However, phonetically it is open-mid, i.e. [œ].It occurs allophonically in Weert Limburgish as well as in some speakers of Danish and Swedish. In certain transcriptions of Danish ⟨ɶ⟩ is used to denote an open-mid front rounded vowel [œ].Riad (2014) reports that [ɶː] in Stockholm Swedish is sometimes difficult to distinguish from [ɒː] (which is the main realization of the /ɑː/ phoneme). He states that it is a sign that these vowels are phonetically very close.

Phone (phonetics)

In phonetics and linguistics, a phone is any distinct speech sound or gesture, regardless of whether the exact sound is critical to the meanings of words.

In contrast, a phoneme is a speech sound in a given language that, if swapped with another phoneme, would change the meaning of the word. Phones are absolute and are not specific to any language, but phonemes can be discussed only in reference to specific languages.

For example, the English words kid and kit end with two distinct phonemes, and swapping one for the other would change the word's meaning. However, the difference between the /p/ sounds in pun ([pʰ], with aspiration) and spun ([p], without aspiration) never affects the meaning of a word in English. Thus, [pʰ] and [p] are two distinct phones but not distinct phonemes in English.

By contrast, swapping the same two sounds in Hindi or Urdu can change one word into another: [pʰal] (फल) means 'fruit', and [pal] (पल) means 'moment' (CIIL 2008). The sounds are then different phonemes.

As can be seen in those examples, phonemes, rather than phones, are the features of speech that are reflected (more or less imperfectly) in a writing system.


Phonology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the systematic organization of sounds in spoken languages and signs in sign languages. It used to be only the study of the systems of phonemes in spoken languages (and therefore used to be also called phonemics, or phonematics), but it may also cover any linguistic analysis either at a level beneath the word (including syllable, onset and rime, articulatory gestures, articulatory features, mora, etc.) or at all levels of language where sound or signs are structured to convey linguistic meaning.[1]

Sign languages have a phonological system equivalent to the system of sounds in spoken languages. The building blocks of signs are specifications for movement, location and handshape.

Pronunciation Lexicon Specification

The Pronunciation Lexicon Specification (PLS) is a W3C Recommendation, which is designed to enable interoperable specification of pronunciation information for both speech recognition and speech synthesis engines within voice browsing applications. The language is intended to be easy to use by developers while supporting the accurate specification of pronunciation information for international use.

The language allows one or more pronunciations for a word or phrase to be specified using a standard pronunciation alphabet or if necessary using vendor specific alphabets. Pronunciations are grouped together into a PLS document which may be referenced from other markup languages, such as the Speech Recognition Grammar Specification SRGS and the Speech Synthesis Markup Language SSML.

Saaroa language

Saaroa or Hla’alua is a Southern Tsouic language is spoken by the Saaroa (Hla'alua) people, an indigenous people of Taiwan. It is a Formosan language of the Austronesian family.

The Saaroa live in the two villages of Taoyuan and Kaochung in Taoyuan District (Taoyuan Township), Kaohsiung City, Taiwan (Zeitoun & Teng 2014).

With fewer than 10 native speakers and an ethnic population of 400 people, Saaroa is considered critically endangered. Even among native speakers of the language, they use primarily Mandarin or Bunun in their daily lives. There is no longer an active speech community for Saaroa.

Segment (linguistics)

In linguistics, a segment is "any discrete unit that can be identified, either physically or auditorily, in the stream of speech". The term is most used in phonetics and phonology to refer to the smallest elements in a language, and this usage can be synonymous with the term phone.

In spoken languages, segments will typically be grouped into consonants and vowels, but the term can be applied to any minimal unit of a linear sequence meaningful to the given field of analysis, such as a mora or a syllable in prosodic phonology, a morpheme in morphology, or a chereme in sign language analysis.Segments are called "discrete" because they are, at least at some analytical level, separate and individual, and temporally ordered. Segments are generally not completely discrete in speech production or perception, however. The articulatory, visual and acoustic cues that encode them often overlap. Examples of overlap for spoken languages can be found in discussions of phonological assimilation, coarticulation, and other areas in the study of phonetics and phonology, especially autosegmental phonology.

Other articulatory, visual or acoustic cues, such as prosody (tone, stress), and secondary articulations such as nasalization, may overlap multiple segments and cannot be discretely ordered with them. These elements are termed suprasegmental.


Shiksha (Sanskrit: शिक्षा IAST: śikṣā) is a Sanskrit word, which means "instruction, lesson, learning, study of skill". It also refers to one of the six Vedangas, or limbs of Vedic studies, on phonetics and phonology in Sanskrit.Shiksha is the field of Vedic study of sound, focussing on the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, accent, quantity, stress, melody and rules of euphonic combination of words during a Vedic recitation. Each ancient Vedic school developed this field of Vedanga, and the oldest surviving phonetic textbooks are the Pratishakyas. The Paniniya-Siksa and Naradiya-Siksa are examples of extant ancient manuscripts of this field of Vedic studies.Shiksha is the oldest and the first auxiliary discipline to the Vedas, maintained since the Vedic era. It aims at construction of sound and language for synthesis of ideas, in contrast to grammarians who developed rules for language deconstruction and understanding of ideas. This field helped preserve the Vedas and the Upanishads as the canons of Hinduism since the ancient times, and shared by various Hindu traditions.

Uruguayan Portuguese

Uruguayan Portuguese (português uruguaio, locally [poɾtuˈɣes uɾuˈɣwajo]), also known as fronteiriço (locally [fɾõteˈɾiso]) and portunhol riverense (locally [poɾtuˈɲɔɫ riveˈɾẽse]), is a variety of Portuguese with heavy influence from Rioplatense Spanish. It is spoken in northern Uruguay, near the Brazilian border, mainly in the region of the twin cities of Rivera (Uruguay) and Santana do Livramento (Brazil). This section of the frontier is called Frontera de la Paz (Border of Peace), because there is no legal obstacle to crossing the border between the two countries.

The varieties of Uruguayan Portuguese share many similarities with the countryside dialects of the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, such as the denasalization of final unstressed nasal vowels, replacement of lateral palatal /ʎ/ with semivowel /j/, no raising of final unstressed /e/, alveolar trill /r/ instead of the guttural R, and lateral realization of coda /l/ instead of L-vocalization.Recent changes in Uruguayan Portuguese include the urbanization of this variety, acquiring characteristics from urban Brazilian Portuguese such as distinction between /ʎ/ and /j/, affrication of /t/ and /d/ before /i/ and /ĩ/, and other features of Brazilian broadcast media.

Uvular ejective affricate

The uvular ejective affricate is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is q͡χʼ. It is a phoneme in some Indigenous languages of the Americas such as Wintu. It was also a phoneme in the original version of the constructed language Ithkuil and is used allophonically in several Northeast Caucasian languages.

Voice (phonetics)

Voice is a term used in phonetics and phonology to characterize speech sounds (usually consonants). It is also called "voicing". Speech sounds can be described as either voiceless (also called unvoiced) or voiced.

The term, however, is used to refer to two separate concepts:

Voicing can refer to the articulatory process in which the vocal folds vibrate, its primary use in phonetics to describe phones, which are particular speech sounds.

It can also refer to a classification of speech sounds that tend to be associated with vocal cord vibration but may not actually be voiced at the articulatory level. That is the term's primary use in phonology: to describe phonemes; while in phonetics its primary use is to describe phones.At the articulatory level, a voiced sound is one in which the vocal folds vibrate, and a voiceless sound is one in which they do not.

For example, voicing accounts for the difference between the pair of sounds associated with the English letters "s" and "z". The two sounds are transcribed as [s] and [z] to distinguish them from the English letters, which have several possible pronunciations, depending on the context. If one places the fingers on the voice box (i.e. the location of the Adam's apple in the upper throat), one can feel a vibration while zzzz is pronounced but not with ssss. (For a more detailed, technical explanation, see modal voice and phonation.) In most European languages, with a notable exception being Icelandic, vowels and other sonorants (consonants such as m, n, l, and r) are modally voiced.

When used to classify speech sounds, voiced and unvoiced are merely labels used to group phones and phonemes together for the purposes of classification.

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