Phonology

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Phonology (from Ancient Greek: φωνή, phōnḗ, "voice, sound" and λόγος, lógos, "word, speech, subject of discussion") is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use. Just as a language has syntax and vocabulary, it also has a phonology in the sense of a sound system. When describing the formal area of study, the term typically describes linguistic analysis either beneath the word (e.g., syllable, onset and rhyme, phoneme, articulatory gestures, articulatory feature, mora, etc.) or to units at all levels of language that are thought to structure sound for conveying linguistic meaning.

It is viewed as the subfield of linguistics that deals with the sound systems of languages. Whereas phonetics is about the physical production, acoustic transmission and perception of the sounds of speech, phonology describes the way sounds function within a given language or across languages to encode meaning. The term "phonology" was used in the linguistics of a greater part of the 20th century as a cover term uniting phonemics and phonetics. Current phonology can interface with disciplines such as psycholinguistics and speech perception, resulting in specific areas like articulatory or laboratory phonology.

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Overview

An important part of traditional forms of phonology has been studying which sounds can be grouped into distinctive units within a language; these units are known as phonemes. For example, in English, the [p] sound in pot is aspirated (pronounced [pʰ]), while the word- and syllable-final [p] in soup is not aspirated (indeed, it might be realized as a glottal stop). However, English speakers intuitively treat both sounds as variations (allophones) of the same phonological category, that is, of the phoneme /p/. Traditionally, it would be argued that if a word-initial aspirated [p] were interchanged with the word-final unaspirated [p] in soup, they would still be perceived by native speakers of English as "the same" /p/. (However, speech perception findings now put this theory in doubt.) Although some sort of "sameness" of these two sounds holds in English, it is not universal and may be absent in other languages. For example, in Thai, Hindi, and Quechua, aspiration and non-aspiration differentiates phonemes: that is, there are word pairs that differ only in this feature (there are minimal pairs differing only in aspiration).

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