Phonology: Definition, Rules & Examples

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  • 0:01 Phonology Defined
  • 0:46 Phonetics vs. Phonology
  • 1:04 Phonological Rules
  • 2:48 Phonological Rule Examples
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derek Hughes

Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.

All languages follow a specific set of rules that determine how we sound when speaking. The study of these rules is called phonology. This lesson will introduce you to phonology and provide several examples of phonological processes.

Phonology Defined

Try saying the word 'helps' out loud, paying close attention to the final sound of the word. After that, say the word 'crabs' out loud, again paying attention to the final sound. After getting over the embarrassment of talking to yourself (especially if you're in a crowded place!), what did you notice about the final sounds of these words?

If you said that they are different, you're absolutely correct! In 'helps', the final sound is pronounced like you would expect the letter 's' to sound. However, in 'crabs', the ending should have sounded more like a 'z'. The reasoning for this change can be found through the use of phonology, which is the study of speech sounds and how they change depending on certain situations or placements in syllables, words, and sentences.

Phonetics vs. Phonology

You may have also heard of something called phonetics, which is the study of speech sounds as they stand in isolation. The key difference between phonetics and phonology is that phonology is more focused on how speech sounds change and behave when in a syllable, word, or sentence, as opposed to when spoken in isolation.

Phonological Rules

One of the main components of phonology is the study and discovery of phonological rules. Rules are the way phonologists predict how a speech sound will change depending on its position in various speech environments. For example, the final 's' sounds in 'helps' and 'crabs' follow a simple-to-understand phonological rule. In these words, the 's' sound changes depending on what speech sound immediately precedes it.

Let's take a second and speak the following words out loud, paying close attention to the final 's' sound and the sounds immediately preceding it. (Hint: Put two fingers on your throat as you pronounce the final sound and the sound immediately before it. See if you can notice what happens.)

  • Helps
  • Crabs
  • Sits
  • Looks
  • Words
  • Gloves

Again, recover from whatever embarrassment you might feel about talking to yourself, now with the added activity of touching your throat as you spoke. Good? Okay. You may have noticed that in the words 'crabs', 'words', and 'gloves', your throat vibrated as you said the final sound and the sound right before it. (This means those sounds are voiced, but that's a bit too complex for this introduction.) However, in the words 'helps', 'sits', and 'looks', your throat did not vibrate as you said the final two sounds.

If you noticed this, then guess what? You are now an amateur phonologist because you just discovered your very first phonological rule! This rule basically states that, depending on the preceding sound, 's' sounds at the end of the word will either be voiced (make your throat vibrate) or voiceless (no vibration).

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