In this chapter, we learned about the basics of describing the sound forms of language. We saw that phonemes are the smallest units of sound and syllables are the smallest units of articulation in a language. We also learned how to classify consonants and vowels based on how they are produced in the vocal tract. Finally, we explored how these can be brought together to figure out recurring patterns in spoken language and formalized as phonological rules.

Key Takeaways

  • Phonemes are the smallest units of sound in a language
  • Phones are the acoustic analysis of sounds
  • Phonemes can be broadly divided into consonants and vowels
  • Vowels are produced with an unobstructed airflow through the vocal tract while consonants are produced with some kind of stricture to the airflow
  • Consonants are classified using place and manner of articulation. They are also classified according to voicing and aspiration in some languages
  • Vowels are classified using tongue height, backness and roundness
  • Syllables are the smallest units of articulation
  • The most basic syllable structure found in all languages is the CV syllable
  • Syllables consist of a mandatory nucleus or peak and optional onsets and codas
  • Phonological rules are rules of phonology that are applied by native speakers without conscious awareness

Exercises in Critical Thinking

  1. Think about the different languages that you know. How are they similar and different?
  2. What is the particular dialect that you speak? How is it different from the standard form of your language?
  3. Consider how artificial language systems such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri produce speech sounds. Do you think they make use of phonological rules to make their speech sound more natural?


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Psychology of Language Copyright © 2021 by Dinesh Ramoo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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