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Methods of phonological analysis

Of direct observation


The aim of phonological (phonemic) analysis is to determine phonemic (functional) and non-phonemic (articulatory) differences of speech sounds and to identify the inventory of language phonemes.

The 1st problem of phonological analysis is to establish the phonemes in a definite language. This can be done with the help of particular phonological rules. There exist 2 principal methods of phonological analysis: distributional and semantic.

1) The distributional method is based on the phonological rule that different phonemes can freely occur in one and the same position, while allophones of one and the same phoneme occur in different positions. E.g. /pi:/ - /bi:/, p and b are in the same position. That's why the distributional method of analysis is a purely formal method of identifying the phonemes of a language. This method works even if a linguist doesn't know the language he analysis.

2) The semantic method is based on the phonological rule that a phoneme can distinguish words when opposed to one another or to a zero phoneme in an identical phonetic position. The oppositions when a phoneme is opposed to a phoneme is called a phonological opposition, e.g. sees – seat. When a phoneme is opposed to a zero phoneme is called zero opposition, e.g. sea – seas. The pairs of words which differ only in one speech sound are called minimal pairs. The semantic method attaches great significant to meaning. The investigator studies the function of sounds by collecting minimal pairs of words in the language. If 2 speech sounds distinguish words with different meanings they form a phonological opposition and are realizations of 2 different phonemes. If not they are allophones of one and the same phoneme. The method was used to study the phonetic structure of the small nations of the former Soviet Union and it helped to create written forms of these languages.

There are some cases when the establishment of phonological oppositions is not enough to determine the phonetic status of the sound. In the English language there are some sounds of a complex nature. They are /tʃ,dʒ,tr,dr,ts,dz/. In the English language these sounds form phonological oppositions and distinguish words. Head - hedge, tie - try, die - dry, buds - buzz, eat - each, head - hats. Are all those combination mono-phonemic or bi-phonemic? There are rules worked out by Nikolay Trubetskoy which help to answer this question: 1) a phoneme is indivisible, that's why no syllabic division can occur within a phoneme; 2) a phoneme is produced by one articulatory effort; 3) the duration of a phoneme should not exceed the duration of other phonemes in the language. The combination of /tʃ,dʒ/ in such words as cheese, jail are monophonemic, because acoustic physiological analysis proved that these sounds are produced by one articulatory effort and no syllabic divisions occur within these phonemes. The clusters /ts,dz/ are bi-phonemic combinations because their duration exceeds the average duration of the sounds /t,d,s,z/. /tr,dr/: the phonetic status of these clusters is not decided yet. Daniel Johnes calls them affricats, as well as /tʃ,dʒ/, but most phoneticians regard them as bi-phonemic clusters. The same problem concerns the phonemic status of the English diphthongs and so-called triphthongs, whether they are mono-phonemic or bi-phonemic. The syllabic and articulatory indivisibility of English diphthongs determines their mono-phonemic character in English. Triphthongs /aiə,auə/: It has been proved that they can not be considered as mono-phonemic, because they are not produced by single articulatory effort and there is an increase in the force of articulation of intensity not only for the first element, but for the 2ndas well. Moreover the syllabic division generally occurs between the diphthong and the third element, e.g. 'flower'. So that's why they are combinations of a diphthong and a neutral vowel.

12 Relevant and irrelevant features of the sounds.


A phoneme can only perform its distinctive function if it is opposed to another phoneme (or to no sound) in the same position. Such an opposition is called distinctive, or phonological. The classification is based on the number of distinctive articulatory features underlying the opposition (single, double, triple, multiple). Establishment of the phonemic system of a language is actually the establishment of all the single phonological oppositions existing in it.

Each sound is characterized by a number of features, some of them are relevant (значимые)(distinctive), others are irrelevant (incidental). Relevant features are affected by phonetic context. Irrelevant may be of two kinds: - indispensable (обязательный), (they are always present at allophones), - incidental.

To extract relevant features of the phoneme we have to oppose it to some other phoneme in the phonetic context.

If the opposed sounds differ in one articulatory feature and this difference brings about changes in the meaning this feature is called relevant: for example, port — court, [p] and [k] are consonants, occlusive, fortis; the only difference being that [p] is labial and [t] is lingual.

The articulatory features which do not serve to distinguish meaning are called non-distinctive, irrelevant or redundant. For example, it is impossible to oppose an aspirated [ph] to a non-aspirated one in the same phonetic context to distinguish meaning.


- the type of obstruction (occlusive/constrictive, plosive/fricative/affricate/nasal)

- the active organ (labial, bilabial, labio-dental/lingual/glottal)

- the force of articulation, work of local cords (fortis/lenis)


- two foci

- the shape of narrow (oral, nasal, lateral articulation)

- place of obstruction (пассивный орган)

- presense or absense of voice

- aspiration

- palatalisation

13. Oppositions in the system of English consonants.

The phonological analysis of English consonant sounds helps to distinguish 24 phonemes: [p, b, t, d, k, g, f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ∫,h, t∫, dж, m, n, ŋ, w, r, 1, j, “ж”]. Principles of classification suggested provide the basis for establishing of the following distinctive oppositions in the system of English consonants:

  1. Degree of noise

bake - make, veal - wheel

  1. Place of articulation

a. labial vs. lingual


b. lingual vs. glottal

foam — home, care — hair, Tim - him

  1. Manner of articulation

3.1 occlusive vs. constrictive pine -fine, bat - that, bee - thee

3.2 constrictive vs. affricates fare — chair, fail -jail

3.3 constrictive unicentral vs. constrictive bicentral

same – shame

4. Work of the vocal cords and the force of articulation

4.1 voiceless fortis vs. voiced lenis

penBen, ten - den, coat - goal

5. Position of the soft palate

5.1 oral vs. nasal

pit — pin, seek — seen


14. Oppositions in the system of English vowels.

The following 20 vowel phonemes are distinguished in BBC English (RP): [i:, a:, o:, u:, з:, i, e, æ, σ, υ, л(типа крышка домика), ə; ei, ai, oi, аυ, eυ, υə, iə].

Principles of classification provide the basis for the establishment of the following distinctive oppositions:

1. Stability of articulation

1.1. monophthongs vs. diphthongs

bit - bait, kit - kite, John - join, debt — doubt

1.2. diphthongs vs. diphthongoids

bile - bee, boat — boot, raid - rude

2. Position of the tongue

2.1. horizontal movement of the tongue

a) front vs. central

cab — curb, bedbird

b) back vs. central

pull – pearl, cart - curl, call - curl

2.2. vertical movement of the tongue

a) close (high) vs. mid-open (mid)
bidbird, week - work

b) open (low) vs. mid-open (mid)
lark - lurk, call — curl, bard-bird

3. Position of the lips rounded vs. unrounded don — darn, pot - part




Transcription is a set of symbols representing speech sounds. The symbolization of sounds naturally differs according to whether the aim is to indicate the phoneme, i.e. a functional unit as a whole, or to reflect the modifications of its allophones as well.

The International Phonetic Association (IPA) has given an accepted inventory of symbols, used in different types of transcription.

The first type of notation, the broad or phonemic transcription, provides special symbols for all the phonemes of a language. The second type, the narrow or allophonic transcription, suggests special symbols for speech sounds, representing particular allophonic features. The broad transcription is mainly used for practical purposes (in EFL teaching and learning, for example), the narrow type serves the purposes of research work.

The striking difference among present-day broad transcriptions of British English is mainly due to the varying significance which is attached to vowel quality and quantity.

Two kinds of broad transcription which are used for practical purposes in our country:

1. The first type was introduced by D. Jones.He aimed at reducing the number of symbols to a minimum and strongly insisted that certain conventions should be stated once for all. Phonetic transcription is a good basis for teaching the pronunciation of a foreign language, being a powerful visual aid. To achieve good results it is necessary that the learners of English should associate each relevant difference between the phonemes with special symbols, i. e. each phoneme should have a special symbol.

2. The other type of broad transcription, first used by V. A. Vasilyev, causes no phonological misunderstanding providing special symbols for all vowel phonemes Being a good visual aid this way of notation can be strongly recommended for teaching the pronunciation of English to any audience.

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