• Phonetics -- What are the sounds? How are they made in the mouth? • Phonology -- How do sounds combine? How are they memorized? Speaker's Mind → Speaker's Mouth → Listener's Ear → Listener's Mind We will write rules to connect the Mind and Mouth.
The amazing discovery is that people systematically ignore certain properties of sounds. They perceive two different sounds as the same sound. We call the stored versions of speech sounds phonemes. Thus phonemes are the phonetic alphabet of the mind. That is, phonemes are how we mentally represent speech; how we store the sounds of words in our memory. Though the phonetic alphabet is universal (we can write down the speech sounds actually uttered in any language), the phonemic alphabet varies from language to language. For example, English has no memorized front rounded vowels like German or French, and French has no [θ]. This leads to seeming contradictions when we consider both actual productions of speech sounds as well as their memorized representations. English has no memorized nasal vowels, but English speakers do make nasalized vowels when vowels and nasal consonants come together in speech. The changes between memory and pronunciation are what we will be discovering in this section of the course
How do we find out what's in someone's mind?
How do we figure out how people store the sounds of words in their memories? One trick that we can use is to look for minimal pairs of words. A minimal pair is a pair of words that have different meanings and which differ in only one sound. Since the difference between the two sounds is meaningful, the words must be stored differently in memory. Since the words differ in only one sound, this difference must be stored in memory. Thus the difference in sounds is significant, and so the two sounds must both be phonemes. Here is an example from English:
• [sɪp] and [zɪp]
These two words aredifferent words of English. But they differ only in their initial sound. Therefore, the [s]/[z] difference is significant for English speakers. Therefore both [s] and [z] are stored in the memory. Thus, [s] and [z] are part of the English mental alphabet. We notate elements in the memory by putting them in-between slashes / /. In this case /s/ and /z/ are part of an English speaker's alphabet for memorizing words. Another example from English:
• [ræm] and [ræn] and [ræŋ]
These three words are all distinct words of English. Therefore, the speech sounds (in the mouth) [m], [n] and [ŋ] are all significant to the mind. And therefore, English includes the phonemes /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/. Sometimes it isn't possible to find minimal pairs for all words. But speakers can also tell when a contrast would yield a distinct possible word, even if this is not an actual word. The phonetic context (or frame) [b_t] can be used to find minimal pairs for many English vowels: • [bit] ("beat") /i/
• [bɪt] ("bit") /ɪ/
• [bet] ("bait") /e/
• [bɛt] ("bet") /ɛ/
• [bæt] ("bat") /æ/
• [but] ("boot") /u/
• [bot] ("boat") /o/
• [bɔt] ("bought") /ɔ/ (You may have [ɑ] here.)
• [bʌt] ("but") /ʌ/
This minimal set establishes all these vowels as mentally distinct, and therefore phonemic. Near minimal cases can be found for the other two vowels:
• [pʊt] ("put") /ʊ/
• [pɑt] ("pot") /ɑ/
And additional minimal pairs can be constructed to justify all 11 vowels, pair by pair as necessary. Since other minimal pairs can be found ([lʊk] "look" versus [luk] "Luke"), ([kɑt] "cot" versus [kɔt] "caught"), these vowels are also mentally significant, and are therefore phonemes.