Phonology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the systematic organization of sounds in languages. It has traditionally focused largely on study of the systems of phonemes in particular languages, but it may also cover any linguistic analysis either at a level beneath the word (including syllable, onset and rhyme, articulatory gestures, articulatory features, mora, etc.) or at all levels of language where sound is considered to be structured for conveying linguistic meaning. Phonology also includes the study of equivalent organizational systems in sign languages.
With approximately 25 phonemes, the German consonant system exhibits an average number of consonants in comparison with other languages. One of the more noteworthy ones is the unusual affricate In the northern varieties, [ʔ] occurs before word stems with initial vowel. It is not considered a phoneme, but an optional boundary mark of word stems. ^2a The phonemic status of affricates is controversial. The majority view accepts /p͡f/ and /t͡s/, but not /t͡ʃ/ or the non-native /d͡ʒ/; some accept none, some accept all, and some accept all as well as other clusters such as /ps/. ^2 [d͡ʒ] and [ʒ] occur only in words of foreign origin. In certain varieties, they are replaced by [t͡ʃ] and [ʃ] altogether. ^3 [ʋ] is occasionally considered to be an allophone of [v], especially in Southern varieties of German. ^4 [ç] and [x] are traditionally regarded as allophones after front vowels and back vowels. For a more detailed analysis see below at ich-Laut and ach-Laut. According to some analyses, [χ] is an allophone of /x/ after /a aː/ and according to some also after /ʊ ɔ a͡ʊ/. ^5 [r], [ʁ] and [ʀ] are in free variation with one another. [r] is used mainly in Bavarian and Franconian varieties. Elsewhere, it is either not used at all or a recessive feature often confined to the elderly rural population. (See map at right.) In the syllable coda, the allophone [ɐ] is...
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