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From phono- (prefix denoting sound) +‎ -logy (suffix denoting a branch of learning, or a study of a particular subject).[1]





phonology (countable and uncountable, plural phonologies) (linguistics)

  1. (uncountable) The study of the way sounds function in languages, including accent, intonation, phonemes, stress, and syllable structure, and which sounds are distinctive units within a language; (countable) the way sounds function within a given language; a phonological system. [from late 18th c.]
    Synonyms: orthoepy, (dated) soundlore
    • 1798 August, Edmund Fry, Prospectus of a New Work, Entitled Pantographia; [...], [London]: [s.n.], →OCLC, title page:
      Prospectus of a new work, entitled Pantographia: Containing accurate copies of all the known alphabets in the world. Together with an English explanation of the peculiar force of each letter: To which will be added specimens of all well-authenticated oral languages, Forming a comprehensive Digest of phonology.
    • 1854 March, “Notes of the Month”, in Sylvanus Urban [pseudonym], editor, The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, volume XLI (New Series), London: John Bowyer Nichols and Sons, →OCLC, page 281, column 2:
      The advantages of such a system [of a universal alphabet], both scientific and practical, were urged, the former in connection with the study of ethnology and philology, and the latter chiefly in connection with the great Protestant missionary enterprises of the present time. Professor [Karl Richard] Lepsius and Dr. Max Müller have devoted much time to the subject, founding their phonology on the physiological principles ably expounded by Dr. Johannes Müller, and published in the Transactions of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin.
    • 1856, J[ames] R[ichardson] Logan, “The Maruwi of the Baniak Islands”, in J. R. Logan, editor, The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, volume XLI (New Series), number 1, Singapore: [] [F]or the editor by Jacob Baptist, →OCLC, page 16:
      The Achean, the ancient Malayu and other mixed phonologies possessing a considerable degree of harshness, were thus formed.
    • 1879 October, R[obert] H[olford] M[acdowall] Bosanquet, “XXXV. On the Present State of Experimental Acoustics, with Suggestions for the Arrangement of an Acoustic Laboratory, and a Sketch of Research.”, in Robert Kane, William Thomson, William Francis, editors, The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, volume VIII (Fifth Series), number 49, London: Taylor and Francis, []; sold by Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer;  [], →OCLC, page 301:
      The most interesting applications of the phonograph, however, are to the analysis of speech. [] [T]he point in which the proposed arrangements will be of most value is in the analysis of the inflections of speech, or the rapid variations of pitch which occur continually. This analysis is of the highest importance for phonology, as the inflections are undoubtedly among the principal characteristics of dialects.
    • 1997, Nikolaus Ritt, “Mutation, Variation and Selection in Phonological Evolution: A Sketch Based on the Case of Late Middle English a > au/_l{C/#}”, in Jacek Fisiak, editor, Studies in Middle English Linguistics (Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs; 103), Berlin; New York, N.Y.: Mouton de Gruyter, →ISBN, page 545:
      Crucially, the neat separateness of phonologies which my account seems to imply is an abstraction and does not mean that the phonologies represented different regional or social dialects.
    • 2000, Wallace L. Chafe, “The Ordering of Phonological Rules”, in Charles W. Kreidler, editor, Phonology: Critical Concepts, volume IV (From Rules to Constraints), London; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, page 219:
      Thus, underlying 'agtus' was converted first into 'āgtus' by the vowel lengthening rule, and then into 'āktus' by the ancient persistent rule. This example has previously been interpreted as indicating that new rules can enter a phonology elsewhere than at depth I.
  2. (by extension, uncountable) The study of the way components of signs function in a sign language, and which components are distinctive units within the language; (countable) the way components of signs function within a given sign language.
    • 1995, David F. Armstrong, William C[larence] Stokoe, Sherman E. Wilcox, “The Universe of Gesture”, in Gesture and the Nature of Language, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, published 1996, →ISBN, page 21:
      Sign language linguists have produced many volumes of description of the phonology and morphology of signs and the syntax of sign languages.
    • 1999, Rachel Sutton-Spence, Bencie Woll, “The Structure of Gestures and Signs”, in The Linguistics of British Sign Language: An Introduction, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, published 2003, →ISBN, page 154:
      The term ‘phonology’ may seem odd in the context of sign linguistics, since the word has as its root phon – the Greek word for ‘sound’. [] However, sign linguists now prefer the term phonology to emphasise that the same level of structure exists in sign language and spoken language, despite the differences in modality. The study of sign phonology began with the work of William Stokoe, the American founder of sign linguistics.
    • 2014, Gerald P. Berent, “Sign Language–Spoken Language Bilingualism and the Derivation of Bimodally Mixed Sentences”, in Tej K. Bhatia, William C. Ritchie, editors, The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism (Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics), 2nd edition, Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, →ISBN, part II (Neurological and Psychological Aspects of Bilingualism and Multilingualism), page 352:
      [A]s with spoken languages, sign language phonologies are built from a repertoire of distinctive features that are assembled following principled combinatorial constraints. [] ASL [American Sign Language] linguistic properties / a. A phonology based on hand shape, orientation of the hands, the location and movement of the hands within the signing space, and contact of the hands with each other and the body.



Derived terms



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See also



  1. ^ phonology, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023; phonology, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading