The relationship between sounds is studied under the title of phonology.


In phonetics, we study how the speech sounds are articulated but we are concerned  about in how many ways the same sound can be articulated. Let’s take the word “Hello”. There can millions different ways to utter the same word. It depends upon the physical and psychological state of the speaker. The same word uttered by a six feet heavy weight male may sound quite different from the one uttered by a small child. Similarly in anger and happiness we say the same word quite differently. The study of such kind of relationship between sounds is called phonology.


It is the smallest contrastive sound can produce different meaning. So the concept of phoneme does not depend on the alphabets of a language. Rather it is concerned with the change of meaning.

Example: The word “sheep” has five alphabets. But it has only three phonemes. Let’s see how. We need to find the smallest sound change that would change the meaning of the word.
Step 1:  Sheep, Sheet. Here the replacing p with t changes the meaning. so T is a phoneme.
Step 2: Sheep, Shape, Shop. Here changing the inner vowel chages meaning. so “ee”  is a phoneme.
Step 3. Beep, Sheep, Jeep. Changing the first sound changes the meaning. So sh is phoneme.

In short, the smallest possible sound change that creates a new meaning for a word would be termed as phoneme.


Phone is a small sound change that does not change the meaning of a word. It is when we pronounce the same word in different accents and ways.

Example: Note the t sound in tar and star. If you put the back of your hand in front of your mouth, you will feel a slight puff of air in case of tar. so in tar, the t sound is articulated with little aspiration and at it is written as [tʰ]. Whereas the same t letter is in “star” is not pronounced with aspiration. No if do not use aspiration in tar or if we use aspiration in star, we would be making different sounds but the meaning would remain the same. So these different sounds are called phones.


When we have a set of phones for a phoneme, we call them allophones of that phoneme. For instance [t] and [tʰ] are allphones for the phoneme /t/.

Nasalization in English does not produce different phoneme as the meaning does not change. Take the words “seed” and “seen”. the sound in “see” in “seen” is nasalized as “see’n” due to following. But if we pronounce the “see” in “seen” just like we do in “seen”, the meaning would not change. So here simple “see” and nasalized “see” are allphones of the same phoneme /i/. The below picture further explains the concept of Allophones.


But the nasalization is treated as standalone phoneme in many languages like in Persian and Punjab. For instance in Punjabi the word “Gaa” means “sing” and the word “Gaa~n” means “Cow.” Because here the nasalization gave new meaning so it these are two different phonemes instead of being allophones of same phoneme.

Minimal Pair

When two words are have the same except one phoneme. They are called minimal pair.

Example: cat-bat, fav-van, side-site

Minimal set

When a set of words have the differ with each other only by phoneme. They are called minimal set.

Example: car, rat, hat, pat, sat or pig, big, dig, fig etc.


We can divide a word into syllables. The syllables have following rules.

  1. Every syllable must have at a vowel. In other words there is no syllable without a vowel.
  2. There are as may syllables in a word as there are vowels.

Examples: Dog – It is a single syllable as it has only one vowel. Zebra has two syllables Zeb – Ra as it has two vowels.

Parts of a syllable

We can divide any syllable into onset and rhyme. onset is composed of consonat(s) and rhyme is composed of nucleus and coda. The nucleus is composed of vowel and coda is again composed of consonant(s).

Parts of a syllable
Parts of a syllable

The most common syllables

The most common syllables in human languages have a consonant (C) before vowel (V) and they are represented as CV.

Open Syllables

Syllables which have onset and nucleus but no coda are called open syllables.

Example: me, to, no, so, she etc.

Closed Syllables

When the coda is present, the syllables are called closed syllables.

Examples: black (CCVC), egg (VCC) etc.

Consonant Clusters

Sometime more than one consonants can occur at onset or coda positions. They are called consonant clusters.

Examples: Consonant Clusters at onset, stop, strong, splash. Consonant cluster at coda position, post, host etc.

Coarticulation Effects

When we talk, we do not consciously speak word by word rather we speak the whole sentence hence moving one word to the next word without stopping. So out whole sentence makes a single sound when we talk in flow. You can feel it when you listen to the native speakers of the language that is quite alien to you. This coarticulation effects the sounds of individual words.


Its example is “I have to go” which is pronounced as [hæftə].


It is coarticulation effect when we do not deliberately pronounce a sound that is present. For example the phrase “You and me”. Its d sound is not articulated. It is not laziness rather it is efficiency as  we save the sound energy.

That’s it. Enjoy!