Phonology is the framework that is concerned with sound. In some areas, we will want to make precise comments about sounds used (e.g. in describing children’s speech or accents), but often in textual analysis, we’re looking at effects created by sound patterns.
It’s really important to think specifically about sounds (phonemes) rather than letters: I often see students claiming that, for example, there is alliteration in “crispy chocolate” when the sounds are clearly entirely different.
Key phonological terms:
- alliteration, assonance, rhyme
- puns using homophones or collocational clashes
- plosive sounds: pin, ball, ten, dog, car, girl
- fricative sounds: see, zoo, she, leisure, thin, though, fat, van
Ways to use phonological knowledge:
Analysis of texts – there may be phonological effects to comment on. Remember to use labels accurately, to provide evidence (a quotation) and to either explain the effect/purpose of each feature, or to connect it to context (mode, audience, purpose, genre).
Child language – detailed phonological knowledge is useful in explaining children’s early mispronunciations. You should also be comfortable with terms like “deletion”, “substitution”, “assimilation” and “cluster reduction”. You may also remember that plosives are the easiest consonants for toddlers to produce, and that approximants (yellow, red, welly, long) are usually the last to be mastered.
Variation – the more detailed you can be phonologically in describing accent features, the better. Clearly labelling replacement of the fricative in “the” with the plosive “de” is much better than simply stating “de” is used instead of “the” in Black British English. Knowledge of the IPA is not required, but it is rewarded. If, for example, you know the IPA symbols for the two ‘th’ sounds, so much the better. Next steps to learn would be the symbol for the ‘ng’ sound – useful in talking about Trudgill’s Norwich study – and the glottal stop. There is no need at all to attempt to learn the whole IPA (even as it applies to English) at this point – you will get a chart in any exam where it is needed.
All the frameworks material on this site will remain freely available here, but if you’d like to download most of it in one neat package*, to be read on a Kindle or in the Kindle app (which is free and works on PC, tablet or phone), it is available as an ebook for £2.50 on Amazon (or free on Kindle Unlimited) – see below.
*all the pages are there, but a few of them have been updated a bit since I put the book together.