What is Phonology?

According, to Bloomfield phonology is the organization of sounds into patterns. In order to fulfill the communicative functions, languages organize, their material, the vocal noises, into recurrent bits and pieces arranged in sound patterns. It is the study of this formal organization of languages which is known as phonology.

What is sound? How and where is it produced from? How is it received by the ears? How and why is one sound different from the other?—question like these are the subject-matter of Phonology.

The difference between phonetics and phonology

The difference between phonetics and phonology is that of generality and particularity. Whereas phonetics is the science of speech sounds, their production, transmission and reception and the signs to represent them in general with no particular reference to any one language, phonology is the study of vocal sounds and sound changes, phonemes and their variants in a particular language. If phonetics can be likened to a world, phonology is a country. Phonetics is one and the same for all the languages of the world, but the phonology of one language will differ from the phonology of another. According to John Lyon, “Phonetics differs from phonology…. in that it considers speech sounds independently of their paradigmatic opposition and syntagmatic combinations in particular languages,” and that phonology is the level at which the linguist describes the sounds of a particular language (New Horizons in Linguistics, 1972:21).

The subject-matter of phonology is the selected phonetic material from the total resources available to human beings from phonetics. The human vocal system can produce a very large number of different speech sounds. Members of a particular speech community speaking that particular language, however, use only a limited number of these sounds. Every language makes its own selection of sounds and organizes them into characteristic patterns. This selection of sounds and their arrangement into patterns constitute the phonology of the language.

To quote Robins, “Phonetics and phonology are both concerned with the same subject-matter or aspect of language, speech sounds, as the audible result of articulation, but they are concerned with them from different points of view. Phonetics is general (that is, concerned with speech sounds as such without reference to their function in a particular language), descriptive and classificatory: phonology is particular (having a particular language or languages in view) and functional (concerned with working or functioning of speech in a language or languages). Phonology has in fact been called functional phonetics.” (General Linguistics, 1967: 127)