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Descriptive grammar - theory

1)PHONOLOGY studies the principles that govern the way sounds are organized in languages and explains the variations that occur; studies the way in which a lanugage’s speakers systematically use a selection of sounds to express meaning. It is also a description of the systems and patterns of speech sounds in a lg; concerned with the abstract or mental aspect of the sounds in lg. Ph is concerned with the abstract set of sounds in a lg which allows us to distinguish meaning in the actual physical sounds we say and hear.

PHONETICS is the study of how speech sounds are made, transmitted, and received. It is a subject that requires as its source of data a human being with an intact auditory mechanism and a functioning set of vocal organs. Phonetics is the study of all possible speech sounds.

2)CONSONANTS – sounds made by a closure or narrowing in the vocal tract so that the airflow is either completely blocked or so restricted that audible function is produced.

Each consonant can be distinguished by several features:

·The manner of articulation is the method that the consonant is articulated, such as nasal, stop, or approximant.

·The place of articulation is where in the vocal tract the articulators of the consonant act, such as bilabial, alveolar, or velar.

·The phonation method of a consonant is whether or not the vocal cords are vibrating during articulation of a consonant. When the vocal cords are vibrating, the consonant is voiced; when they're not, it's voiceless.

·Aspiration is also a feature of phonation.

·The airstream mechanism is how the air moves through the vocal tract during articulation. Most languages have exclusively pulmonic egressive consonants, but ejectives, clicks, and implosives use different mechanisms.

·All English consonants can be classified by a combination of these, such as "voiceless alveolar stop consonant" [t]. In this case, the airstream mechanism is omitted.

Consonant clusters- CCVCC- max amount of consonants at the beginning –3 and at the end –4 (CCCVCCCC)



PLOSIVE – a complete closure is made somewhere in the vocal tract and the soft palate is also raised. Air pressure increases behind the closure and is then released explosively eg p and b

AFFRICATE a complete closure is made somewhere in the mouth and the soft palate is raised. Air pressure increases behind the closure, and is then released more slowly than plosives, eg tsz and dΏ

FRICATIVE when two vocal organs come close enough together for the movement of air between to be heard, eg f and v

NASAL a closure is made by the lips or by the tongue against the palate, the soft palate is lowered and air escapes through the nose eg m and n

LATERAL a partial closure is made by the blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge. Air is able to flow around the sides of the tongue eg l

APPROXIMANT – vocal organs come near to each other, but not so close as to cause audible friction eg r and w


BILABIAL – using closing movement of both lips eg p and m

LABIO-DENTAL – using the lower lip and the upper teeth, eg f and v

ALVEOLAR – the blade of the tongue is used close to the alveolar ridge, eg t and s

PALATO-ALVEOLAR – the blade or tip of the tongue is used just behind the alveolar ridge eg tsz and dΏ

PALATAL – the front of the tongue is raised close to the palate, eg j

VELAR the back of the tongue is used against the soft palate, eg k and nn

GLOTTAL – the gap between the vocal cords is used to make audible friction eg h

4)VOWEL – sound made without a closure or narrowing which means that air escapes evenly over the centre of the tongue. Phonologically they function at the centre of syllables (nucleous).

• Short vowels:

sit ten pat cup got put another

i e & ^ o u

• Long vowels:

see father born boon bird

i: a: o: u: 3:

5)Phone – is the smallest, perceptible, discrete segment of sound in a stream of speech;

6)Phoneme – the smallest meaning distinguishing segment in the sound system of a language;

7)Allophones of the phoneme – variations form a set of phones

8)PHONOTACTICS are definite patterns of the types of sound combinations permitted in a lg – no lig or vig. Forms like fsyg or rnyg do not exist or are unlikely to exist – they violate constraints on the sequence or position of English phonemes.

9)Aspiration – the puff of air; additional burst of air after p, t, k only in stressed syllables. Aspiration can be described in terms of phonation, it is prolouged period of voicelessness.

Phoneme /t/

Allophones: star [ t ]

tar [ th ]

writer [schwa]

eight [ t ]

10)Minimal pairs – two words identical in form except for a contrast in one phoneme, occuring in the same position, e.g. pat-bat, fan-van, bet-bat, site-side;

11)Minimal set – a group of words which can be differentiated, each one from the others, by changing one phoneme e.g. 1)based on the vowel phonemes: feat-fit, fat-fate, fought-foot 2)based on consonants: big-pig, rig-fig, dig-wig;

12)Accent- syllables which stand out from the remainder are accented. The accentual pattern of English words is fixed - the main accent always falls on a particular syllable of any given word, but free – main accent is not tied to any particular syllable(like in Polish- the pultimate (przed ostatnia), Czech-first, French- last).

Pitch, loudness, quality, quantity help to render a syllable more prominent:

a)Pitch change – main, falling intonation

N- insult /’ins lt/ V- insult /in’s lt/

N- conduct V- conduct

N- contract V- contract

N- contrast V- contrast

N- desert V- desert

N- escort V- escort

N- export V- export

N- import V- import

N- object V- object

N- permit V- permit

N- present V- present

N- produce V- produce

N- protest V- protest

N- rebel V- rebel

N- record V- record

N- subject V- subject

b) Loudness – more effort in pronouncing stressed syllable

c) Quantity & Quality – due to the vowel in the syllable

Long vowels and diphtongs are more prominent; Short vowels in unaccented syllables /i, u, ∂/ are the least prominent and reduced.

Four degrees of prominence:

* Primary accent /’/, marked by the last major pitch change in th syllable

* Secondary accent, marked by a non-final pitch change in the word (is stronger in Amercan English)

* Tertiary accent, minor prominence produced by the occurence of a full vowel but containing no pitch change

* Non-prominent syllable containing no pitch change and one of the three vowels /i, u, ∂/.

Word Accentual Patterns:

The status of the final syllable as strong or weekgoverns primary accent placement.

* Strong syllable- containing a lon vowel or diphtong or a short vowel plus two consonants.

* Weak syllable- a short vowel plus one consonant.


a) if final syllable is STRONG than it is accented







b) the accent falls on penultimate syllable











a) final STRONG accented




b) final syllable is WEAK

* penultimate



* antepenultimate







a) final STRONG – optionally accented




b) final WEAK

* penultimate





* antepenultimate







Mutual exclusiveness of a pair of sounds in a certain phonetic environment i.e. voiceless allophone of /l/ occurs after initial /s/ (sleep), the voiced allophone is excluded, conversely [l] is used initially when no /s/ precedes; [l] and [³] are in complementary distribution.

FREE VARIATION – substitutability of one sound for another in a given environment with no change in meaning ‘sit’ final /t/ unreleased or released plosive; careful vs. casual speech. If the sounds do occur in the same place in a word, then they can belong to the same phoneme only if they do not change in the meaning of the word.

13)PHONETIC SIMILARITY – to belong to the same phoneme sounds ought to display a reasonamble amount of physical similarity; it is possible to find sounds in complementary distribution that are not phonetically similar [h] a voiceless glottal fricative and [nn] a voiced nasal continuant.

14)PHONOLOGICAL PROCESSES The process of making one sound almost at the same time as the next is called co-articulation. There are two processes which have this feature. The first one is assimilation. In this process two phonemes occur in sequence and some aspect of one phoneme is taken by the other one. Phonological processes can have drastic results in some environments leading to a complete dropping of a sound in a given context. This process, called deletion (or ellision). It may affect vowels and then we talk about vowel ellision or consonants (consonant elision). Another very interesting phonological processes, known as dissimilations make two sounds less alike with respect to some feature. Another phonological processes are insertions. They add a sound, for example between a nasal and a voiceless fricative, a voiceless stop with the same point of articulation as the nasal is inserted. Flapping, as the other processes which will be later described, may apply or not apply in individual’s speech. Such processes are called optional. Another optional process is alveolar assimiliaton. It takes on the same point of articulation as a following stop. Next process is named h-deletion. As it’s easy to guess from its name in this process /h/ is deleted in unstressed syllables. There is also a process named glottal stop insertion. In this situation /?/ is optionally inserted before a stressed vowel at the beginning of a word. Example of obligatory processes is vowel nasalization. This process makes a vowel becoming nasalized before a nasal sound, Next obligatory process is aspiration. In this process a voiceless stop becomes aspirated when it is the first sound in a stressed syllable, e.g. a word top /tap/ becomes /thap/. Another process, in which a vowel becomes long before a voiced consonant, is vowel lengthening.


Prosody – variation in auditory phonetic features such as 1. Pitch 2. Loudness 3. Tempo 4. Rhythm

- Pitch – a sound may be ordered on a scale from ‘low’ to ‘high’ = acoustic feature of frequency. The linguistic use of pitch is studied under the heading of INTONATION and TONE.

- Loudness (volume) – from ‘soft’ to ‘loud’ = acoustic intensity (measured in decibels). In linguistics under the heading of STRESS – the degree of force used in producing a syllable. Stressed syllables are more prominent (transcription – raised vertical line [‘]; ‘emphasis’, ‘strength’).

- Tempo – speed of speaking rate

- Rhythm – perceived regularity of prominent units in speech (poetry, metrical units)

- Intonation

change of pitch

high -> low = falling intonation

low -> high = rising intonation

Wh-questions have falling intonation

Yes. No. Guestionss have rising intonation

- Tone units/groups are distinguished. Term used in the study of intonation. It refers to sequence of pitches or tones in an utterance. Is more or less equal, coressponds to a clause or sentence. Essential part in a tone group is NUCLEUS or TONIC SYLLABLE, syllable which is accented and where the major pitch change happens (nucleus may be preceeded by the head). The structure of the tone-unit: the pre-head – all the unstressed syllables in a tone-unit preceding the first stressed syllable; the head – all that extends from the first stressed syllable up to (but not including) the tonic syllable; the tail – syllables following the nuclea tone.

-> stress-timed languages (English) – only the vowels in stressed syllables are pronounced fully and vowels in unstressed syllables are reduced rythm -> syllable-timed languages (Polish) – vowels in unaccented syllables are pronounced fully, without shortening rythm. - STRESS – the degree of force used in producing a syllable. Stressed syllables are more prominent, they are described in transcription with this singn [‘]. Stressed syllables occur at regular intervals of time, regardless of the number of unstressed syllables – English.

INTONATION – change of pitch high->low – falling intonation, low->high – rising intonation. Wh questions have falling intonation, Yes/no questions have rising intonation

VOICE ONSET TIME (VOT) –explains the phonemon in aspiration (additional burst of air after p, t, k only in stressed syllables). VOT – the moment at which the voicing starts relative to the release of a closure. We have 5 different possibilities:

1) fully voiced stop/plosive [b]

- vocal folds are together -> vibrating

2) partially voiced stop [b] [b]

-vocal folds closly together, apart for a short moment of not vibrating

3) voiceless unaspirated stop [p] [b]

4) slightly aspirated stop [p] [ph]

- period of voicelessness is proloneged (aspiration) very short period

5) fully aspirated stop [ph]

- aspiration! (voice onset time)

16. MORPHOLOGY is the study of word forms.

MORPHEMES – minimal units of meaning or grammatical function. We divide them into FREE (divided into LEXICAL AND FUNCTIONAL) and BOUND (AFFIXES (PREFIXES AND SUFFIXES), CONTRACTED FORMS, BOUND BASE).


BORROWINGS – sofa – Arabic, piano – Italic, zebra – Bantu, pretzel – German

LOAN TRANSLATIONS – sky scraper – wolkenkratzer, superman – ubermensch

DERIVATION – affixing – number of affixes is limited pure+ify un+kind

COMPOUNDING – joining two words to produce a single word blue+bird, sky+blue

CONVERSION – functional shift – category change ink (noun)->ink (verb) run->run

COINAGE – totally new terms, e.g. product names aspirin, nylon, Teflon, xerox

BLENDING – beginning of one word plus the end of the other smog – smoke+fog

CLIPPING – longer words are shortened fax-faximily, gas-gasoline fan-fanatic

BACKFORMATION – special type of reduction e.g. noun is reduced do form a verb television – televise, burglar-burgle

FOLK ETIMOLOGY – history of words – morphological misanalysis pease->pea cherries->cherry

ACRONYMS – initial sounds or letters of words are united into a word NATO



PRESCRIPTIVE GRAMMAR is equal to traditional. It means laying down or prescribing of normative rules for effective language usage. Prescriptive approach is the view of grammar as a set of rules for the proper use of a language.

DESCRIPTIVE GRAMMAR – is the opposite of prescriptive. In this approach linguist analyses samples of language they are interested in and then tries to describe regular structures of a language without evaluating judgments. It is collecting data and describing, without evaluation.