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Phonology (adjective, phonological) is the study of the sounds of a language, their patterns, and their representations in the minds of speakers. The term may also be used to refer to the sum of the phonological components of a language. Phonology generally refers to spoken languages, but many argue that the units of signed languages are cognitively equivalent.

This field of study is generally the starting point to conlangs, and many attempts by conlangers never get past this part.

See also phonetics, the study of human speech sounds in general.

Phones and phonemes

Linguists divide the sounds used in languages into phones and phonemes. Phones are the physical sounds rendered by the mouth (or equivalent speech-organ in non-human conlangs.) Phonemes are cognitive abstractions of sounds, being the smallest quantifiable aspect of a language, but carries no semantic meaning. Phonemes are a group of sounds that, to the psychology of the listener, are perceived to be the same sound, whether the phones themselves are different.

The detail of phones is given in phonetic transcription, marked with square brackets, [ ]. The detail of phonemes are given in phonemic transcription, marked with forward slashes, / /.


Phonotactics govern the rules concerning how phonemes combine to create morphemes, which are the smallest divisible semantic unit in a language. Phonotactics are described by onset, the sounds allowable at the beginning of the morpheme; the nucleus, or core vowel; and the coda, the sounds allowable after the nucleus. The nucleus and coda are combined into a rime (also spelled rhyme).

Within phonotactics, sonority hierarchy is determined, which is the order of precedence with sounds. This governs segments, or clusters, and can also lead into assimilation rules.

Stress and prosody

Stress and prosody, a system of suprasegmental phonology, is a system within a language where syllables within a word may have a different level of volume, tone, or pitch, all depending on the language's mechanics.


Morphonology is the study of the phonological structures of morphemes, the modifications of phones when morphemes are put together, and the the study of alternative series which serve a morphological feature.

In conlanging

Phonology is generally the initial stage of development in conlangs, in which the creator selects the phonemes that appear in the language. Though, this being the initial stage is not always true, but it is difficult to create morphemes or inflectional paradigms without some sketch of phonology, except in the most abstract sense of interlinear glosses.

A beginner's mistake is to show off a language with just a phonological sketch with very details beyond it, and while the author is enthusiastic for input, the conversation revolves around the phonology only. The author, as a result, becomes disheartened. The author has yet to realize there is much discussion involving syntax and morphology.