14.1 Phonetic & Phonological Analysis: What is segmental and parametric analysis?

Chapter 14

14.1 Discuss the phonemenon of segmental and parametric analysis

Segmental and parametric analysis


Parametric forms and phonological forms have much in common. In generative

phonology the phonetic form is considered the output of the input of phonological forms.

E.g. /e/ the phonetic form of this sound is dependent / determined by the phonological

context. E.g. in bell it is [ε] or [e], in pen it is [e](nasalized). There is therefore a

distinction between two things – segments, processes.

Segmental Analysis

Segments are the unique/ single sounds produced during an articulation. The articulation can be 

a) a single articulation

b) a co-articulation double, secondary.

c) Homorganic articulation.

Segmental analysis deals with the analysis of the speech sounds in terms of segments. It deals with the Articulation of the segments, the dimensions involved (i.e. the air stream), the vocal tract area, the vocal organs and the type of articulation (i.e. single articulation, co-articulation, homorganic articulation).

Therefore, segmental analysis describes the sound segments without necessarily looking at their – function in specific language. This analysis is essential because it enables linguists to isolate individual sounds for detailed study. Speech is more or less a continuous flow of energy that has peaks and troughs of the energy movement. This flow can be converted into a series of separate segments that can be – perceived or articulated.

The pre-supposition is that it is possible to:

a) tell where each segment begins and ends

b) there are indeed unique segments

i.e. the consonants and vowels of various kinds.

In segmental analysis any sound can be identified as a ‘stable state of the articulatory mechanism’(Clark yallop 1990:95). The stable state includes all the articulatory settings that best characterize the sound in question.

The stable state is referred to as the TARGET. Vowels and fricatives can be produced in isolation and they can be prolonged indefinitely e.g. /i/, /e/ /u/, /f/ /s/ /∫ /

For these sounds it is possible to speak of a genuinely stable state. Flaps/ taps, trills and stops are dynamic or transient in their articulation. These sounds are thus identified only by motional targets that relate to characteristic articulatory properties. The concept of target is important in phonetics as it is used to justify segments. The concept provides a useful point of reference of how speech sounds are actually articulated by speakers. In speech however, these sounds are modified variously. The concept, therefore, should be seen to point beyond itself to assumptions about the organization of speech.

 Metrical analysis

Relates to measurements. This form of analysis gives speech a plus or minus value of a phonetic/ phonological feature.

Looking at individual sounds is artificially cutting up the speech continuum into series of segmental sounds. However, some phonetic and phonological phenomena are characteristic of the relations sounds have with each other. The stretches that are greater than the segments. Such features are called the prosodies or suprasegmentals. They are related to three basic components of speech

  1. initiation
  2. phonation
  3. articulation
  4. prosodic/ suprasegmental features

Types of phonation or production of sound.

  • Voiced and creak
  • Voiceless and whisper

The other units above the single segment are important/ significant in stating phonological generalization e.g. arrangements or tactic behavior of phonological units.

Organization and distribution of segments is language specific. However the segments are arranged to give the following syllable structures

  • V Zero onset
  • CV onset
  • VC termination
  • CVC onset and termination



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