Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Phonemes and Symbols

  • Jason Brown
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3302-1



Phonemes are the basic building blocks of speech sounds, which are symbolic in nature.


Phonemes are perhaps the most intuitive of the units that constitute the speech sounds of language: They are essentially the consonants and vowels that most people are familiar with. Besides being a product of vocalized speech, current phonological theory views phonemes as abstract mental representations of sounds. Linguistic overviews of the phoneme can be found in classic works such as Sapir (1925), Swadesh (1934), Twaddell (1935), Jones (1967), and a comprehensive modern overview is found in Dresher (2011).

Signs and Phonemes

The modern disciplines of semiotics and linguistics have their roots in Saussure’s “Course in General Linguistics” (Saussure 1972). This important work introduced the notion of the linguistic sign. This idea has given rise to two important concepts that will be explored here: symbols and phonemes. These concepts...


Soft Palate Vocal Tract Speech Sound Phonological Theory Minimal Pair 
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© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of ArtsUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand