Phonetic and Phonemic Change

Languages are possible to change such as possibility in phonetic and phonemic change. The physical facts of the sounds of the language is called a phonetic while the way that those sounds are related to each other for speakers of particular language is called a phonemic.  Phonetic and phonemic changes are possible to change synchronically and diachronically. There are three possibilities that proposed in An Introduction to Historical Linguistics book, they are phonetic change without phonemic change, phonetic change with phonemic change, and phonemic change without phonetic change. In this essay, I would focus on phonetic change with phonemic change. I will explain about the three types of phonemic changes and give some examples.

The first type of phonemic changes is phonemic loss. Phonemic loss occur when a phoneme vanish all in all between different stages of language.  The instance is the disappearance of velar nasal from the phoneme record of Motu. Partial loss of phonemic loss occurs when we find that only some of phonemes are lost while others are retained, such as the loss of final consonant in Fijian. Complete loss of phonemic loss occurs when all the phonemes are lost.

The second type is phonemic addition which occurs when a phoneme is inserted in a word, in a position in which that phoneme did not originally occur. For example, the word /ra/ : [ra] – [era] ‘stomach’ in Mpakwithi language of northern Queensland. In that word, there is a phonemic addition ‘e’.

The third type is rephonemicisation that is the creation of a new pattern of oppositions in a language by simply changing around some of existing phonemes, or by changing some of the existing phonemes into completely new phonemes.  There are some kinds of rephonemicisation, those are shift, merger, and split.  Shift occurs when two words that were distinguished in the daughter language, but the distinction the two words is marked by a different pair of sounds. Merger is the process by which two separate phonemes end up as a single phoneme.  It becomes homophones or homonyms. For instance, the word ‘sanksi’ (punishment) and ‘sangsi’ (hesitate) in Indonesian.  Split is the process by which the same phoneme ends up having different phonemes or the opposite effect of phonemic merger.

All in all, language changes overtime. The changes can be occurred in phonemic and phonetic change. The phonetic and phonemic changes are possible to occur synchronically and diachronically.


Crowley, Terry. 1997. An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. Oxford University Press: Australia.


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