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K2-1 Phonemes

Page history last edited by roy williams 1 year, 8 months ago


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Phonemes are, first of all, just sound elements, in a phonetic system of differences (which varies according to which language your are speaking). The full set is absolutely limited by the range of speech sounds that humans can make when speaking, and contextually limited by the selection of those sounds that are used in a particular language.  


However, this basic level of semiotics functions across a number of 'systems of difference'. Apart from sounds made, in speech - by the human larynx, it is very similar to systems of difference such as the gestures of deaf signing (and it's many variations), or systems of difference of colours - applied for instance in traffic lights, or basic element of graphics, like the now internationally adopted system of traffic signs. 


It's important to understand that the set of phonemes is finite, and the selection of phonemes used in a particular language is in one sense arbitrary (other phonemes could have been used too), as well as being conventional - the use of phonemes is, in practice, limited by the agreement (in practice) of the users of a particular language (with possible variations in dialect). 


Phonemes, or combinations of phonemes, (or their equivalents in other systems of difference) form the basis of signifiers, within a community of users (for instance, of a language). 



Phonemes are the 'template', the 'collective meme' for signifiers. The basic definition of a signifier is something that 'stands in place of' the most basic element of a system of difference, such as the sounds of speech (e.g. 'a').  But in other systems of difference (see the gestures of deaf signing, or the colours of traffic lights, above), many other basic elements, in many other systems of difference, are used. For instance,  gestures, graphics, musical scales, elements of buildings and architecture, brush strokes in traditional pictorial art, etc, can all function as signifiers, or components of signifiers.  Each type of signifiers is a 'conceptual template' / a useful example, of how one can think about 'signifiers'. 



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