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Phonology in The French Language

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French phonology can also be termed as the sounding system in French. The French language has its own rules which determine the mode of pronunciation of most of its words. These rules are determined by the nature of their words and vowel to vowel, consonant to consonant, vowel to consonant, and consonant to vowel combinations. Concerning the different soundings of the French language, this paper focuses on the Parisian or the standard French language which is known to many. The French language has common phonological features such as its uvular /r/, nasal vowels, and other processes such as the liaison. Considering the French language and its total of 37 sounds, the paper aims at breaking down French phonetics to make reading and pronunciation of the French language even easier.

Phonemic Inventory

In language, phonemic inventory refers to the set of speech sounds that are distinctive. The French language has its own phonemic inventory as well divided into various segments. The following is a list of the various segments in the phonemic inventory of the French language with their IPA transcription.

For vowels:

  •  Front Close /i/
  • iFront Close mid /e/
  • Near front near open /ae/
  • Back Close /u/
  • Back close mid /o/
  • Central close /ou/

These are the major vowels in the French language which can be easily pronounced with the right placement of the tongue to capture the desired pronunciation. There exists phenome for the vast list of French consonants as well which enhance the pronunciation process in the language. For consonants, the segments are further subdivided into additional semi-segments which provide the best intonation for all pronunciations.

The phenome inventory in the French language allows for individuals with difficulty in pronunciation pronounce better. Also, it advocates for an increased understanding of the language. Moreover, the phenome inventory plays its role in ensuring the message is delivered using the correct pronunciation and intonation.

Syllable Structures

In spoken French, there is one common syllable structure where most syllables start with consonants and end with vowels (referred to as the consonant-vowel (CV) syllable structure). According to Adda-Decker et al., (2014), each syllable in French is limited to only one vowel and a consonant. Furthermore, a consonant only is not permissible to make up a syllable. Secondly, in French, a consonant is a member of the syllable formed by the vowel immediately following the said consonant. This can be summarized by the claim that a syllabic break falls before an inter-vocalic consonant (Adda-Decker, 2014).

Phonological Processes

Phonological processes refer to the patterns of sound developing which enables new learners to simplify speech as they get a grasp of the new language. The French language has three main language processes which are the liaison, elision and enchainment (also known as the resyllabification). Of these three, the most important phonological process in the French language is the liaison.

In French, the liaison is the pronunciation of the last (latent) consonant on a word if and only if the word ending with a consonant is followed by a vowel. It can be compared to the English’ external sandhi, disrupted by the pausa. This form of phonologic agreement cannot be observed in written language but is noticeable in spoken French. Mostly, the liaison is permitted for silent consonants. When liaison is used, it becomes difficult for one to determine where a word starts and where the other finishes. For instance, the following can be used as an example: ont [o(n)], when followed by an article starting with a vowel such as ont-ills, pronounced as [o(n) teels], the consonant /t/, is pronounced in the preceding syllable of the word ‘ills.’

Liaisons are more complex when the fact that some are optional while others are a must (Adda-Decker, 2014). Therefore, it becomes difficult for one to determine where the liaison is to be used. Moreover, some other words do not require liaison and, therefore, the liaison is forbidden. Different rules are used to determine the type of liaison is less related to phonetics but are rather connected to linguistics and register.

In addition to liaison, some of these permitted liaisons are accompanied by a change in sound. For example, the word vous has a silent /s/. When it occurs where liaison is required, the silent /s/ is not pronounced as an /s/ but as a /z/. For instance, the liaison in vous-allez pronounced as [voo zah ley] provides the best example to explain the rule of the liaison.


The French language has several differences from the English language which makes it more unique when speaking. The different phonetic rules applied in the French language distinguish it largely from other languages. Moreover, the phonology of this language largely distinguishes it as a language in its entirety.


  1. Adda-Decker, M., Mareüil, P. B. D., Adda, G., & Lamel, L. (2014). Investigating syllabic structure and its variation in speech from french radio interviews. In ISCA Tutorial and Research Workshop (ITRW) on Pronunciation Modeling and Lexicon Adaptation for Spoken Language Technology.

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