Sounds for a System: Phonemes in the English Language

This paper discusses the reason for the limited number of phonemes in the English language and how phonemes are added and lost from the language.

This paper discusses phonemes and how they apply to the English language. The author traces changes in this language beginning with Old English and moving through Middle English to present-day English, and provides examples of changes in each. The author also explains why only forty-four out of a possible three hundred phonemes are used in present-day English.
“A phoneme, as defined by Crystal is, “The smallest contrastive unit in the system of a language”(456). There are approximately three hundred phonemes in existence that are shared by the five thousand plus languages of the world. The English language only uses forty-four of the three hundred total phonemes. Some languages require more than forty-four phonemes and some require less in order to function. The truth is that none of the world’s languages use the three hundred available phonemes. Languages use only as many as they need in order to be understood. The reason that the English language uses a mere forty-four phonemes is very simple; that is all that it needs. However, the number of phonemes in our language has changed, and it will probably change in the future. It is important to examine the reasons for change and discuss why the number of English phonemes is so limited.”