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Orthography vs. Phonology: What's the Difference?

By Harlon Moss & Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 22, 2024
Orthography is the study of the conventional spelling system of a language, while phonology is the study of the sound systems and patterns in a language.

Key Differences

Orthography deals with the conventions of writing, including spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. It is concerned with how words are visually represented in a language and follows specific rules and norms that ensure consistency and clarity in written communication. Phonology, on the other hand, is the study of the systematic organization of sounds in languages. It examines how sounds function within a particular language or across languages. Phonologists analyze phonemes (the smallest units of sound that can distinguish meaning) and the rules governing their distribution and combination.
Orthography is about the correct form and structure of written language. It involves memorizing and applying spelling rules, understanding word origins, and recognizing the visual aspects of words. Phonology focuses on the auditory and articulatory properties of speech sounds. It involves understanding how sounds interact, how they are produced, and how they change in different contexts.
Orthography and phonology intersect when it comes to spelling and pronunciation. While orthography is about how words are written, phonology is about how they are spoken. Differences between a language's orthography and its phonology can lead to challenges in spelling and pronunciation, particularly for learners of the language.

Comparison Chart


Spelling, punctuation, capitalization
Sound systems, phonemes, patterns

Study Area

Written language
Spoken language

Key Elements

Spelling rules, word origins, visual representation
Phonemes, intonation, stress, rhythm


Standardization in writing
Understanding pronunciation and sound patterns


How words are visually represented
How words are pronounced and heard

Orthography and Phonology Definitions


The conventional spelling system of a language.
English orthography can be tricky due to its many irregular spellings.


The study of the sound systems of a language.
Phonology helps linguists understand how sounds function in different languages.


The system of written symbols used in a language.
Orthography includes the use of punctuation marks and capitalization.


The analysis of phonemes and their patterns.
Phonology examines how the same phoneme can have different pronunciations.


The set of rules for writing correctly in a language.
Proper orthography is essential for clear communication.


The branch of linguistics concerned with the systematic organization of sounds.
Students of phonology study the rules that govern sound combinations.


The art or study of correct spelling according to established usage.


The investigation of intonation, stress, and rhythm in speech.
Phonology explores how intonation patterns affect meaning.


The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences in words.


The study of how sounds interact and change in different contexts.
Phonology explains why certain sounds change when they appear in different words.


A form of projection used to represent three-dimensional objects in two dimensions, in which all the projection lines are orthogonal or perpendicular to the projection plane; an orthographic projection, especially when used to draw an elevation, vertical projection, etc., of a building; also (obsolete) a drawing made in this way.
Oblique projection


The study of speech sounds in language or a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit rules governing pronunciation.




The sound system of a language
The phonology of English.


(countable) A method of representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling.


The study of the way sounds function in languages, including phonemes, syllable structure, stress, accent, intonation, and which sounds are distinctive units within a language.


A set of conventions for writing a language, including norms of spelling, capitalization, emphasis, hyphenation, punctuation, and word breaks.


The way sounds function within a given language; a phonological system.


(uncountable) The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences in words; the study of spelling.


The science or doctrine of the elementary sounds uttered by the human voice in speech, including the various distinctions, modifications, and combinations of tones; phonetics. Also, a treatise on sounds.


(uncountable) Correct spelling according to established usage; also (obsolete) pronunciation according to the spelling of a word.


The study of the sound system of a given language and the analysis and classification of its phonemes


Synonym of orthographer


To spell (words) or write (text) according to established usage.


The art or practice of writing words with the proper letters, according to standard usage; conventionally correct spelling; also, mode of spelling; as, his orthography is vicious.
When spelling no longer follows the pronunciation, but is hardened into orthography.


The part of grammar which treats of the letters, and of the art of spelling words correctly.


A drawing in correct projection, especially an elevation or a vertical section.


The method of spelling the words of a particular language; the system of symbols used for writing a language.


The branch of linguistics concerned with how languages are written.


A method of representing the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols


The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences.
Teachers emphasize orthography to improve students' writing skills.


The visual representation of words.
Orthography involves learning the correct spelling of words.


Why is orthography important?

Orthography ensures consistency and clarity in written communication.

How does orthography differ from phonology?

Orthography focuses on written language and spelling, while phonology focuses on spoken language and sound patterns.

What is phonology?

Phonology is the study of the sound systems and patterns within a language.

Can orthography affect pronunciation?

Yes, the way words are written can influence how they are pronounced, especially for language learners.

What role does orthography play in language learning?

Orthography helps learners recognize and correctly write words, improving reading and writing skills.

What are orthographic rules?

Orthographic rules govern the correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization in a language.

What is orthography?

Orthography is the study of a language's writing system, including spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

Why is phonology important?

Phonology helps in understanding pronunciation, listening comprehension, and language learning.

What role does phonology play in language learning?

Phonology helps learners understand and produce correct pronunciation and intonation.

How does phonology vary across languages?

Phonology varies widely, with each language having unique sound systems and rules.

What is the relationship between orthography and phonology?

Orthography and phonology intersect in spelling and pronunciation, where written symbols represent spoken sounds.

What are phonemes?

Phonemes are the smallest units of sound that can distinguish meaning in a language.

How does English orthography compare to other languages?

English orthography is known for its irregularities and exceptions compared to more phonetic languages like Spanish.

Can phonology affect spelling?

Yes, understanding phonology can help with spelling by revealing the sound patterns of a language.

Are orthography and phonology studied together?

Yes, they are often studied together to understand the full scope of language structure and use.

What are phonological rules?

Phonological rules govern how sounds are organized and how they interact in a language.

What is an example of phonological study?

Investigating how different dialects pronounce the same phoneme differently.

Can orthography change over time?

Yes, orthographic conventions can evolve with language use and standardization efforts.

Can phonology change over time?

Yes, phonological systems can change due to linguistic evolution, contact with other languages, and social factors.

What is an example of orthographic study?

Analyzing the spelling rules and conventions of a language, such as silent letters in English.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Co-written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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