I'm just having a hard time understanding in which context can double articulation be important and useful. I understood that the first articulation means morphemes and second one means phonemes, and that the definition is therefore : property of speech which allows creation of potentially infinite number of meaningful language sequences out of a limited number of meaningless elements called phonemes.

But still, I don't understand the usefulness of this concept and its main argument. If somebody can explain, would help a lot.

Best regards, Marcello

  • "Double articulation" is not an important concept in the study of linguistics. The notion of a hierarchy of concepts is important to linguistics, but also to any other scientific discipline, or to life in general.
    – user6726
    Nov 7, 2019 at 15:27
  • Only human languages are doubly articulated. And this is important in structural linguistics. It means you can take certain segments (phonemes) and make other segments with meaning. So cat is made up of three phonemes (the signifiers) but cat gives you the signified (a furry animal with four paws etc. ) Anyone not familiar with Martinet needs to do some reading. Americans tend to pooh pooh all this. Their loss. Without double articulation, human language would be like numbers, with only one meaning per phoneme whereas phonemes can be rearranged to mean many things.
    – Lambie
    Oct 26, 2023 at 1:29

3 Answers 3


The core idea of double articulation is that the description of languages needs at least two basic objects:
The first one is of phonetic and articulatory nature, namely phones or phonemes, which do not have an intrinsic meaning, though it can be argued that phones have phonostylistic properties, but these properties are more connotations rather than true meanings. A phone(me) like vowel ah [a] has no meaning per se.
The other one is of semantic nature, namely morphemes, which (normally) do have an intrinsic meaning and are uttered thanks to phonemes.
In other words, phonemes and morphemes are not the same kind of linguistic units. Phonemes are purely phonetic or phonemic, morphemes combine sound and meaning.
Besides, if you want to criticize the double articulation principle, it can be noted that morphemes belong to different classes: nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. In addition, morphemes are normally assembled in clauses.
So it is quite clear that you need more than just phonemes and morphemes to adequately describe a language.

  • big thanks for the answer, but I already understood the meaning of double articulation. I just cannot figure in which domain of science will we pracrically use it to explain what ?
    – anonymous
    Nov 6, 2019 at 7:39
  • If you write a descriptive grammar of a language, logically, you should have at least two major parts: one for phonemes, the next for morphemes.
    – user23769
    Nov 6, 2019 at 8:33
  • so would you say it is THE condition sine qua none for defining a human language from other systems ? And therefore is it what makes it so important ? I mean, what is so new in this theory that people didn't know before ? In my eyes it still doesn't make sense, one could write a descriptive grammar by talking about phonemes and morphemes without referring specifically to the name "double articulation", what makes this theory particular ?
    – anonymous
    Nov 6, 2019 at 14:47
  • 2
    Maybe not the condition but is a condition, as far as we know, for all human languages. It explains the tremendous combinatorial power that language has: a tiny handful of phonemes (as small as ~15 for some languages) can combine to make hundreds of thousands of meaning-units, which can in turn combine themselves. The structure is like a Lego set where the pieces are themselves made of smaller pieces; this allows the larger pieces to represent thousands of things, while only needing a tiny diversity of unique small pieces. It's just a neat description of this structural makeup of lang. Nov 7, 2019 at 9:04
  • @melissa_boiko, thanks for the great answer, it does make more sense said like that, but could you say me what makes this theory so authentic ? I mean, for example if we take the the Grimm's law it's clear for me to see how it helped the understanding of languages and that the theory was an answer to many questions. But for the double articulation I still can't figure the authenticity and the practical use of it. Maybe you can explain me more.
    – anonymous
    Nov 7, 2019 at 12:57

Phonetic feature values are assembled into sound segments; sound segments assembled into morphemes; morphemes into words; words into idioms; idioms into sentences; sentences into paragraphs; paragraphs into stories; and so on. What is going on here? Obviously, "double articulation" misses it. So I see no value in concentrating on that notion.


What is unknown and key to understanding the structure of language is where the meanings of the sound combinations that called them morphemes come from. Because language is the common means of communication of all people, it must be easily accessible to all people. It may not be as difficult as the various researchers describe it. Another thing that is basic and unknown is why we overlook the obvious, that we have alphabets that consist of letters and are one of the groupings of letters that make up the words with which we communicate. However, we are not concerned with whether and how letters encode the characteristics of what is said with words. If indeed the letters are in their audio and written image external representations of the way the mind recognizes what is said by the words, then every letter has meaning and what a word means is codified in the letters that structure it. If it is found and proved that letters encode cosmic features then the structure of language has a letter-centered quality and we cease to be preoccupied with non-existent problems such as the so-called synthesis of meaningless phonemes in meaningful morphemes and which do not say where the meaning of morphemes comes from.

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