Phonology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the systematic organization of sounds in languages. It has traditionally focused largely on study of the systems of phonemes in particular languages, but it may also cover any linguistic analysis either at a level beneath the word (including syllable, onset and rhyme, articulatory gestures, articulatory features, mora, etc.) or at all levels of language where sound is considered to be structured for conveying linguistic meaning. Phonology also includes the study of equivalent organizational systems in sign languages.
The word phonology (as in the phonology of English) can also refer to the phonological system (sound system) of a given language. This is one of the fundamental systems which a language is considered to comprise, like its syntax and its vocabulary.
Phonology is often distinguished from phonetics. While phonetics concerns the physical production, acoustic transmission and perception of the sounds of speech, phonology describes the way sounds function within a given language or across languages to encode meaning. In other words, phonetics belongs to descriptive linguistics, and phonology to theoretical linguistics. Note that this distinction was not always made, particularly before the development of the modern concept of phoneme in the mid 20th century. Some subfields of modern phonology have a crossover with phonetics in descriptive disciplines such as psycholinguistics and speech perception, resulting in specific areas like articulatory phonology or laboratory phonology.