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Phonetics (from the Greek: φωνή, phōnē, "sound, voice") is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech.[1] It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds (phones): their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status. Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned with abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds.


Phonetics was studied as early as 500 BC in ancient India, with Pāṇini's account of the place and manner of articulation of consonants in his 5th century BC treatise on Sanskrit. The major Indic alphabets today order their consonants according to Pāṇini's classification. The Ancient Greeks are credited as the first to base a writing system on a phonetic alphabet. Modern phonetics began with Alexander Melville Bell, whose Visible Speech (1867) introduced a system of precise notation for writing down speech sounds.[2]

Basic Information

The study of phonetics is a subject of the multiple layered subject of Linguists that focuses on the sounds that are produced to spoken words. In this field of research there are three basic areas of study.

• Articulator phonetics- focuses on the vocal structures of the throat that helps someone produce sounds.

• Acoustic phonetics- an area that focuses on the physical structures of phonetics (the structures of sounds and their placement to produce words

• Auditory Phonetics- is the study of phonetics that focuses on the ear and its relationship to speech production and sounds used for communication.

All parts of phonetics is inter-connected because the process of human communication is both a system of auditory mechanisms which correspond to each other and are mediated by wavelength, pitch, and the other physical properties of sound.

Phonetic Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet is used as a global standard for the written application and transcription of a sequence of sounds that produces words. This type of phonetic alphabet is also used to symbolize and label the limitation of each world language through its representation of the unique sound combinations that can be produced for a given language. Each language uses a limited number of humanly possible sounds that are grouped into phonemes. Example of phonetics: in English the speaker does not notice that he always makes a puff of air when he pronounces the p the word “pin” and never makes the puff with the p in the word “spin”; for the native speaker the sound is the same. While other language there may be a difference in pronunciation of the letter “p” can become a determiner between two different words, In English the two sounds are considered variations of a single sound, the phoneme “p”, and as such are allophones.

The difference between phonetics and phonemes

Phonemes include all significant differences of sound, including features of voicing, place and manner of articulation, accents, and secondary features of nasalization and labialization. Whereas phonetics refers to the study of the production, perception, and physical nature of speech sounds.

Using an Edison phonograph, Ludimar Hermann investigated the spectral properties of vowels and consonants. It was in these papers that the term formant was first introduced. Hermann also played back vowel recordings made with the Edison phonograph at different speeds in order to test Willis' and Wheatstone's theories of vowel production.


Phonetics as a research discipline has three main branches:


Lua error in Module:Main at line 55: attempt to call field 'formatPageTables' (a nil value). Phonetic transcription is a system for transcribing sounds that occur in spoken language or signed language. The most widely known system of phonetic transcription, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), uses a one-to-one mapping between phones and written symbols.[3][4] The standardized nature of the IPA enables its users to transcribe accurately and consistently the phones of different languages, dialects, and idiolects.[3][5][6] The IPA is a useful tool not only for the study of phonetics, but also for language teaching, professional acting, and speech pathology.[5]


Application of phonetics include:

  • forensic phonetics: the use of phonetics (the science of speech) for forensic (legal) purposes.
  • Speech Recognition: the analysis and transcription of recorded speech by a computer system.

Relation to phonology

In contrast to phonetics, phonology is the study of how sounds and gestures pattern in and across languages, relating such concerns with other levels and aspects of language. Phonetics deals with the articulatory and acoustic properties of speech sounds, how they are produced, and how they are perceived. As part of this investigation, phoneticians may concern themselves with the physical properties of meaningful sound contrasts or the social meaning encoded in the speech signal (e.g. gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.). However, a substantial portion of research in phonetics is not concerned with the meaningful elements in the speech signal.

While it is widely agreed that phonology is grounded in phonetics, phonology is a distinct branch of linguistics, concerned with sounds and gestures as abstract units (e.g., features, phonemes, mora, syllables, etc.) and their conditioned variation (via, e.g., allophonic rules, constraints, or derivational rules).[7] Phonology relates to phonetics via the set of distinctive features, which map the abstract representations of speech units to articulatory gestures, acoustic signals, and/or perceptual representations.[8][9][10]

See also


  1. O'Grady (2005) p.15
  2. Alexander Melville Bell 1819-1905 . University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
  3. 3.0 3.1 O'Grady (2005) p.17
  4. International Phonetic Association (1999) Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ladefoged, Peter (1975) A Course in Phonetics. Orlando: Harcourt Brace. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson/Wadsworth 2006.
  6. Ladefoged, Peter & Ian Maddieson (1996) The Sounds of the World’s Languages. Oxford: Blackwell.
  7. Kingston, John. 2007. The Phonetics-Phonology Interface, in The Cambridge Handbook of Phonology (ed. Paul DeLacy), Cambridge University Press.
  8. Halle, Morris. 1983. On Distinctive Features and their articulatory implementation, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, p. 91 - 105
  9. Jakobson, Roman, Gunnar Fant, and Morris Halle. 1976. Preliminaries to Speech Analysis: The Distinctive Features and their Correlates, MIT Press.
  10. Hall, T. Allen. 2001. Phonological representations and phonetic implementation of distinctive features, Mouton de Gruyter.


  • O'Grady, William; et al. (2005). Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction (5th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 0312419368. Explicit use of et al. in: |first= (help)

External links

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