Phonetics (pronounced //, from the Greek: φωνή, phōnē, 'sound, voice') is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech, or—in the case of sign languages—the equivalent aspects of sign. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds or signs (phones): their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status. Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned with the abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds or signs.
The field of phonetics is a multilayered subject of linguistics that focuses on speech. In the case of oral languages there are three basic areas of study:
- Articulatory phonetics: the study of the production of speech sounds by the articulatory and vocal tract by the speaker.
- Acoustic phonetics: the study of the physical transmission of speech sounds from the speaker to the listener.
- Auditory phonetics: the study of the reception and perception of speech sounds by the listener.
These areas are inter-connected through the common mechanism of sound, such as wavelength (pitch), amplitude, and harmonics.
Phonetics was studied as early as 500 BC in the Indian subcontinent, 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 Phoenicians are credited as the first to create a phonetic writing system, from which all major modern phonetic alphabets are now derived.
Modern phonetics begins with attempts — such as those of Joshua Steele (in Prosodia Rationalis, 1779) and Alexander Melville Bell (in Visible Speech, 1867) — to introduce systems of precise notation for speech sounds.
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is used as the basis for the phonetic transcription of speech. It is based on the Latin alphabet and is able to transcribe most features of speech such as consonants, vowels, and suprasegmental features. Every documented phoneme available within the known languages in the world is assigned its own corresponding symbol.
The difference between phonetics and phonology
Phonology concerns itself with systems of phonemes, abstract cognitive units of speech sound or sign which distinguish the words of a language. Phonetics, on the other hand, concerns itself with the production, transmission, and perception of the physical phenomena which are abstracted in the mind to constitute these speech sounds or signs.
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 vowel recordings made with the Edison phonograph at different speeds in order to test Willis' and Wheatstone's theories of vowel production.
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 (socio-phonetics) (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., distinctive features, phonemes, mora, syllables, etc.) and their conditioned variation (via, e.g., allophonic rules, constraints, or derivational rules). 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.
Phonetics as a research discipline has three main branches:
- articulatory phonetics is concerned with the articulation of speech: The position, shape, and movement of articulators or speech organs, such as the lips, tongue, and vocal folds.
- acoustic phonetics is concerned with acoustics of speech: The spectro-temporal properties of the sound waves produced by speech, such as their frequency, amplitude, and harmonic structure.
- auditory phonetics is concerned with speech perception: the perception, categorization, and recognition of speech sounds and the role of the auditory system and the brain in the same.
Phonetic transcription is a system for transcribing sounds that occur in a language, whether oral or sign. The most widely known system of phonetic transcription, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), provides a standardized set of symbols for oral phones. The standardized nature of the IPA enables its users to transcribe accurately and consistently the phones of different languages, dialects, and idiolects. The IPA is a useful tool not only for the study of phonetics, but also for language teaching, professional acting, and speech pathology.
Applications 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.
- Experimental phonetics
- Index of phonetics articles
- International Phonetic Alphabet
- Speech processing
- Biometric word list
- Phonetics departments at universities
- ICAO spelling alphabet
- Buckeye Corpus
- SaypU (Spell As You Pronounce Universally)
- O'Grady (2005) p.15
- Stearns, Peter; Adas, Michael; Schwartz, Stuart; Gilbert, Marc Jason (2001). World Civilizations: A Global Experience (3rd ed.). New York: Longman. ISBN 9780321044792.
- T.V.F. Brogan: English Versification, 1570–1980. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. E394.
- Alexander Melville Bell 1819-1905 . University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
- Kingston, John. 2007. The Phonetics-Phonology Interface, in The Cambridge Handbook of Phonology (ed. Paul DeLacy), Cambridge University Press.
- Halle, Morris. 1983. On Distinctive Features and their articulatory implementation, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, p. 91 - 105
- Jakobson, Roman, Gunnar Fant, and Morris Halle. 1976. Preliminaries to Speech Analysis: The Distinctive Features and their Correlates, MIT Press.
- Hall, T. Allen. 2001. Phonological representations and phonetic implementation of distinctive features, Mouton de Gruyter.
- O'Grady (2005) p.17
- International Phonetic Association (1999) Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press.
- Ladefoged, Peter (1975) A Course in Phonetics. Orlando: Harcourt Brace. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson/Wadsworth 2006.
- Ladefoged, Peter & Ian Maddieson (1996) The Sounds of the World’s Languages. Oxford: Blackwell.
- O'Grady, William, et al. (2005). Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction (5th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 0-312-41936-8.
- Stearns, Peter; Adas, Michael; Schwartz, Stuart; Gilbert, Marc Jason (2001). World Civilizations (3rd ed.). New York: Longman. ISBN 9780321044792.
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- Comparative phonetics
- the Web Site of the Phonetic Sciences Laboratory of the Université de Montréal.
- The International Society of Phonetic Sciences (ISPhS)
- A little encyclopedia of phonetics, Peter Roach, Professor of Phonetics, University of Reading, UK. (pdf)
- The sounds and sound patterns of language U Penn
- UCLA lab data
- UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive
- EGG and Voice Quality (electroglottography, phonation, etc.)
- IPA handbook
- IPA-SAM Phonetic Fonts
- Speech Analysis Tutorial
- Lecture materials in German on phonetics & phonology, university of Erfurt
- Real-time MRI video of the articulation of speech sounds, from the USC Speech Articulation and kNowledge (SPAN) Group
- Beginner's course in phonetics, with some exercises
- Praat - Phonetic analysis software
- SID- Speech Internet Dictionary
- Extensive collection of phonetics resources on the Web (University of North Carolina)
- Phonetics and Phonology (University of Osnabrueck)