Phonetics (pronounced /fəˈnɛtɪks/) is a branch of linguistics that
studies 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.
In the case of oral languages, phonetics has three basic areas of
Articulatory phonetics: the study of the organs of speech and their
use in producing speech sounds 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.
2 Relation to phonology
6 Practical phonetic training
7 See also
10 External links
Phonetics was studied by 4th century BCE, and possibly as early as the
6th century BCE, in the Indian subcontinent, with Pāṇini's account
of the place and manner of articulation of consonants in his treatise
on Sanskrit. The major Indic alphabets today order their consonants
according to Pāṇini's classification.
Modern phonetics begins with attempts—such as those of Joshua Steele
(in Prosodia Rationalis, 1779) and
Alexander Melville Bell
Alexander Melville Bell (in Visible
Speech, 1867)—to introduce systems of precise notation for speech
The study of phonetics grew quickly in the late 19th century partly
due to the invention of the phonograph, which allowed the speech
signal to be recorded. Phoneticians were able to replay the speech
signal several times and apply acoustic filters to the signal. By
doing so, they were able to more carefully deduce the acoustic nature
of the speech signal.
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,
morae, 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 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.
Main article: Phonetic transcription
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
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.
Speech synthesis: the production of human speech by a computer system.
Pronunciation: to learn actual pronunciation of words of various
Practical phonetic training
Studying phonetics involves not only learning theoretical material but
also undergoing training in the production and perception of speech
sounds. The latter is often known as ear-training. Students must
learn control of articulatory variables and develop their ability to
recognize fine differences between different vowels and
consonants. As part of the training, they must become expert
in using phonetic symbols, usually those of the International Phonetic
Index of phonetics articles
International Phonetic Alphabet
Biometric word list
ICAO spelling alphabet
SaypU (Spell As You Pronounce Universally)
^ O'Grady (2005) p.15
^ R. L. Trask (1996) A Dictionary of
Phonetics and Phonology.
Abingdon: Routledge. p. 34.
^ T.V.F. Brogan: English Versification, 1570–1980 Archived
2011-09-04 at the Wayback Machine.. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1981. E394.
Alexander Melville Bell
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
^ 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
Speech Analysis: The Distinctive Features and their Correlates, MIT
^ Hall, T. Allen. 2001. Phonological representations and phonetic
implementation of distinctive features, Mouton de Gruyter.
^ O'Connor, J.D. (1973). Phonetics. Pelican. pp. 16–17.
^ a b O'Grady (2005) p.17
^ International Phonetic Association (1999) Handbook of the
International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press.
^ a b 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.
^ Jones, Daniel (1948). "The London school of phonetics". Zeitschrift
für Phonetik 11 (3/4): 127-135. (Reprinted in W. E. Jones and J.
Phonetics in Linguistics, Longman, 1973, pp. 180–186.)
^ J. C. Catford: A Practical Introduction to
Phonetics (2001). Oxford
University Press, 2nd ed., p. 1. ISBN 0-19-924635-1
^ Abercrombie, D. (1967). Elements of General Phonetics. Edinburgh. p.
^ Peter Roach
O'Grady, William; et al. (2005). Contemporary Linguistics: An
Introduction (5th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's.
Stearns, Peter; Adas, Michael; Schwartz, Stuart; Gilbert, Marc Jason
(2001). World Civilizations (3rd ed.). New York: Longman.
Wikisource has the text of The New Student's Reference Work article
the Web Site of the Phonetic Sciences Laboratory of the Université de
The International Society of Phonetic Sciences (ISPhS)
A little encyclopedia of phonetics, Peter Roach. (pdf)
The sounds and sound patterns of language U Penn
Official IPA chart (International Phonetic Association)
Real-time MRI videos of the articulation of speech sounds, from the
Speech Articulation and kNowledge (SPAN) Group
Extensive collection of phonetics resources on the Web (University of
Phonology (University of Osnabrück)
Phonetics Laboratory Archive Audio recordings illustrating
phonetic structures from over 200 languages with phonetic
transcriptions, with scans of original field notes where relevant
A note on practical phonetic training