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This article is about linguistics. For the voicemail transcription service, see Phonetic (service)

Template:Linguistics Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone = sound/voice) is the study of sounds (voice). It is concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds (phones) as well as those of non-speech sounds, and their production, audition and perception, as opposed to phonology, which operates at the level of sound systems and abstract sound units (such as phonemes and distinctive features). Phonetics deals with the sounds themselves rather than the contexts in which they are used in languages. Discussions of meaning (semantics) therefore do not enter at this level of linguistic analysis.

While writing systems and alphabets are in many cases closely related to the sounds of speech, strictly speaking, phoneticians are more concerned with the sounds of speech than the symbols used to represent them. So close is the relationship between them however, that many dictionaries list the study of the symbols (more accurately semiotics) as a part of phonetic studies. On the other hand, logographic writing systems typically give much less phonetic information, but the information is not necessarily non-existent. For instance, in Chinese characters, a phonetic refers to the portion of the character that hints at its pronunciation, while the radical refers to the portion that serves as a semantic hint. Characters featuring the same phonetic typically have similar pronunciations, but by no means are the pronunciations predictably determined by the phonetic due to the fact that pronunciations diverged over many centuries while the characters remained the same. Not all Chinese characters are radical-phonetic compounds, but a good majority of them are.

Phonetics has three main branches:

  • articulatory phonetics, concerned with the positions and movements of the lips, tongue, vocal tract and folds and other speech organs in producing speech
  • acoustic phonetics, concerned with the properties of the sound waves and how they are received by the inner ear
  • auditory phonetics, concerned with speech perception, principally how the brain forms perceptual representations of the input it receives.

There are several hundred different phones recognized by the International Phonetic Association (IPA) and transcribed in their International Phonetic Alphabet.

Of all the speech sounds that a human vocal tract can create, different languages vary considerably in the number of these sounds that they use. Languages can contain from 2 (Abkhaz) to 55 (Sedang) vowels and 6 (Rotokas) to 117 (!Xu) consonants.However, in saying this, we must be careful since technically each time we produce a phone, we articulate it minutely differently. The total number of phonemes in languages varies from as few as 10 in the Pirahã language, 11 in Rotokas (spoken in Papua New Guinea), 12 in Hawaiian and 30 in Serbian to as many as 141 in !Xu (spoken in southern Africa, in the Kalahari desert). These may range from familiar sounds like /t/, /s/ or /m/ to ones rarely heard by English speakers, using non-pulmonic airstream mechanisms such as the velaric and glottalic airstreams and/or ingressive articulation (see: clicks, phonation). The English language has about 13 vowel and 24 consonant phonemes (depending upon dialect), which have multiple allophones. This differs from the lay definition based on the Latin alphabet, where there are 21 consonants and 5 vowels (although sometimes y and w are included as vowels).

Phonetics was studied as early as 2500 years ago in ancient India, where there existed numerous phonetically extremely accurate treatises on the orthoepy of Sanskrit and a Tamil grammar book Tolkāppiyam (c. fifth century BCE) that described the place and manner of articulation of consonants. Most Indian languages group and order their consonants based on place and methods of articulation.

See also

External links and references


  • Catford, J. C. (1977). Fundamental problems in phonetics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32520-X.
  • Clark, John; & Yallop, Colin. (1995). An introduction to phonetics and phonology (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19452-5.
  • Hardcastle, William J.; & Laver, John (Eds.). (1997). The handbook of phonetic sciences. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-6311-8848-7.
  • Ladefoged, Peter. (1982). A course in phonetics (2nd ed.). London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  • Ladefoged, Peter. (2003). Phonetic data analysis: An introduction to fieldwork and instrumental techniques. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-23269-9 (hbk); ISBN 0-631-23270-2 (pbk).
  • Ladefoged, Peter; & Maddieson, Ian. (1996). The sounds of the world's languages. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-19814-8 (hbk); ISBN 0-631-19815-6 (pbk).
  • Maddieson, Ian. (1984). Patterns of sounds. Cambridge studies in speech science and communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pike, Kenneth L. (1943). Phonetics: A critical analysis of phonetic theory and a technic for the practical description of sounds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Pisoni, David B.; & Remez, Robert E. (Eds.). (2004). The handbook of speech perception. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-6312-2927-2.
  • Rogers, Henry. (2000). The Sounds of Language: An Introduction to Phonetics. Harlow, Essex: Pearson. ISBN 0-582-38182-7.
  • Stevens, Kenneth N. (1998). Acoustic phonetics. Current studies in linguistics (No. 30). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 0-2621-9404-X.

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