Phonetics refers to the study of the entire process of vocal or oral communication using the organs of speech – the mouth, throat, nasal and sinus cavities and lungs. Phonetics deals with the production, transmission, reception, and perception of speech sounds. It studies speech sounds, intonation, accentual structure, syllabic structure and also the phono-stylistic aspects.
Phonetics, as a major branch of linguistics, studies the characteristics of all human vocal noises which make meaningful conversation. The study of phonetics includes the analysis of the air-stream-mechanism of speech production, transmission, and reception.
Branches Of Phonetics
Phoneticians have classified the study of Phonetics into three main branches:
- Articulatory Phonetics
- Acoustic Phonetics
- Auditory Phonetics
Before we have seen the branches of linguistics, here we will discuss the different branches/types of phonetics in detail. Let’s start.
1. The Articulatory Phonetics
This branch of phonetics is concerned with the production of speech sounds with the help of various speech organs including lungs, larynx, uvula, vocal folds, teeth, lips, etc. It studies the physiological aspects of speech production. Different speech organs behave in different manners while articulating different sounds. Articulatory phonetics is concerned with the following aspects.
- Description of nature and functions of the speech organs.
- Relationships between different speech organs.
- DIfferent organs’ movement and contact in the articulation of speech sound.
- Classification of sounds into vowels and consonants.
2. The Acoustic Phonetics
This branch of phonetics studies the physical properties of speech sounds. It studies how the sounds journey from the speaker’s mouth to the listener’s ears.
Acoustic phonetics studies the following aspects of Linguistics.
- The speech waves (with the help of various audio-lingual and audio-visual instruments)
- The physical properties of the speech wave including frequency, pitch, tone, intonation, stress, assimilation, etc.
- The entire process of transmission of sounds.
The acoustic analysis has confirmed that speech is not, made up of some discrete or isolated sounds. Actually, it is a natural process or series or inter-related and inter-dependant sounds. As acoustic phonetics requires direct access to the physics of sound waves, it could only be established as science when the acoustic physics provide the framework. The most prominent device involved in the physical quantification of speech sounds is the Acoustic Spectrograph. This device analyses the frequencies that overlap to make up a uniform sound wave. The sounds of having a musical quality are called vocoids in acoustic phonetics, and they are mainly the vowels, but also include some sonorant and the nasal sounds. In acoustic phonetics, any other sounds which are not a vocoid are called a contoid. The fricative and affricates are generally the contoids.
3. Auditory Phonetics
The auditory phonetics studies the way the human ear and brain perceive and analyze different speech sounds. It is a neuropsychological analysis of sounds reception and perception by a listener. How a listener understands the meaning or the message of the heard sound wave is the main field of auditory phonetic researches.
Several kinds of research have shown that the human ear consists of several cavities that serve as resonant chambers or filters. The tympanum (external ear) and the three small bones of the middle ear act as an amplifier in transmitting the incoming sound waves. In the inner ear, the sound waves undergo complicated natural processes.
The researchers in acoustic and auditory phonetics require very minute observations, great scientific and technical resources. Besides, these researches require instruments that cannot be used easily outside a rich laboratory and cannot be transported study of phonetics is widely done in linguistics. Acoustic and auditory studies of phonetics are done in very few places.
- Brown, R. & Lenneberg, E.H. (1954) 'A Study of Language and Cognition'. Journal Of abnormal and social psychology 49: 452-60. Reprinted in Brown (1970): Saporta (1961)
- 'Basic Concepts Of Introductory LInguistics', U.C. 2018-19