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A Comprehensive Guide on What is Phonetics?, It Meanings And Examples


Phonetics is an explicative branch of Core Linguistics that is based on the knowledge and research about sounds of the language. The Greek word ‘phone’ means sound or voice and ‘tics’ means a scientific or systematic study of something. In simple words, it can be said that Phonetics means “the scientific or systemic study of human speech sounds “. Here in this article we study the definition of phonetics, its meanings with examples, difference between phonology and phonetics, branches of phonetics and organs of speech.

In modern times, it is one of the important subfields of Linguistics which deals with the study of the sounds of human speech. It is concerned with the universal and general study of all possible sounds of a language that the human vocal apparatus can make setting aside any individual or specific language.

It covers a large range of physical characteristics of speech sounds (phones), and the processes of their production through the cavity (articulatory), their transmission in a medium (acoustic), and their reception through the eardrum (auditory).


Some definitions of Phonetics by great linguists are stated below:

  • The general study of all the characteristics of speech sounds.

    _Yule, 2006

  • The inventory and structure of the sounds speech.

    _O'Grady, 2005

  • The concrete, instrumentally measurable physical properties and production of speech sounds.

    _Odden, 2005

Phonetics vs Phonology

what is phonetics
what is phonetics

Phonetics is the study of the physical properties of speech sounds, including how they are produced, transmitted, and perceived. Phoneticians use a variety of methods to study speech sounds whereas phonology is the study of the abstract sound system of a language. Phonologists are interested in how sounds are organized and used in language to convey meaning. It often focus on phonemes, syllables, stress, and intonation and how these elements are used in different languages.

How Phonetics Works

Phonetics demonstrates speech creation processes including the anatomy, neurology, and pathology of speech, as well as the articulation, production, and perception of speech sounds. So, it is the elucidation of concrete utterances and concrete individual speech sounds. First of all, it divides or segments concrete utterances into individual speech sounds. It is, therefore, exclusively related to performance. Moreover, there is a phonetical unit named ‘phone’ which is a sound that has some physical features and this term is mostly applied in a nontechnical sense. Phones or phonetic symbols are enclosed in square brackets as [b], [m], etc.

How Phonology Works

Phonology works by organizing speech sounds into a system that can be used to convey meaning. In other words, phonology is a step higher than phonetics in this hierarchy e.g. in phonetics sounds are produced and in phonology they are combined to form words and convey meanings. Phonology includes phonemes, allophones, syllables, stress, and intonation that play a vital role to differentiate meaning in a language. Phonology is a complex and fascinating field of study. It helps us to understand how language is used and how to teach and learn languages.

Branches of Phonetics

Phonetics represents the physical, psychological, and physiological aspects of speech sounds. On the grounds of such fundamentals, it can be categorized into three main district phases that are interrelated to each other but have distinct strands. They are commonly called the ‘Branches of Phonetics’. In the following, a brief description of each branch is given.

  • Articulatory Phonetics:
  • Acoustic Phonetics:
  • Auditory Phonetics:

Articulatory Phonetics

In this branch, the production of various speech sounds and their articulation by the human vocal apparatus is examined. It studies the speech/vocal organs also known as articulators, which are used to produce sounds of language in a deeply investigated way. It is constituted of the positions and movements of the lips, tongue, and other articulators in producing speech sounds.

Acoustic Phonetics

In this branch, the transmission of articulated speech sounds through the air between the mouth and ear and the properties such as frequency and amplitude of sound waves that are made by the human vocal organs are analyzed.

Auditory Phonetics

In this branch, the perception of speech sounds through the medium of the ear is observed. It studies the perpetual response to speech sounds as mediated by the ear, auditory nerve, and brain. It concentrates on the physiological processes involved in the reception of speech.

Speech Chain

To make it clearly understandable, a “Speech Chain” may be diagramed this way:

what is phonetics

what is phonetics

As shown in above-given diagram, each specialized branch of Phonetics focuses on a different ambience which means how human speech sounds are produced, transmitted, and perceived by embodying the significant phonological distinctive patterns. On the other hand, all the branches of Phonetics are closely connected not only with one another but also with other different branches of Linguistics. This link is established by the fact that language is a system whose elements are mixed up with one another

Why the Study of Phonetics is so Important?

There are several advantages that highlight the importance of the study of Phonetics and become the reason to get to know more about this subject. For this purpose, one must have a command of the formation of the sounds that can be acquired by paying attention to the thorough study of sounds and their functions and also putting concentration on the shape and feel of the mouth while speaking. Concisely, this study is very helpful to:

  • understand the complexity of the sounds of language keenly.
  • know the place and manner of sounds exactly.
  • remember, separate, combine, and manipulate phonemes effortlessly.
  • develop the ability to know the minor differences in vowel sounds accurately.
  • improve pronunciation when it is learned how to produce sounds correctly.
  • get proficiency in reading and spelling effectively.
  • increase the capability of listening rapidly.
  • recognize spoken language and comprehension legibly.
  • realize the variation between similar-sounded words vividly.
  • differentiate the sounds of the language from the mother tongue deeply.

To summarize, it is inferred that Phonetics has brought new insights into the presentation, pronunciation, identification of familiar and unfamiliar sounds, and much more. In fact, it plays a significant role in the improvement of many skills regarding language.