Phonetics is the study of the ways in which speech sounds are produced, combined, described, and identified by symbols (the IPA). Let's go to the blackboard for a brief introduction to some basic phonetic concepts. (For additional examples and more detailed explanations, follow the links.)
A phoneme is the smallest sound unit in a language that's capable of conveying a distinct meaning.
- Minimal Pair
Two words that differ in only one sound (or phoneme) are called a minimal pair.
An allophone is an audibly distinct variant of a single phoneme, such as the slightly different pronunciations of the t sound in these five words.
A diphthong is a vowel in which there's a noticeable sound change within the same syllable. In most dialects of English, the vowel sounds in these short words are diphthongs (sometimes called gliding vowels).
- Consonant Cluster
A consonant cluster is a group of two or more consonant sounds that come before (onset), between (medial), or after (coda) vowels.
- Stop Consonant
A sound made by completely blocking the flow of air and then releasing it is called a stop. In English, the sounds /p/, /t/, and /k/ are voiceless stops. The sounds /b/, /d/, and /g/ are voiced stops.
For more blackboards (hundreds of them--along with definitions, examples, and discussions), visit our Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms.