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English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course, 4th ed., by Peter Roach (Cambridge University Press, 2009)


The branch of linguistics that deals with the sounds of speech and their production, combination, description, and representation by written symbols. Adjective: phonetic.

A linguist who specializes in phonetics is known as a phonetician.

See also:


From the Greek, "sound, voice"

Examples and Observations:

  • "[Phonetics] is divided into three main branches, corresponding to these three distinctions:

    • articulatory phonetics is the study of the way the vocal organs are used to produce speech sounds
    • acoustic phonetics is the study of the physical properties of speech sounds
    • auditory phonetics is the study of the way people perceive speech sounds
    (David Crystal, The Cambridge Encylopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003)

  • "Until recently, we knew little about what is going on in the brain when people are speaking, and this is why the science of phonetics has concentrated on the three central components of the speech chain, where observation of what is going on is fairly straightforward. However, our understanding of how the brain works in speech communications has grown enormously in recent years. One of the most significant advances in recent research has been the development of safe and accurate brain-scanning techniques that can show us the activities of different parts of the brain when someone is speaking or listening to speech. . . .

    "One of the most important achievements in phonetics over the past century has been to arrive at a system of phonetic symbols that anyone can learn to use and that can be used to represent the sounds of any language. This is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)."
    (Peter Roach, Phonetics. Oxford Univ. Press, 2001)

  • "In any language we can identify a small number of regularly used sounds (vowels and consonants) that we call phonemes; for example, the vowels in the words 'pin' and 'pen' are different phonemes, and so are the consonants at the beginning of the words 'pet' and 'bet.' Because of the notoriously confusing nature of English spelling, it is particularly important to learn to think of English pronunciation in terms of phonemes rather than letters of the alphabet; one must be aware, for example, that the word 'enough' begins with the same vowel phoneme as that at the beginning of 'inept' and ends with the same consonant as 'stuff.'"
    (Peter Roach, English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course, 4th ed. Cambridge University Press, 2009)
Pronunciation: fah-NET-iks
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