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Printable version Speech production

Phonetics is concerned with the sounds produced by human language. Unlike phonology, phonetics studies the sounds themselves, rather than the patterning of sounds in each language. We shall define here the scope of phonetics, defined by the three branches and six levels.

Three branches of phoneticsEdit

Phonetics is usually said to have three dimensions. Each of them are concerned with one particular property of sound:

Definition 0.1

Phonetics has three main branches:

  • Articulatory phonetics studies the production of speech sounds by the human vocal tract.
  • Auditory phonetics studies the perception of speech sounds by the human perceptual system.
  • Acoustic phonetics studies the physical properties of speech sounds.

The three branches are interrelated, as we will soon see in this book. The introductory section will cover the basics of all three. We will then dive into the details of each type of sound and how they are articulated, are perceived and exist physically.

Six levels of phonetic organisationEdit

Speech sounds are arranged in six levels (Laver 1994), each of which are described below.

Definition 0.1

Sound is organised into six levels:

  • A phonetic feature is an attribute of sound, such as voicing, place of articulation, tongue height, etc. We have seen examples of features in Linguistics. They are distinct from but related to phonological features, which are most often expressed as binary attributes, such as [+fricative] and [-consonontal].
  • A segment is a unit of sound with relatively consistent bundle of features. Features are sometimes constant over more than one segment (suprasegmentals) or change within a segment (subsegmentals), but the majority are dependent on the segment. In contrast with the phonological notion of phoneme, which is more abstract, the phonetic segment is the phone.
  • A phonetic syllable is ill-defined in phonetics. Laver did not define it clearly, nor will we here.
  • An utterance is the stretch of sound between two adjacent pauses, with no pauses in the middle.
  • A setting is any stretch of sound with a `tendency towards some particular state', such as jaw position. It can be as long as an utterance or as short as a segment.

In the book, we will first deal with the segmental level of sound, looking at individual phones, their features their properties. We will then rise above the segmental level and look at the suprasegmental aspects of sound, such as tone, intonation, rhythm, and so on.