Differences Between Phonetics and Phonology

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UNIVERSITY OF LIVINGSTONIA
LAWS CAMPUS-FACULTY OF EDUCATION
DEPARTMENT OF LANGUAGES & LITERATURE STUDIES
FROM:
PENJANI M. K. GONDWE-BED/008/10 {STUDENT}
TO:
MR. J. M. W. ZIMBA {LECTURER}
{SUBJECT}:
ENGLISH
{COURSE TITLE}:
INTRODUCTION TO PHONETICS AND PHONOLOGY
{COURSE CODE}:
EENG 2401
{YEAR OF STUDY}:
TWO
{SEMESTER}:
FOUR
{TASK}:
DISCUSS THE MAIN DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PHONETICS AND PHONOLOGY
{SUBMISSION DATE}:
29TH MARCH, 2012

According to Firth (1930) phonetics and phonology are the two fields dedicated to the study of human speech sounds and sound structures. The difference between phonetics and phonology, by definition, is that phonetics is the field of language study concerned with the physical properties of sounds, and it has three subfields. Articulatory phonetics explores how the human vocal apparatus produces sounds. Acoustic phonetics studies the sound waves produced by the human vocal apparatus. Auditory phonetics examines how speech sounds are perceived by the human ear. Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned not with the physical properties of sounds, but rather with how they function in a particular language. Therefore, this paper discusses the main difference between phonetics and phonology.

To begin with, the letter k is both aspirated and unaspirated in different languages as it has been noticed in the following example, it illustrates the difference between phonetics and phonology. In the English language, when the sound k, usually spelled c, occurs at the beginning of a word, as in the word cut, it is pronounced with aspiration, that is, a puff of breath (Durkim, 1995). However, when this sound occurs at the end of a word, as in tuck, there is no aspiration. Phonetically, the aspirated k and unaspirated k are different sounds, but in English these different sounds never distinguish one word from another, and English speakers are usually unaware of the phonetic distinction until it is pointed out to them. Thus English makes no phonological distinction between the aspirated and unaspirated k. The Hindi language, on the other hand, uses this sound difference to distinguish words such as kal (time), which has an unaspirated k, and khal (skin), in which kh represents the aspirated k. Therefore, in Hindi the distinction between the aspirated and unaspirated k is both phonetic and phonological.

The other point is that phonetics is strictly about audible sounds and the things that happen in somebody’s mouth, throat, nasal and sinus cavities, and lungs to make those sounds. It has nothing to do with meaning. It is only a description. For example, in order to produce the word bed, you start out with your lips together. Then, air from one’s lungs is forced over the vocal chords, which begin to vibrate and make some kind of noise. The air then escapes through the lips as they part suddenly, which results in a /b/ sound. Therefore, keeping one’s lips open, the middle of the tongue comes up so that the sides meet at the back teeth while the tip of the tongue stays down. All the while, air from the lungs rushes out, and the vocal chords vibrate. Then comes the /e/ sound. Finally, the tip of the tongue comes up to the hard palate just behind the teeth. This stops the flow of air and results in a /d/ sound as long as those vocal chords are still going. As literate, adult speakers of the English language, do not need a physical description of everything required to make those three sounds. They simply understand what to do in order to make them.

Similarly, according to Richards (1985:126), those who study phonetics simply understand that when they see /kæt/, it is a description of how most Americans pronounce the word cat. It has nothing to do with a furry house pet. In fact, if there were a word in any other language pronounced the same way, the phonetic spelling would be the same regardless of meaning. In addition, it is not about meaning. It is strictly physical. Phonology, on...
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