Introduction to Phonetics

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Introduction to Phonetics

Speaking is such a normal part of our everyday life that we usually do not stop to think about what we are doing. It could be compared to walking: once you have learned how to do it, it becomes an automatic action that does not require conscious thought. If we had to think carefully about every single step it takes to produce speech, it would take us hours to form a single sentence. Luckily, there is no need for this, as long as we stick to our native language or dialect. However, if we would like to learn a new language or language variety, we could make good use of two linguistic branches: phonetics and phonology. Phonetics and phonology differ from each other in the way that phonetics in the study of the physical aspect of human speech sounds, while phonology is more about the abstract. In this essay, I will go more into the basics of phonetics.

Phonetics is divided into three categories: Articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics and auditory phonetics. Articulatory phonetics studies the production of speech sounds and deals with questions like “How do we create speech sounds?”, “How does the production of one sound differ from that of another?” and “What criteria can we use to distinguish different sorts of articulation?”. Acoustic phonetics, on the other hand, investigates the physical properties of speech sounds. “What is the physical reality of a speech sound?” and “How can we measure acoustic differences between speech sounds?” are examples of questions that acoustic phonetics tries to answer. Finally, auditory phonetics concentrates on how the listener perceives and processes speech sounds.

Speech sounds are created in the vocal tract. Phoneticians have come up with names for the different parts in the vocal tract in order to make detailed descriptions of how a particular sound is made. These parts are called articulators, and they can be either passive or active, depending on if they can be moved or not. For example,...
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