Phonetics and Phonology Differ From Each Other

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Phonetics is a scientific discipline that examines the sounds made by humans when speaking. It explains the mechanics and acoustic qualities of sounds and provides ways to classify them. Phonetics is comprised of three major branches.

  • Articulatory phonetics: Studies the nature and limits of the human ability to produce speech sounds and describes the way these sounds are delivered.
  • Acoustic phonetics: Studies the physical properties of speech sound.
  • Auditory phonetics: is concerned with hearing and the perception of speech, or our response to speech sounds as received through the ear and brain.

Phonology, a branch of linguistics along with grammar and semantics, is a type of functional phonetics that utilizes data to examine the sound systems of languages. Its focus is on scientific theory and studying the linguistic functions of sounds.

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Phonologists in phonology study sounds in various languages and classify them into “families” to comprehend their differences. These distinctions, referred to as distinctive, contrastive, functional, or information-bearing features, are the main focus of phonological research. For instance, in English, the sounds /k/ and /b/ in words such as cat and bat act as phonemes that distinguish between the two words. Phonemes are considered fundamental units of analysis within phonology.

It is important to distinguish phonemes from allophones. Phonemes have a communicative significance in a language, while allophones are sounds that do not create contrasts. Allophones, such as the “k” sound in the English words cool and keep, may sound alike but are not perceived as separate by native speakers. They are considered to be the same sound, similar to different shades of red still being classified as red. This degree of frontness does not result in a systematic distinction but rather indicates an unsystematic characteristic in English.

The phonemic opposition examples mentioned previously focus on consonants, but it is worth noting that languages also possess varied vowel distinctions. In English, for instance, there are the phonemes /i:/ and /ɪ/, representing the long and short versions of the ‘i’ sound. Individuals from these language backgrounds may struggle in perceiving and distinguishing these nuances while learning English. Words like sheep and ship, chip and ship, which differ by a single phoneme, are referred to as minimal pairs.

The consonant sound theta is used differently in Spanish and English. In English, theta can be combined with the letter r at the start of words (e.g., “three”), but this combination is not allowed in Spanish. Phonotactics encompasses both consonant combinations and the arrangement of consonants and vowels within syllables or words.

The interface between phonetics and phonology is the topic of interest. While a phonetician focuses on sounds as physical phenomena, a phonologist views sounds as linguistic elements with functions, behaviors, and organization. Therefore, it can be argued that the core concepts in phonology – unit, realization, and distribution – are crucial in structural linguistics before the 1960s regardless of specific linguistic studies. In phonology, the unit is referred to as the phoneme while realizations are known as allophones which have specific distributions. Phonology involves observation and analysis characterized by abstract and general concepts while relying on phonetic substance. Phonetics and phonology complement each other.

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Phonetics and Phonology Differ From Each Other. (2016, Nov 16). Retrieved from

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