Differences Between Phonetics and Phonology

1 January 2017

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.

Differences Between Phonetics and Phonology Essay Example

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 /k? t/, 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 the other hand, is both physical and meaningful.

It explores the differences between sounds that change the meaning of an utterance. For example, the word bet is very similar to the word bed in terms of the physical manifestation of sounds. The only difference is that at the end of bet, the vocal chords stop vibrating so that sound is a result only of the placement of the tongue behind the teeth and the flow of air. However, the meanings of the two words are not related in the least. What a vast difference a muscle makes! This is the biggest distinction between phonetics and phonology, although phonologists analyse a lot more than just the obvious differences.

They also examine variations on single letter pronunciations, words in which multiple variations can exist versus those in which variations are considered incorrect, and the phonological grammar of languages. Phonology should be carefully distinguished from phonetics. As already alluded, phonetics concerns with the physical production, acoustic transmission and perception of the sounds of speech, phonology describes the way sounds function within a given language or across languages to encode meaning. In other words, phonetics is a type of descriptive linguistics whereas phonology is a type of theoretical linguistics.

It should be noted, however, that this distinction was not always made in linguistics, particularly before the development of the modern concept of phoneme in the mid 20th century. Some subfields of modern phonology have a crossover with phonetics in the interface with descriptive disciplines such as psycholinguistics and speech perception, resulting in specific areas like Articulatory phonology or laboratory phonology. In conclusion, phonetics deals with the production of speech sounds by humans, often without prior knowledge of the language being spoken.

Phonology is about patterns of sounds, especially different patterns of sounds in different languages, or within each language, different patterns of sounds in different positions in words, just to mention a few. Phonetics is strictly physical while phonology also pays attention to the function or meaning of a sound. Phonetics makes a pretty general description of sounds and can be used to describe sounds in any language. On the contrary, phonology makes very detailed descriptions of sounds, so each language has its own unique set of symbols that is why two languages cannot use all of the exact same sounds.

It should be noted, however, that these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. It does seem that they reflect alternative ways in which relationships between phonetics and phonology have been considered in the past. Ideally, phonetics and phonology can complement each other on different levels of analysis, but the demarcation lines between them are often somewhat arbitrary. Therefore, one should be very careful when it comes to their distinctions.

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