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Phonetics and Phonology.

Updated on May 26, 2016

Phonetics and phonology are fundamental branches of Linguistics. Both of them study the sound system but in a different way. However, we should define each one separately to make a clearer view. I am going to give a brief summary of each one of them; I will start first with phonetics then I will move to phonology.

Phonetics deals with the production of speech sounds by humans; it is the study of sounds made by the human voice in speech. There is not a single way for describing speech sounds. This explains why phonetics has three main branches/divisions. They are: Articulatory Phonetics, Acoustic Phonetics and Auditory Phonetics. Each branch specialized in one thing. Articulatory Phonetics describes how speech sounds (Vowels and consonants) are produced in various parts of the mouth and throat. Acoustic Phonetics investigates how speech sounds are transmitted as vibrations in the air: i.e. when sound travels through the air from the speaker’s mouth to the hearer’s ear it does in the form of vibrations in the air. And Auditory Phonetics study how speech sounds are perceived or received by the hearer.

Writing phonetically.
Writing phonetically.

Although, there is something in phonetics called “Phonetics Transcription” Phonetic transcription is a system for transcribing sounds that occur in a language, whether oral or sign. The most widely known system of phonetic transcription, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), provides a standardized set of symbols for oral phones. The standardized nature of the IPA enables its users to transcribe accurately and consistently the phones of different languages and accents. The IPA is a useful tool not only for the study of phonetics, but also for language teaching, professional acting, and speech pathology. Phonetics studies also the manner of articulation and the place of articulation of a sound. But also it studies if the sound is voiced or voiceless.

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) chart
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) chart

The talk in Phonetics seems not to be finished but I could consider this as a brief summary about it. Now let us move to the second part of the essay where I will talk about “Phonology”. We could define phonology as a study of sounds units contributing to meaning. In other words; it is the study and identification of significant sounds. While articulatory phonetics attempts to describe how isolated speech sounds are produced and how they are classified, phonology studies how they are combined or merged into each other to produce words and utterances. It also studies the functional patterns of such merging. This why phonology is sometimes called “Functional phonetics”.


.Phonemic analysis is concerned with phonemes and allophones. Let’s know more about them. “Phonemes” are meaningful sounds, i.e. if one is used instead of the other in a word, its meaning will change. For example; the sound /f/ in the word (fight) and the sound /l/ in the word (light) .If we replaced them the whole meaning would change and that’s phoneme. “Allophones” are different. Allophones are the varieties of a phoneme. They do not change the meaning of a word if one is used instead of the other. For example; the /l/ sound is pronounced differently in ‘love' and in ‘wool'. These two words contain allophones of the phoneme /l/. ”It is important to be aware of what allophones and phonemes exist in other languages, as these can cause problems when learning the sounds of English. For example, the /b/ and /v/ phonemes in English are only allophones in Spanish and Spanish learners often have difficulty recognizing the difference”. It is important also to know the difference between the “Clear and Dark ‘l’ “.So the "dark L" occurs at the end of words (call, trial) and before consonants (milk, hold). And the "clear L" or "light L" occurs before a vowel (lap, lord) or before the glide /j/ (billiard, scallion).Because in all English words which begin with “L” the next sound is a vowel or glide, English words never start with a dark L.

In the talk about phonology, there are some phonological rules in English that shall be noted here. First phonological rule is “Assimilation” It is a common phonological process by which one sound becomes more like a nearby sound. This can occur either within a word or between words. This process would be very observed in the last sound /d/ of the word (good) when it becomes /g/. For example: “She is a good girl” it would be pronounced as “goog girl”.The same process on pronouncing the /d/ sound as /b/ sound. Example: “He is a good boy” it would become “goob boy”. There are two rules could falls below which they are “The linking ‘r’ “and the “Intrusive ‘r’ “. The linking ‘r’ is when the word ends with schwa and the next word starts with a vowel the ‘r’ would be heard between them. For example: (Later on) and (Dear Anny). The Intrusive ‘r’ is when we insert the ‘r’ even when the previous word does not end with it just because there are two vowels behind each other. For example: (Idea ‘r’ of) and (Asia ‘r’ and Africa). The second phonological rule is “Aspiration” occurs in pronouncing the voiceless plosive sounds /p/, /k/, and /t/; they are pronounced with a puff of air when it is used at the beginning of a stressed syllable and before vowels.


To sum up, we now know how to distinguish between phonetics and phonology; in the terms of: definitions, separation in tasks and the fundamental rules in each one of them. I once read something really helped me to understand more the difference between phonetics and phonology that the ear hears phonetics, but the brain hears phonology. That is, your ear is capable of processing whatever linguistic sounds are given to it (assuming someone with normal hearing), but your language experience causes your brain to filter out only those sound patterns that are important to your language(s). Of course, this summary simplifies things considerably. Phonologists are often as interested in patterns related to the manner of articulation as they are the patterns of the speech waves. Phoneticians, meanwhile, would have no way to analyze their data sets if they didn't have phonological categories to help organize them. Generally, phonetics is the study of fine grained details of those sounds, while phonology has traditionally dealt with analysis of greater abstractions. For understandable reasons, the line between the two disciplines is blurring, particularly as our modeling capabilities become more sophisticated. Still, the distinction is useful.

© 2016 Rola Maher Abboud


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    • profile image

      Trey Jones 

      17 months ago

      You don't have permission to use the image you've labelled "Writing phonetically." since it came from Speculative Grammarian. Please remove it.

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      Great hub.It is useful for my grammar & linguistics examination. Thank you for your support.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      3 years ago from now on

      That's a joke about Ebonics Jay Leno did in his monologue around that time.

    • rolaabboud profile imageAUTHOR

      Rola Maher Abboud 

      3 years ago from Kuwait

      That is very far from what I've guessed :'D

    • tsadjatko profile image

      3 years ago from now on

      LOL, well the state that wouldn't participate was

      I DA HO

    • rolaabboud profile imageAUTHOR

      Rola Maher Abboud 

      3 years ago from Kuwait

      I don't remember because in 1996 I was only ONE YEAR old ! I was born in 1995 ...

      I guess hmm New York ?!

    • tsadjatko profile image

      3 years ago from now on

      Yeah, I remember when it was in the news. Some people from the Miss America Pageant even decided to have a Miss Ebonics Pageant but they couldn't get all 50 states to participate because one state refused to participate. Can you guess what state that was?

    • rolaabboud profile imageAUTHOR

      Rola Maher Abboud 

      3 years ago from Kuwait

      Thank you very much Tsadjatko for encouraging me, your comment really make me happy.

      I already know that there is something called "Ebonics" But Is it really considered as a Language ! I thought it is just a dialect. However, after checking the website you provided there is a sentence says ( His goal was to combine the words “ebony” with “phonics” to refer to “black sounds) . "Black sounds" that mean that it is a language; like if you are saying Arabic sounds or Russian sounds .. etc

      I am really confused now, and I want to check this matter to make things clear. But I'm still considering it as a dialect :D !

      Thanks for providing me with new information.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      3 years ago from now on

      Thank you for an interesting and thought provoking look at linguistics!! This is a great hub page!

      Are you familiar with Ebonics, American black English regarded as a language in its own right rather than as a dialect of standard English? There was a big hullabaloo about this in 1996, the Oakland School Board passed a resolution declaring Ebonics to be the language of 28,000 African-American students within that school district. Few people had ever heard of the term Ebonics prior to the passage of that resolution, to say nothing of how it was created or originally defined.

      Would you say ebonics is a language or an example of phonology?

      Great hub page Rola, keep them coming and welcome to Hubpages!


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