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Phonetics (from the Greek: φωνή, phōnē, "sounds, voices", pronounced /fɵˈnɛtɨks/) is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds (phones), and their physiological production, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status.
Phonetics was studied as early as 2500 years ago in ancient India, with Pāṇini's account of the place and manner of articulation of consonants in his 5th century BC treatise on Sanskrit. The major Indic alphabets today order their consonants according to Pāṇini's classification.
Phonetic transcription is a universal system for transcribing sounds that occur in spoken language. The most widely known system of phonetic transcription, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), uses a one-to-one mapping between phones and written symbols. The standardized nature of the IPA enables its users to transcribe accurately and consistently the phones of different languages, dialects, and idiolects. The IPA is a useful tool not only for the study of phonetics, but also for language teaching, professional acting, and speech pathology.
Phonetics as a research discipline has three main branches:
Application of phonetics include:
In contrast to phonetics, phonology is the study of how sounds and gestures pattern in and across languages, relating such concerns with other levels and aspects of language. Phonetics deals with the articulatory and acoustic properties of speech sounds, how they are produced, and how they are perceived. As part of this investigation, phoneticians may concern themselves with the physical properties of meaningful sound contrasts or the social meaning encoded in the speech signal (e.g. gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.). However, a substantial portion of research in phonetics is not concerned with the meaningful elements in the speech signal.
While phonology is grounded in phonetics, it is a distinct area of linguistics, treating sounds and gestural units as abstract units (e.g. phonemes, features, mora, etc.) and accounting for conditioned variation in the form of grammatical rules (e.g., allophonic rules, constraints, derivational rules). Phonology relates to phonetics via the set of distinctive features, which relate the abstract representations of speech units to speech gestures or acoustic representations.
O'Grady, William et al (2005). Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction (5th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 0312419368.