Phonetics is the scientific study of human speech sounds. To study Phonology which is a branch of Linguistics, it’s good to start with Phonetics.
Branches of Phonetics
For the ease of education, Phoneticians have divided the science to three main branches:
- Articulatory Phonetics that is the study of the way speech sounds are articulated
in the human beings’ vocal system.
- Acoustic Phonetics that is the study of sound waves, their frequencies and the like.
- Auditory Phonetics which deals with perception of the message as it travels between the sender and the receiver.
Consonants and vowels, the differences
Human’s speech sounds are classified into two categories: Consonants and Vowels. (Although some language scholars like Roman Jacobson do not believe in that classification). There are three reasons behind this classification:
- To produce consonants, there should be a kind of obstruction or narrowing somewhere in the vocal system but there is no such a thing in the production of vowels.
- Vowels are the core of the syllables, so they can stand alone as a syllable while consonants cannot (it happens in some languages).
- Almost half of the consonants are voiced while vowels are all voiced.
Distinctive features of Consonants
To distinguish among consonants we may consider three factors:
1. Places of articulation :
That is the place where organs of speech take part in the articulation. In the other word, which organs are involved?
The discussion goes on with introducing the “Vocal Organs” listed here:
Larynx is the voice box in front of the throat in the upper part of the windpipe. Vocal cords which are two lip-like structures are placed in larynx. Three important gestures of vocal cords will be discussed later in the chapter. The related adjective which is used to refer to the sounds produced here is : Laryngeal.
Pharynx is the area above larynx up to the back part of the tongue. The related adjective is Pharyngeal.
Uvula is the fleshy structure pending above the pharynx cavity. The related adjective is Uvular.
Soft palate or velum is the soft and movable part of the roof of the mouth. The adjective used here is: Velar.
Hard palate is the bony, arch-like structure in the mouth. The related adjective is Palatal.
Alveolar ridge is the very front part of the roof of the mouth. The word used as an adjective here is: Alveolar.
Teeth, Tongue and Lips can also be considered as organs of speech. The adjectives are Dental, Dorsal (or Apical, if the tip of the tongue is involved) and labial/ bilabial respectively.
- Oral cavity and nasal cavity are also important to mention here as they are the air passages. By oral cavity we mean the passage of air through the mouth. Most of the above mentioned organs are placed in oral cavity. Nasal cavity as its name implies, is the passage of air through the nose.
- Active and passive articulators should be mentioned here. Normally two articulators are involved in the production of each sound. The one which moves toward the other is considered to be active and the one which stands still is the passive articulator.