The History of Phonetics

by Hollan Johnson
Phonetics examines both the articulatory and acoustic properties of speech.

Phonetics examines both the articulatory and acoustic properties of speech.

Phonetics is a field in linguistics that specializes in studying single sounds within language. Phonetics concerns itself with how the sounds are produced, how they sound to other listeners and how the brain perceives the sounds. Like all linguistic fields, phonetics studies all languages.

Types

Phonetics can be separated into three fields of study. --Articulatory phonetics is the study of how speech is made with the mouth, tongue and lungs. --Acoustic phonetics is the study of how speech sounds acoustically, such as speech frequency and harmonics. --Auditory phonetics is the study of how speech is perceived by the brain.

History

Around 750 A.D., the Indian grammarian P??ini studied and wrote about the rules of articulation of Sanskrit. He also wrote some of the first known works on linguistic theories in general. Many other Indian linguists followed in P??ini's footsteps.

17th and 18th Centuries

The discovery of how lateral (L sounds) and nasal (N and M) sounds are made took place during this time. Also, many speech synthesis machines were built and tested by scientists from all fields.

19th and 20th Centuries

By the late 1800s, the International Phonetic Association decided to create a phonetic system in order to describe sounds from all languages. This is the alphabet that all those studying phonetics still use today. Called IPA for short, the system allows linguists to explain the pronunciation of any language with one writing system.

Modern Phonetics

Today, phonetics is studied alongside phonology, the study of meaning in the smallest units of sound. Because all of linguistics is interdisciplinary, it is difficult to exclude the meaning of the sound from the way the sound is produced and perceived.

About the Author

Hollan Johnson is a freelance writer and contributing editor for many online publications. She has been writing professionally since 2008 and her interests are travel, gardening, sewing and Mac computers. Prior to freelance writing, Johnson taught English in Japan. She has a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics from the University of Las Vegas, Nevada.

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