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Phonetics is the study of speech sounds (voice). It is concerned with the actual nature of the sounds and their production, as opposed to phonology, which operates at the level of sound systems and linguistic units called phonemes. Discussions of meaning (semantics) do not enter at this level of linguistic analysis. Phones, the objects of study in phonetics, are actual speech sounds as uttered by human beings. While written languages and alphabets are obviously (in most cases) closely related to the sounds of speech, strictly speaking, phoneticists are more concerned with the sounds of speech than the symbols used to represent them. So close is the relationship between them however, that many dictionaries list the study of the symbols (more accurately semiotics) as a part of phonetic studies.

Phonetics has three main branches:

There are several hundred different phones recognized by the International Phonetic Association (IPA) and transcribed in their International Phonetic Alphabet.

Of all the speech sounds that a human vocal tract can create, different languages vary considerably in the number of these sounds that they use. Languages can contain from 2 (Abkhaz) to 55 (Sedang) vowels and 6 (Rotokas) to 117 (!Kung) consonants. The total number of phonemes in languages varies from as few as 10 in the Pirahã language, 11 in Rotokas (spoken in Papua New Guinea), and 12 in Hawaiian, to as many as 141 in !Xu (spoken in southern Africa, in the Kalahari desert). These may range from familiar sounds like /t/, /s/ or /m/ to very unusual ones produced in extraordinary ways (see: clicks, phonation, airstream mechanism). The English language has about 13 vowel and 24 consonant phonemes (depending upon dialect), some of which have multiple allophones. This differs from the lay definition based on the Latin alphabet, where there are 21 consonants and 5 vowels (although sometimes y and w are included as vowels).

Phonetics was studied as early as 2500 years ago in ancient India .

See also

External links and references