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Phonetics Phonology and Prosodics

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English

Phonetics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the physical production and reception of sound. We call these distinct sounds phones. Phonetics is not concerned with the meaning of sounds but instead focuses on the production, transmission, and reception of sound. It is a universal study and is not specific to any particular language.

By contrast, phonology is the branch of linguistics that describes the systems and patterns of speech sounds and helps us understand the relationship between meaning and speech sounds in a specific language. In phonology, we study phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. In the English language, there are 44 phonemes (24 consonant sounds and 20 vowel sounds), all of which are represented by a unique letter or symbol in a phonemic chart, derived from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

It is helpful to think of a phoneme as the mental representation of a sound and a phone as the actual sound itself.

Prosodics (or prosody) is the study of the other elements of speech that appear in connected speech. For example, tone of voice, intonation, word stress, and rhythm. We name these elements of speech prosodic features. Prosodic features are yet another way of adding meaning to our speech.

Read on to find out more about each term and to learn about the International Phonetic Alphabet.

What is phonetics?

The term phonetics comes from the Greek word fōnḗ, which means sound or voice. Phonetics is an important branch of linguistics. It studies how humans both produce and receive sounds. Phonetics views speech from three specific viewpoints:

  • The production of sound (articulatory phonetics).
  • The physical way sound is transmitted through the air (acoustic phonetics).
  • How humans perceive sounds (auditory phonetics).

Phonetics is concerned with objectively describing the sounds used in speech. The International Phonetic Alphabet aims to assign a set of symbols and letters to those sounds. It is important to note that phonetics and the IPA are not specific to any particular language and can be used globally, as all human beings (with standard cognitive and physical abilities) can produce the same range of speech sounds.

What are the main branches of phonetics?

Articulatory phonetics is concerned with the way speech sounds are created and aims to explain how we move our speech organs (articulators) to produce certain sounds. Articulatory phonetics is concerned with the transformation of aerodynamic energy (airflow through the vocal tract) into acoustic energy (sound). Sound can be produced simply by expelling air from the lungs; however, we can produce a large number of different sounds by moving and manipulating our speech organs. Our speech organs are the lips, teeth, tongue, palate, uvula, nasal and oral cavities, and vocal cords. Usually, two speech organs make contact with each other to change the airflow and create a sound. We call the contact between two speech organs the point of articulation.

Acoustic phonetics looks at the physical properties of sound and analyses how sound is transmitted through the air. We can examine the movement of sound by studying the sound waves that are created during speech. There are four different properties of sound waves: wavelength, period, amplitude, and frequency.

phonetics, phonology and prosodics sound wave StudySmarterSound waves have the measures: amplitude, distance and wavelength which are shown in graphs of sound waves. - StudySmarter original.

Auditory phonetics is the study of how humans perceive and analyse sounds. This branch of phonetics studies the reception and response to speech sounds, mediated by the ears, the auditory nerves, and the brain. Auditory phonetics can be particularly useful in the medical field as not everyone can easily decipher different sounds. For instance, some people suffer from Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), which is a disconnect between hearing and processing sounds.

Phonetics and phonics are often used interchangeably, but they are not quite the same. Phonics is a teaching method that helps students associate sounds with letters and is an essential part of teaching reading skills.

What is phonology?

Phonology is the study of the 'sound system' of a language and examines phonemes, the smallest units of meaningful sound, in a language. Whereas phonetics studies the production, transmission, and reception of sound, phonology looks at the meanings we associate with those sounds in the context of a specific language or dialect.

It also looks at the pattern of sounds in a language and aims to explain how phonemes, represented by symbols, may sound different in different words. While the same sounds may be produced within several languages, no two languages organize their sound systems in the same way. The meaning assigned to sounds will likely differ from language to language.

Let's use the English language as an example.

English has 26 letters in its alphabet but 44 different phonemes (remember, these are the smallest units of sound that can help define meaning). The 44 phonemes include 19 consonants, 7 digraphs (2 consonants working together to create a new sound, ie 'sh' / ʃ /), 12 monophthongs (vowels that make a single sound, ie. the 'a' in cat), and 8 diphthongs (a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, ie the 'oi' / ɔɪ / sound in coin). The 44 phonemes of English can be found in the phonemic chart at the end of this article.

We can use phonology to examine how phonemes (represented by symbols) may sound different when presented in different words. Let's look at the vowel sounds, for example. There are only 5 vowel letters in English (a, e, i, o, u); however, they are used to represent 20 different vowel sounds.

Take a look at the use of the letter 'a' in the following words. How many different vowel sounds can you count?

Cat, rate, wasp, awe.

The letter 'a' was used to create four different vowel sounds. Now, take a look at the phonemic transcriptions to show how these different sounds are represented.

/ kæt /, / reɪt /, / wɒsp /, / ɔː /

On the other hand, the same vowel sound can also be represented by different letters. For example, awe (/ ɔː /) and ought / ɔːt /.

We can understand the importance of phonology by looking at minimal pairs.

Minimal pairs are two words that sound similar but have one phoneme different, positioned in the same place within the words. For example, lock and rock. The difference between the / l / and / r / sounds changes the entire meaning of the words.

Phonetics phonology prosodics Minimal pairs StudySmarterThe words 'sheep' and 'ship' are minimal pairs as they differ only in one phoneme (the vowel sounds). - StudySmarter original.

Phonetics vs. Phonology?

Take a look at this handy table which outlines the key differences between phonetics and phonology.

Phonetics Phonology and Prosodics Differences between phonetics and phonology Study Smart

What is prosodics?

Prosodics is concerned with the elements of speech that are not individual phonetic segments (ie. vowels or consonants) and examines the other features that appear when we put sounds together in connected speech. We call these prosodic features, and they include:

  • Intonation and pitch
  • Word stress
  • Accent
  • Rhythm

Prosodic features are another way of adding meaning to the things we say.

As an example, let's take a look at how word stress can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

Look at the following sentence:

"I didn't say he stole the red hat."

If we stress the word 'I', it suggests that the speaker didn't say it, but perhaps someone else did.

If we stress the word 'say', it suggests that the speaker didn't say he stole the hat but perhaps wrote it down instead.

If we stress the word 'red', this suggests that the hat wasn't red but could have been another colour.

Every word in this sentence can be stressed to create a new meaning. Try saying the sentence aloud and adding word stress to different words. How many other meanings can you create?

What is the International Phonetic Alphabet?

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was developed by the language teacher Paul Passy in 1888 and is a system of phonetic symbols based primarily on Latin script. The chart was developed as a way of accurately representing speech sounds. The IPA aims to represent all qualities of speech and sounds present within oral language, including; phones, phonemes, intonation, gaps between sounds, and syllables. IPA symbols consist of letters, diacritics, or both. The IPA is not specific to any particular language and can be used globally to help language learners.

Diacritics = Small symbols added to a phonetic symbol to show stress, small distinctions in sounds, and to show nasalization of vowels, length, stress, and tones.

The IPA was created to help describe sounds (phones), not phonemes; however, the chart is often used for phonemic transcription. The IPA itself is big. Therefore, when studying the English language, we would most likely use a phonemic chart (based on the IPA), which only represents the 44 English phonemes.

Here is the phonemic chart for the English language:

Phonetics Phonology and Prosodics, Phonemic Chart, StudySmarterThe English phonemic chart shows the phonemes used in the English language. - Englishclub.com

Don't worry, you are not expected to learn the IPA by heart. However, having a basic understanding of what it is and why it exists can help you immensely!

Transcribing phones

When we describe phones, we use narrow transcription (to include as many aspects of a specific pronunciation as possible) and place the letters and symbols between two square brackets ( [] ). Phonetic transcriptions give us lots of information about how to physically produce the sounds. For example, the word 'port' has an audible exhalation of air after the letter 'p'. This is shown in the phonetic transcription with a [ʰ] and the word port in phonetic transcript would look like this [pʰɔˑt].

Let's take a look at some more examples of phonetic transcription.

Head - [ˈhɛd]

Shoulders- [ˈʃəʊldəz]

Knees - [ˈniːz]

And - [ˈənd]

Toes - [ˈtəʊz]

Phonetic transcriptions for one word can have variation as different speakers may say the word slightly differently.

Transcribing phonemes

When describing phonemes, we use broad transcription (only mentioning the most notable and necessary sounds) and place the letters and symbols between two slashes ( / / ). For example, the English word apple would look like this / æpəl /.

Here are some further examples of phonemic transcriptions

Head - / hɛd /

Shoulders - / ˈʃəʊldəz /

Knees - / niːz /

And - / ənd /

Toes - / təʊz /

As you can see, both transcriptions are very similar, as they follow the IPA. However, look closely, and you will see some diacritics in the phonetic transcriptions that do not appear in the phonemic transcriptions. These diacritics provide a few more details about how to pronounce the actual sounds. These transcriptions all follow British English pronunciation.

Phonetics Phonology and Prosodics - Key takeaways

  • Phonetics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the physical production and reception of sound. The three main branches of phonetics are: articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics, and auditory phonetics.
  • Phonology is the branch of linguistics that describes the systems and patterns of speech sounds and helps us add meaning to sounds within a specific language.
  • In phonetics, we study phones, and in phonology, we study phonemes.
  • Phonetics can be applied globally, whereas phonology examines meaning within a particular language or dialect.
  • Prosodics is the study of the other features of speech that appear in connected speech. Prosodic features can add another layer of meaning to speech and include intonation, pitch, tone, word stress, accent, and rhythm.
  • The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was developed as a way to accurately represent speech sounds and the pronunciation of languages. The IPA aims to represent all qualities of speech and sounds present within oral language.

Frequently Asked Questions about Phonetics Phonology and Prosodics

Prosody, or prosodics, is concerned with the elements of speech that are not individual phonetic segments (ie vowels or consonants) and examines the other features that appear when we put sounds together in connected speech. Prosodic features include: Intonation and pitch, tone, word stress, accent, and rhythm.

An example of phonology is examining the pronunciation of the letter 's' at the end of a word. By examining the patterns and relationships of the English language, we know that the letter 's' is usually pronounced as a / z / sound at the end of a word when it follows a vowel or a voiced sound, such as the m, n , ng, l, b, d, g, v, voiced th, or r sound.

The three main branches of phonetics are: articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics, and auditory phonetics.

There are 44 phonemes in English. There are 19 consonants, 7 digraphs (2 consonants working together to create a new sound, ie SH / ʃ /), 12 monophthongs (vowels that make a singular sound, ie the 'a' in cat), and 8 diphthongs (a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, ie the 'oi' / ɔɪ / sound in coin).

Phonetics studies the physical production, transmission, and reception of sound and can be applied globally. In contrast, phonology examines the 'sound system' of a language. Phonology studies the meanings we associate with sounds in the context of a specific language or dialect.

Final Phonetics Phonology and Prosodics Quiz

Question

What type of writing is this example of alliteration from?

'while I pondered weak and weary'.

Show answer

Answer

Poetry.

This example of alliteration is from The Raven (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe.

Show question

Question

Is this an example of consonance that is also alliteration or consonance that is NOT also alliteration?

'Sheep should sleep in a shed'.

Show answer

Answer

Consonance that is also alliteration.


Show question

Question

How can you tell that this excerpt from Taylor Swift’s song Bad Blood is an example of alliteration?

‘‘And baby, now we’ve got bad blood.’’

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the alliteration by spotting the repeated sound ‘’b’’ at the beginning of the words.

''And baby, now we’ve got bad blood.''

Show question

Question

How can you identify that this is an example of consonance that is not also alliteration and NOT an example of alliteration?

A blessing in disguise.

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the consonance by spotting that the repeated consonant sound 's' is within the words. There is no repetition of sounds at the beginning of the words, therefore this is not an example of alliteration.

A blessing in disguise.

Show question

Question

Does this phrase contain alliteration?

Phineas and Ferb

Show answer

Answer

Yes


Show question

Question

What is the alliterative sound in this phrase?

The Wicked Witch of the West

Show answer

Answer

 The ‘’w’’ sound.

The Wicked Witch of the West

Show question

Question

Does this phrase contain alliteration?

Slender shoulders

Show answer

Answer

No


Show question

Question

Is this an example of alliteration or assonance?

'The yellow Eastern sun and the blue Eastern moon'.

Show answer

Answer

 Alliteration


Show question

Question

What type of writing is this example of alliteration from?

'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers'.

Show answer

Answer

This alliteration is a popular tongue twister.


Show question

Question

Does this phrase contain alliteration?

'Curiosity killed the cat'.

Show answer

Answer

Yes


Show question

Question

How can you tell that this is an example of assonance and NOT an example of alliteration?

'I say goodbye as I fly'.

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the assonance by spotting that the repeated sound “y’’ is at the end of the words “goodbye’’ and “fly’’. There is no repetition of sounds at the beginning of the words, therefore this is not an example of alliteration.

'I say goodbye as I fly'.

Show question

Question

Does this name contain alliteration?

Luna Lovegood

Show answer

Answer

Yes


Show question

Question

What is the alliterative sound in this excerpt from the song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell?

'They paved paradise and put up a parking lot'.

Show answer

Answer

 The “p’’ sound.

'They paved paradise and put up a parking lot'.

Show question

Question

 What form of writing is this assonance from?

'But the biggest kick I ever got

was doing a thing called the Crocodile Rock'.

Show answer

Answer

Song lyrics.

This assonance is from Elton John's song Crocodile Rock.

Show question

Question

Is this an example of assonance or consonance?

'O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?' (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1597).

Show answer

Answer

Assonance

Show question

Question

Is this an example of assonance or alliteration?

'Eric boils eggs'.

Show answer

Answer

Alliteration


Show question

Question

Why is this passage from Dylan Thomas' 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' (1951) an example of assonance and NOT an example of consonance?

'Old age should burn and rave at close of day.' (6)

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the assonance by spotting the repeated vowel sound 'a'. There is no repetition of consonant sounds, therefore this is not consonance.

'Old age should burn and rave at close of day'.

Show question

Question

Why is this sentence from Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955) an example of alliteration and NOT an example of assonance?

'A lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active Adam's apple.' 

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the alliteration by spotting the repeated sound 'a' that only occurs at the beginning of the words.

'A lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active Adam's apple'.

Show question

Question

Why is the following passage from John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1667) an example of consonance and NOT an example of assonance?

'Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit.' 

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the consonance by spotting the repeated sounds 'f' and 't' in the words 'first' and 'fruit'. There is no repetition of vowel sounds, therefore this is not assonance.

'Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit'.

Show question

Question

Why is the following phrase from Robert Louis Stevenson's poem 'The Feast of Famine' (1890) an example of assonance and NOT an example of alliteration?

'crumbling thunder of seas' 

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the assonance by spotting the repeated vowel sound 'u' in the words 'crumbling' and 'thunder'. The sound is repeated in the middle of the words and no repetition of sounds occurs at the beginning of the words; therefore this is not an example of alliteration.

'crumbling thunder of seas'.

Show question

Question

Is this an example of consonance or assonance? 

'Twist and shout'

Show answer

Answer

Consonance


Show question

Question

Is the following passage from the poem 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' by Dylan Thomas (1951) an example of assonance or rhyme?

'Rage, rage against the dying of the light' 

Show answer

Answer

Assonance

Show question

Question

What form of writing is this following passage with assonance from?

'Soft language issued from their spitless lips as they swished in low circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weeds.'

Show answer

Answer

 Prose.

This assonance is from the novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) by James Joyce.

Show question

Question

Why is the following an example of rhyme and NOT an example of assonance?

'See you later, alligator.'

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the rhyme by spotting the repetition of the sound 'ater', a combination of vowel and consonant sounds, that occurs at the end of the words. There is no repetition of only vowel sounds, therefore this is not assonance.

See you later, alligator.

Show question

Question

Does the followint phrase contain assonance?

'Drowning bones'

Show answer

Answer

No


Show question

Question

What is the repeated vowel sound in this line with assonance from the Christmas carol Silent Night ?

'Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.'

Show answer

Answer

The vowel sound 'i'.

'Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.' 

Show question

Question

Is the following saying an example of assonance or rhyme?


'Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.'

Show answer

Answer

 Rhyme


Show question

Question

Is the following an example of assonance or alliteration?

'Back in Black'

Show answer

Answer

Assonance


Show question

Question

Does the following phrase contain assonance? 

'My wine is fine.'

Show answer

Answer

Yes


Show question

Question

What form of writing is this example of consonance from?

 

'The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard

And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood'.

Show answer

Answer

Poetry.

This consonance is from Robert Frost's poem Out-Out (1961).

Show question

Question

Is this an example of consonance or assonance?

'And the day is loud with voices speaking'. (5)

Show answer

Answer

 Assonance


Show question

Question

Is this an example of consonance that is also alliteration or consonance that is NOT also alliteration?

Severus Snape

Show answer

Answer

Consonance that is also alliteration


Show question

Question

How can you identify that this is an example of assonance and NOT an example of consonance?

Hey,Nathan! Wait for me!

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the assonance by spotting the repeated vowel sound `` ey ''.

Hey, N a than! W ai t for me!

Show question

Question

Is this an example of consonance or assonance?

Twist tie

Show answer

Answer

Consonance


Show question

Question

Is this an example of consonance that is also alliteration or consonance that is NOT also alliteration?

We zigged. It zagged.

Show answer

Answer

Consonance that is also alliteration.


Show question

Question

What form of writing is this example of consonance from?

'Maggie comes fleet foot

Face full-a black soot'.

Show answer

Answer

Song lyrics.

This example of consonance is from Bob Dylan's song Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Show question

Question

How can you tell that this excerpt from the rap song Brooklyn's Finest by Jay-Z is an example of consonance and NOT an example of assonance?

'Peep the style and the way the cops sweat us'.

Show answer

Answer

 You can identify the consonance by spotting the repeated consonant sound 's'.

'Peep the style and the way the copsweat us'.

Show question

Question

Does this phrase contain consonance?

'Jazz music'.

Show answer

Answer

Yes


Show question

Question

Does this phrase contain consonance?

Jazz music

Show answer

Answer

Yes


Show question

Question

How can you tell that this is an example of consonance that is NOT also alliteration?

'Dread Pirate Roberts'.

Show answer

Answer

You can tell that this phrase is an example of consonance by spotting the repeated 'd', 'r' and 't' sounds. You can tell that it is not an example of alliteration by noticing that none of these sounds is repeated at the beginning of the words. Note that the 'd' and 'r' sounds only appear at the beginning of words once - if there were two words in the phrase starting with the 'd' sound, then the phrase would be alliterative.

Dread Pirate Roberts

Show question

Question

Does this phrase contain consonance?

'Soul music'.

Show answer

Answer

No


Show question

Question

What is the repeated consonant sound in this consonance?

George Jetson

Show answer

Answer

The sound “j” is repeated in the letters “g” and “j”. 

George Jetson

Show question

Question

What is the repeated consonant sound in this consonance?

'Traffic is making my Friday tough'.

Show answer

Answer

The sound 'f' is repeated in the letters 'f' and 'gh'.

Traffic is making my Friday tough.

Show question

Question

What is the repeated consonant sound in this consonance?

'I feel fantastic on this fine day because I had a big cup of coffee!'

Show answer

Answer

The sound 'f' is repeated in the letter 'f'.

I feel fantastic on this fine day because I had a big cup of coffee!

Show question

Question

True or false - Plosives are produced with no articulator contact and unrestricted airflow.

Show answer

Answer

False. Plosives are made when the vocal tract and airflow are blocked.


Show question

Question

True or False - Plosives can be bilabial but not alveolar.


Show answer

Answer

False. They can be both.

Show question

Question

What are fricatives?

Show answer

Answer

Fricatives are sounds created by constriction of the vocal organs leaving a small gap for the airflow.


Show question

Question

Give an example of a sibilant.


Show answer

Answer

Sick or sun.

Show question

Question

How many affricate consonants are there in English? 

Show answer

Answer

Two.


Show question

Question

True or false - fricatives and affricates are the same.


Show answer

Answer

False. Affricates are a combination of a plosive and fricative consonant.


Show question

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