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Phonetics and Phonology: A compilation of answers


I have compiled all the answers to my question below for the benefit of others:

Bruno Repp:
Let me give it a try. Phonetics is the science of the sounds of speech. It includes the study of speech production mechanisms (articulatory phonetics), of the acoustic characteristics of speech (acoustic phonetics), and of speech perception. It involves speech scientists, speech pathologists, engineers, acousticians, and psychologists who do measurements and experiments. Phonology is a subfield of linguistics. It is concerned with the sound structure of languages in the abstract, usually without any measurements or experiments. It deals with abstract units called phonemes and investigates the rules by which they are combined to make words. There is a small group of people who take an empirical approach to phonology ("laboratory phonologists"), but most phonologists just sit at their desk and rely on their intuitions and observations.

In psychology, the term "phonological" has been misused a great deal. For example, people are said to rehearse verbal material by means of a "phonological loop", which is really inner speech and has nothing to do with phonology as such. Perhaps you are a psychologist and are confused for that reason.

Sylvia Moosmueller:
The difference between phontics and phonology is perhaps quickly explained in introductory classes (the phoneme as the "underlying" form), but in practice, it often turns out to be quite difficult to decide whether one is dealing with phonetics or with phonology; e.g is a given observed variation due to coarticulation (phonetics) or to assimilation (phonology) or both(!)? Therefore, the issue remains implicit quite often and also depends on the theoretical framework. Phonology is defined differently in "generative" approaches or in "natural" approaches, this has effects on the integration of phonetics. In the same way phonetic theories might integrate phonology differently.

Branka Zei:
The difference between phonology and phonetics is fundamental.

The perception of speech sounds implies their categorization. Phonological categorization includes only the features that are relevant for transmitting meanings. Phonology studies the sound features that are relevant for linguistic communication * as well as their distribution and organization into phonological systems. Phonemes form systems. Phonetic sciences study all kinds of acoustic characteristics that the sounds can display regardless of whether they are or not relevant for the primary function of a particular language - that is transmitting linguistic meanings. Various acoustic characteristics of speech sounds can be relevant for example for speaker identification, for his mood or emotions but totally irrelevant for the linguistic code he/she is using at the moment of speaking. It wasn't until experimental phonetics made progress, that phonologists could clearly separate their science from phonetics. Both synchronic and diachronic phonology study the way speakers perceive, produce and arrange the speech sounds in order to transmit linguistic meanings. Phonology belongs to humanities, and phonetics to natural sciences.

As fundamental reading I would suggest the great classic N. S. Troubetzkoy's Principals of Phonology. By this work Troubetzkoy made a crucial epistemological contribution to linguistic sciences.

Valeriy Shairo:
I think it was Trubetskoy who first said that Phonetics is to Phonology as
Numismatics is to Economics.  Although in the years following the Prague
School, as people started examining speech sounds closer, some speech
scientists thought that a more appropriate analogy was that of History to
Mythology.  While I wouldn't advocate for either of these views, it does
seem that they reflect alternative ways in which relationships between
phonetics and phonology have been considered in the past.  Ideally, I
think, phonetics and phonology can complement each other on different
levels of analysis, but the demarcation lines  between them are often
somewhat arbitrary.

Sascha Fagel:
phonetics deals with the speech sounds as they are produced whereas phonology regards the underlying structures and processes. Representatives from both sides sometimes claim that the other area would be a part of the own field. But in the end it is better not to ignore the other viewpoint (as often).

Mark Hasegawa-Johnson:
 "Phonology is discrete, Phonetics is continuous."

     - Mario Svirsky, ca. 1995

Thanks Tarun

On Thu, 8 Sep 2005, Tarun Pruthi wrote:

Hi all,

I don't know if this has already been discussed on the list. My sincere apologies if I am raising it again, but I am very confused about the differences between Phonetics and Phonology. Could someone please elaborate them for me?

Thanks in advance

Tarun Pruthi
Graduate Research Assistant, ECE
Room 3180, A V Williams Building
University of Maryland, College Park
MD 20742 USA
Email: tpruthi@xxxxxxxxxxxx
Web: www.ece.umd.edu/~tpruthi
Ph: 301-405-1365

----------------------------------------- Tarun Pruthi Graduate Research Assistant, ECE Room 3180, A V Williams Building University of Maryland, College Park MD 20742 USA Email: tpruthi@xxxxxxxxxxxx Web: www.ece.umd.edu/~tpruthi Ph: 301-405-1365 ----------------------------------------