Phonetics (from the Greek: φωνή, phōnē, "sound, voice") is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds (phones): their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status. Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned with abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds.
Phonetics was studied as early as 2500 B.C. in ancient India, with Pāṇini's account of the place and manner of articulation of consonants in his 5th century BC treatise on Sanskrit. The major Indic alphabets today order their consonants according to Pāṇini's classification. The Ancient Greeks are credited as the first to base a writing system on a phonetic alphabet. Modern phonetics began with Alexander Melville Bell, whose Visible Speech (1867) introduced a system of precise notation for writing down speech sounds.
The study of phonetics grew quickly in the late 19th century partly due to the invention of phonograph, which allowed the speech signal to be recorded. Phoneticians were able to replay the speech signal several times and apply acoustic filters to the signal. In doing so, one was able to more carefully deduce the acoustic nature of the speech signal.
Using an Edison phonograph, Ludimar Hermann investigated the spectral properties of vowels and consonants. It was in these papers that the term formant was first introduced. Hermann also played back vowel recordings made with the Edison phonograph at different speeds in order to test Willis' and Wheatstone's theories of vowel production.
Phonetics as a research discipline has three main branches:
- articulatory phonetics is concerned with the articulation of speech: The position, shape, and movement of articulators or speech organs, such as the lips, tongue, and vocal folds.
- acoustic phonetics is concerned with acoustics of speech: The spectro-temporal properties of the sound waves produced by speech, such as their frequency, amplitude, and harmonic structure.
- auditory phonetics is concerned with speech perception: the perception, categorization, and recognition of speech sounds and the role of the auditory system and the brain in the same.
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