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Have you ever wondered how humans speak and how our speech style distinguishes us from other organisms around us? 

Phonetics - Anthroholic

What is Phonetics?

A subfield and study of speech and linguistics are called phonetics. It studies how speech sounds are created and categorized throughout the world. In contrast to phonemics, which is the study of how speech sounds are arranged into linguistic systems, phonetic studies can be conducted without necessarily considering the linguistic structures in which they may be found.

When we talk about speech classification, we mean the categorization of speech sounds into groups that may be observed in what is known as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a framework that employs a single symbol to indicate each unique sound in the language. It is used in dictionaries and textbooks all around the world.

The three methods researchers have historically employed are determined by the problems they are trying to solve. The study of how speech sounds are perceived and processed is known as auditory phonetics. This area of phonetics frequently employs highly sophisticated tools to assess test subjects’ capacity to hear or distinguish between certain speech sounds. The extent of phonetics, known as acoustic phonetics, examines the physical characteristics of sound waves propagating through the air as observed by devices like sound spectrometers. Finally, the study of the vocal tract movements that produce speech sounds is known as articulatory phonetics.

How are speech sounds produced?

Classification of sounds

Air is moved via the vocal tract, which includes the nasal cavity, and stretches from the larynx to the lips to create speech sounds. Vowels and consonants are the two natural categories for speech sounds. Vowels are formed when air passes through the respiratory system unhindered; the quality of the vowel is influenced by the tongue’s location and tension, as well as the presence or absence of lip rounding. For instance, [u] (the vowel in boot) is high, backward, tense, and rounded, but [a] (cot) is low, back, lax, and unrounded.

By blocking the air in some way as it leaves the neck, consonants are created. Consonants are typically characterized in terms of the larynx’s condition (voiced or voiceless), the location of articulation (bilabial, labiodental, etc.), and how they are pronounced (stop, fricative, nasal, etc.). For instance, [f] is a voiceless bilabial fricative, while [b] is a voiced bilabial stop.

By creating a computer-generated model of the Neandertal hominids’ vocal tract and utilizing this to establish the sounds they could have produced, Lieberman and Crelin attempted to ascertain the vocal sounds that Neandertal hominids were capable of producing. This was a novel and effective use of acoustic phonetics, even though they most likely underestimated the Neandertals’ capacity for speech.

Types Of Articulation

Six main types of articulation can be used at these points: 

  1. Stop
  2. Fricative
  3. Approximant
  4. Trill
  5. Tap
  6. Lateral


To impede the airstream, stops include closing the articulators. You might think of nasal and oral stops when describing this articulation style. A nasal finish is defined as the soft palate being down while allowing air to exit the nose still. For example, the words my and nigh have similar sounds at the start of the phrase. The airstream will be entirely blocked, mouth pressure will increase, and an oral stop will form if the soft palate is lifted to close off the nasal passage in addition to the mouth’s articulatory closure. A plosive quality will be present as the articulators open, releasing the airstream.

This kind of sound occurs in the consonants of pie, tie, buy, die, and guy.


A fricative sound is produced when two articulators are near one another, partially obstructing the airstream and creating a turbulent airflow. When the wind “whistles’ ‘ around a corner, similar physical forces are at play that can be likened to the technologies utilized to produce these noises—examples of the first sounds of the phrases fie, thigh, sigh, and shy. According to the design of the constriction in the mouth needed to produce them, some authors classify fricatives as either slit and grooved or rill and flat. In addition, some authors distinguish between sibilants, like shy and sigh, like fire and thigh. Using acoustic criteria, this divide was made.


Approximants are formed when two articulators are close to one another without causing the vocal tract to become too narrow and create a turbulent airstream. Some of the sounds produced with this method of articulation are frictionless continuant, semivowel, and glide. You and we both contain approximants in their consonants.


When two articulators are held loosely and relatively close to one another, the airstream causes one to vibrate, producing a trill. The only articulators that can be utilized in this manner are the lips, uvula, and the tip and blade of the tongue. Some dialects of Scottish English use tongue tip trills for words like rye and ire. Although they are uncommon, uvular trills are employed in various French dialects but not Parisian French. Lip trills are even less common but found in a few African languages


One articulator is thrown against another to create a tap, like when the loosely held tongue tip taps the upper teeth or the alveolar ridge. American English frequently makes the middle consonant of words like letter or Betty in this fashion. Although the term “flap” is also used to describe these noises, some authors distinguish between taps, as defined above, and flaps, in which the tongue tip impacts the alveolar ridge before returning to its original place behind the lower front teeth.

Some languages have a distinction between words with a flap and those with a tap, like the primary language of Northern Nigeria, Hausa. In Spanish, the difference between a trill and a tap is utilized to distinguish between Perro, which means “dog,” and Pero, which means “but.”


A lateral sound originates when the airstream is blocked in the middle of the oral cavity and there is insufficient closure between one or both sides of the tongue and the roof of the mouth. For example, in most American English dialects, the sounds at the beginning and end of the word lull are laterals.

These six fundamental ways of articulation produce a wide variety of sounds. For example, fricative pauses are used at the beginning and end of the word “church.” First, the tongue tip or blade and alveolar ridge, the articulators, come together for the stop. Then, instead of completely separating, they only slightly do so that a fricative is produced at the exact articulation location. An affricate is a name for this particular combination. Along with other types of articulation, lateral expressions can also occur in a mixture. For example, if the airstream travels smoothly between the tongue’s sides and the mouth’s roof without creating a turbulent airstream, the laterals in a word-like lull would be better described as lateral approximants.

Phonetic Transcription

The visual depiction of speech sounds (or phones) using symbols is called phonetic transcription, also referred to as phonetic writing or phonetic notation. A phonetic alphabet, such as the International Phonetic Alphabet, is frequently used in phonetic transcription.

Most contemporary languages have established standard orthographies or ways of expressing them in written or typed characters or symbols. However, these methods need to consider all the peculiarities of spoken language or changes in pronunciation through time. For instance, the term knight was pronounced with the first /k/ sound in Old and Middle English. The k is silent in speech but is still present in written modern English. Furthermore, not all languages have separate graphemes (written symbols) for each phoneme (a distinct speech sound).


The study of speech sounds is called phonetics. It discusses how they are articulated (articulatory phonetics), how they sound (acoustic phonetics), and how they come together to form syllables, words, and phrases (linguistic phonetics). Indian scholars who worked to preserve the pronunciation of sacred Sanskrit writings were the earliest phoneticians (about 300 BC). However, the first writing system built on a phonetic alphabet is attributed to the Classical Greeks.

Alexander Melville Bell (1819–1905), whose Visible Speech (1867) established a system of accurate notation for writing down speech sounds, is credited with founding modern phonetics. Linguists spent the 20th century working to create a classification scheme that would allow for comparing all human speech sounds. The mental processes involved in perceiving speech are another issue with current phonetics.

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