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Phonetics For Dummies®

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Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

Foolish Assumptions

What You’re Not to Read

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Getting Started with Phonetics

Part II: Speculating about English Speech Sounds

Part III: Having a Blast: Sound, Waveforms, and Speech Movement

Part IV: Going Global with Phonetics

Part V: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Getting Started with Phonetics

Chapter 1: Understanding the A-B-Cs of Phonetics

Speaking the Truth about Phonetics

Prescribing and Describing: A Modern Balance

Finding Phonetic Solutions to the Problems of the World

Chapter 2: The Lowdown on the Science of Speech Sounds

Defining Phonetics and Phonology

Sourcing and Filtering: How People Make Speech

Getting Acquainted with Your Speaking System

Powering up your lungs

Buzzing with the vocal folds in the larynx

Shaping the airflow

Producing Consonants

Getting to the right place

Nosing around when you need to

Minding your manners

Producing Vowels

To the front

To the back

In the middle: Mid-central vowels

Embarrassing ‘phthongs’?

Putting sounds together (suprasegmentals)

Emphasizing a syllable: Linguistic stress

Changing how low or high the sound is

Chapter 3: Meeting the IPA: Your New Secret Code

Eyeballing the Symbols

Latin alphabet symbols

Greek alphabet symbols

Made-up symbols

Tuning In to the IPA

Featuring the consonants

Accounting for clicks

Going round the vowel chart

Marking details with diacritics

Stressing and breaking up with suprasegmentals

Touching on tone languages

Sounding Out English in the IPA

Cruising the English consonants

Acing the alveolar symbols

Pulling back to the palate: Alveolars and palatals

Reaching way back to the velars and the glottis

Visualizing the GAE vowels

Why the IPA Trumps Spelling

Chapter 4: Producing Speech: The How-To

Focusing on the Source: The Vocal Folds

Identifying the attributes of folds

Pulsating: Vocal folds at work

Recognizing the Fixed Articulators

Chomping at the bit: The teeth

Making consonants: The alveolar ridge

Aiding eating and talking: The hard palate

Eyeing the Movable Articulators

Wagging: The tongue

More than just for licking: The lips

Clenching and releasing: The jaw

Eyeing the soft palate and uvula: The velum

Going for the grapes: The uvula

Pondering Speech Production with Models

Ordering sounds, from mind to mouth

Controlling degrees of freedom

Feeding forward, feeding back

Coming Up with Solutions and Explanations

Keeping a gestural score

Connecting with a DIVA

Chapter 5: Classifying Speech Sounds: Your Gateway to Phonology

Focusing on Features

Binary: You’re in or out!

Graded: All levels can apply

Articulatory: What your body does

Acoustic: The sounds themselves

Marking Strange Sounds

Introducing the Big Three

Moving to the Middle, Moving to the Sides

Sounding Out Vowels and Keeping Things Cardinal

Tackling Phonemes

Defining phonemes

Complementary distribution: Eyeing allophones

Sleuthing Some Test Cases

Comparing English with Thai and Spanish

Eyeing the Papago-Pima language

Part II: Speculating about English Speech Sounds

Chapter 6: Sounding Out English Consonants

Stopping Your Airflow

Huffing and puffing: Aspiration when you need it

Declaring victory with voicing

Glottal stopping on a dime

Doing the funky plosion: Nasal

Doing the funky plosion: Lateral

Tongue tapping, tongue flapping

Having a Hissy Fit

Going in Half and Half

Shaping Your Approximants

Exploring Coarticulation

Tackling some coarticulation basics

Anticipating: Anticipatory coarticulation

Preserving: Perseveratory coarticulation

Chapter 7: Sounding Out English Vowels

Cruising through the Vowel Quadrilateral

Sounding out front and back

Stressing out when needed

Coloring with an “r”

Neutralizing in the right places

Tensing up, laxing out

Sorting the Yanks from the Brits

Differentiating vowel sounds

Dropping your “r”s and finding them again

Noticing offglides and onglides

Doubling Down on Diphthongs

Lengthening and Shortening: The Rules

Chapter 8 : Getting Narrow with Phonology

Distinguishing Types of Transcription

Impressionistic versus systematic

Broad versus narrow

Capturing Universal Processes

Getting More Alike: Assimilation

Getting More Different: Dissimilation

Putting Stuff In and Out

Moving Things Around: Metathesis

Putting the Rules Together

Chapter 9: Perusing the Phonological Rules of English

Rule No. 1: Stop Consonant Aspiration

Rule No. 2: Aspiration Blocked by /s/

Rule No. 3: Approximant Partial Devoicing

Rule No. 4: Stops Are Unreleased before Stops

Rule No. 5: Glottal Stopping at Word Beginning

Rule No. 6: Glottal Stopping at Word End

Rule No. 7: Glottal Stopping before Nasals

Rule No. 8: Tapping Your Alveolars

Rule No. 9: Nasals Becoming Syllabic

Rule No. 10: Liquids Become Syllabic

Rule No. 11: Alveolars Become Dentalized before Dentals

Rule No. 12: Laterals Become Velarized

Rule No. 13: Vowels Become Nasalized before Nasals

Applying the Rules

Chapter 10: Grasping the Melody of Language

Joining Words with Juncture

Knowing what affects juncture

Transcribing juncture

Emphasizing Your Syllables

Stressing Stress

Eyeing the predictable cases

Identifying the shifty cases

Sticking to the Rhythm

Tuning Up with Intonation

Making simple declaratives

Answering yes-no questions

Focusing on “Wh” questions

Showing Your Emotion in Speech

Fine-Tuning Speech Melodies

Sonority: A general measure of sound

Prominence: Sticking out in unexpected ways

Chapter 11: Marking Melody in Your Transcription

Focusing on Stress

Recognizing factors that make connected speech hard to transcribe

Finding intonational phrases

Zeroing in on the tonic syllable

Seeing how phoneticians have reached these conclusions

Applying Intonational Phrase Analysis to Your Transcriptions

Tracing Contours: Continuation Rises and Tag Questions

Continuing phrases with a rise

Tagging along

Part III: Having a Blast: Sound, Waveforms, and Speech Movement

Chapter 12: Making Waves: An Overview of Sound

Defining Sound

Cruising with Waves

Sine waves

Complex waves

Measuring Waves





Relating the physical to the psychological

Harmonizing with harmonics

Resonating (Ommmm)

Formalizing formants

Relating Sound to Mouth

The F1 rule: Tongue height

The F2 rule: Tongue fronting

The F3 rule: R-coloring

The F1–F3 lowering rule: Lip protrusion

Chapter 13: Reading a Sound Spectrogram

Grasping How a Spectrogram Is Made

Reading a Basic Spectrogram

Visualizing Vowels and Diphthongs

Checking Clues for Consonants

Stops (plosives)

Fricative findings




Formant frequency transitions

Spotting the Harder Sounds

Aspirates, glottal stops, and taps

Cluing In on the Clinical: Displaying Key Patterns in Spectrograms

Working With the Tough Cases

Women and children

Speech in a noisy environment

Lombard effect

Cocktail party effect

Chapter 14 : Confirming That You Just Said What I Thought You Said

Staging Speech Perception Processes

Fixing the “lack of invariance”

Sizing up other changes

Taking Some Cues from Acoustics

Timing the onset of voicing

Bursting with excitement

Being redundant and trading

Categorizing Perception

Setting boundaries with graded perception

Understanding (sound) discrimination

Examining characteristics of categorical perception

Balancing Phonetic Forces

Examining ease of articulation

Focusing on perceptual distinctiveness

Part IV: Getting Global with Phonetics

Chapter 15 : Exploring Different Speech Sources

Figuring Out Language Families

Eyeing the World’s Airstreams

Going pulmonic: Lung business as usual

Considering ingressives: Yes or no?

Talking with Different Sources

Pushing and pulling with the glottis: Egressives and ingressives

Clicking with velarics

Putting Your Larynx in a State

Breathless in Seattle, breathy in Gujarat

Croaking and creaking

Toning It Up, Toning It Down

Register tones

Contour tones

Tracking Voice Onset Time

Long lag: /p/, /t/, and /k/

Short lag: /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/

Pre-voicing: Russian, anyone?

Chapter 16: Visiting Other Places, Other Manners

Twinning Your Phonemes

Visualizing vowel length

Tracking World Sounds: From the Lips to the Ridge (Alveolar, That Is)

Looking at the lips

Dusting up on your dentals

Assaying the alveolars

Flexing the Indian Way

Passing the Ridge and Cruising toward the Velum

Studying post — alveolars

Populating the palatals

(Re)Visiting the velars

Heading Way Back into the Throat

Uvulars: Up, up, and away

Pharyngeals: Sound from the back of the throat

Going toward the epiglottals

Working with Your Tongue

Going for Trills and Thrills

Prenasalizing your stops or prestopping your nasals

Rapping, tapping, and flapping

Classifying syllable-versus stress-timed languages

Making pairs (the PVI)

Chapter 17: Coming from the Mouths of Babes

Following the Stages of a Healthy Child’s Speech Development

Focusing on early sounds — 6 months

Babbling — 1 year

Forming early words — 18 months

Toddling and talking — 2 years

Knowing What to Expect

Eyeing the common phonological errors

Examining patterns more typical of children with phonological disorders

Transcribing Infants and Children: Tips of the Trade

Delving into diacritics

Study No. 1: Transcribing a child’s beginning words

Study No. 2: A child with a cochlear implant (CI)

Chapter 18: Accentuating Accents

Viewing Dialectology

Mapping Regional Vocabulary Differences

Transcribing North American

The West Coast: Dude, where’s my ride?

The South: Fixin’ to take y’all’s car

The Northeast: Yinzers and Swamp Yankees

The Midlands: Nobody home

Black English (AAVE)

Canadian: Vowel raising and cross-border shopping

Transcribing English of the United Kingdom and Ireland

England: Looking closer at Estuary

Talking Cockney

Wales: Wenglish for fun and profit

Scotland: From Aberdeen to Yell

Ireland: Hibernia or bust!

Transcribing Other Varieties

Australia: We aren’t British

New Zealand: Kiwis aren’t Australian

South Africa: Vowels on safari

West Indies: No weak vowels need apply

Chapter 19: Working with Broken Speech

Transcribing Aphasia

Broca’s: Dysfluent speech output

Wernicke’s: Fluent speech output

Dealing with phonemic misperception

Using Special IPA to Describe Disordered Speech

Referencing the VoQS: Voice Quality Symbols

Transcribing Apraxia of Speech (AOS)

Transcribing Dysarthria

Cerebral palsy

Parkinson’s disease

Ataxic dysarthria

Introducing Child Speech Disorders

Noting functional speech disorders

Examining childhood apraxia of speech

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 20: Ten Common Mistakes That Beginning Phoneticians Make and How to Avoid Them

Distinguishing between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/

Getting Used to /ɪ/ for -ing spelled words

Staying Consistent When Marking /ɪ/ and /i/ in Unstressed Syllables

Knowing Your R-Coloring

Using Upside-Down /ɹ/ Instead of the Trilled /r/

Handling the Stressed and Unstressed Mid-Central Vowels

Forming Correct Stop-Glide Combinations

Remembering When to Use Light-l and Dark-l

Transcribing the English Tense Vowels as Single Phonemes or Diphthongs

Differentiating between Glottal-Stop and Tap

Chapter 21: Debunking Ten Myths about Various English Accents

Some People Have Unaccented English

Yankees Are Fast-Talkin’ and Southerners Are Slow Paced

British English Is More Sophisticated Than American English

Minnesotans Have Their Own Weird Accent

American English Is Taking Over Other English Accents around the World

People from the New York Area Pronounce New Jersey “New Joysey”

British English Is Older Than American English

The Strong Sun, Pollen, and Bugs Affected Australian English’s Start

Canadians Pronounce “Out” and “About” Weirdly

Everyone Can Speak a Standard American English

About the Author

Cheat Sheet

Connect with Dummies

End User License Agreement


Welcome to the world of phonetics — the few, the bold, the chosen. You’re about to embark on a journey that will enable you to make sounds you never thought possible and to scribble characters in a secret language so that only fellow phoneticians can understand what you’re doing. This code, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), is a standard among phoneticians, linguists, teachers, and clinicians worldwide.

Phonetics is the scientific study of the sounds of language. Phonetics includes how speech sounds are produced (articulatory phonetics), the physical nature of the sounds themselves (acoustic phonetics), and how speech is heard by listeners (perceptual/linguistic phonetics).

The information you can gain in an introductory college course on phonetics is essential if you’re interested in language learning or teaching. Understanding phonetic transcription (that special code language) is critical to anyone pursuing a career in speech language pathology or audiology.

Others can also benefit from studying phonetics. Actors and actresses can greatly improve the convincingness of the characters they portray by adding a basic knowledge of phonetic principles to their background and training. Doing so can make a portrayed accent much more consistent and believable. And if you’re a secret drama queen, you can enjoy the fun of trying very different language sounds by using principles of articulatory and acoustic phonetics. No matter what your final career, a basic phonetics class will help you understand how spoken languages work, letting you see the world of speech and language in a whole new light.

About This Book

Phonetics For Dummies gives you an introduction to the scientific study of speech sounds, which includes material from articulatory, acoustic, and perceptual phonetics.

I introduce the field of phonology (systems of sound rules in language) and explain how to classify speech sounds using the IPA. I provide examples from foreign accents, dialectology, communication disorders, and children’s speech.

I present all the material in a modular format, just like all the other For Dummies books, which means you can flip to any chapter or section and read just what you need without having to read anything else. You just need to adhere to some basic ground rules when reading this book and studying phonetics in your class. Here are the big three:

check.png Study the facts and theory. Phonetics covers a broad range of topics, including physiology, acoustics, and perception, which means you need to familiarize yourself with a lot of new terminology. The more you study, the better you’ll become.

check.png Practice speaking and listening. An equally important part of being successful is ear training and oral practice (like learning to speak a second language). To get really good at the practical part of the trade, focus on the speaking and listening exercises that I provide throughout the book.

check.png Stay persistent and don’t give up. Some principles of phonetics are dead easy, whereas others are trickier. Also, many language sounds can be mastered on the first try, whereas others can even take expert phoneticians (such as Peter Ladefoged) up to 20 years to achieve. Keep at it and the payoff will be worth it!

You can only pack so much into a book nowadays, so I have also recommended many Internet websites that contain more information. These links can be especially helpful for phonetics because multimedia (sound and video) is a powerful tool for mastering speech.

Conventions Used in This Book

This book uses several symbols commonly employed by phoneticians worldwide. If they’re new to you, don’t worry. They were foreign to even the most expert phoneticians once. Check out these conventions to help you navigate your way through this book (and also in your application of phonetics):

check.png / /: Angle brackets (or slash marks) denote broad, phonemic (indicating only sounds that are meaningful in a language) transcription.

check.png [ ]: Square brackets mark narrow, phonetic transcription. This more detailed representation captures language-particular rules that are part of a language’s phonology.

check.png /kӕt/ or “cat”: This transcription is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in action. The IPA is a system of notation designed to represent the sounds of the spoken languages of the world. I use the IPA in slash marks (broad transcription) for more general description of language sounds (/kӕt/), and the IPA in square brackets (narrow transcription) to capture greater detail ([kʰӕt]). I use quotation marks for spelled examples so you don’t mistake the letters for IPA symbols.

I use these additional conventions throughout this book. Some are consistent with other For Dummies books:

check.png All Web addresses appear in monofont. If you've reading an ebook version, the URLs are live links.

check.png Some academics seem to feel superior if they use big words that would leave a normal person with a throbbing headache. For example, anticipatory labial coarticulation or intra-oral articulatory undershoot. Maybe academics just don’t get enough love as young children? At any rate, this shouldn’t be your problem! To spare you the worst of this verbiage, I use italics when I clearly define many terms to help you decipher concepts. I also use italics to emphasize stressed syllables or sounds in words, such as “big” or “pillow”.

I use quotation marks around words that I discuss in different situations, such as when I transcribe them or when I consider sounds. For example, “pillow” /ˈрɪlo/.

check.png Bold is used to highlight the action parts of numbered steps and to emphasize keywords.

Foolish Assumptions

When writing this book, I assume that you’re like many of the phonetic students I’ve worked with for the past 20 years, and share the following traits:

check.png You’re fascinated by language.

check.png You look forward to discovering more about the speech sounds of the world, but perhaps you have a feeling of chilling dread upon hearing the word phonetics.

check.png You want to be able to describe speech for professional reasons.

check.png You enjoy hearing different versions of English and telling an Aussie from a Kiwi.

check.png You’re taking an entry-level phonetics class and are completely new to the subject.

If so, then this book is for you. More than likely, you want an introduction to the world of phonetics in an easily accessible fashion that gives you just what you need to know.

What You’re Not to Read

Like all For Dummies books, this one is organized so that you can find the information that matters to you and ignore the stuff you don’t care about. You don’t even have to read the chapters in any particular order; each chapter contains the information you need for that chapter’s topic, and I provide cross-references if you want to read more about a specific subject. You don’t even have to read the entire book — but gosh, don’t you want to?

Occasionally, you’ll see sidebars, which are shaded boxes of text that go into detail on a particular topic. You don’t have to read them unless you’re interested; skipping them won’t hamper you in understanding the rest of the text. (But I think you’ll find them fascinating!)

You can also skip paragraphs marked with the Technical Stuff icon. This information is a tad more technical than what you really need to know to grasp the concept at hand.

How This Book Is Organized

This book is divided into five parts. Here is a rundown of these parts.

Part I: Getting Started with Phonetics

Part I starts with the source-filter model of speech production, describing how individual consonants and vowels are produced. You get to practice, feeling about in your mouth as you do so. I then show how speech sounds are classified using the IPA. This part of the book includes an introduction to phonology, the rules of how speech sounds combine.

Part II: Speculating about English Speech Sounds

Part II shows you further details of English sound production, including processes relevant to narrow transcription. This part focuses on concepts such as feature theory, phonemes, and allophones — all essential to understanding the relationship between phonetics and phonology. This part also includes information about melody in language, allowing you to analyze languages that sound very different than English and to include prosodic information in your transcriptions.

Part III: Having a Blast: Sound, Waveforms, and Speech Movement

Part III provides grounding in acoustic phonetics, the study of speech sounds themselves. In this part, I begin with sound itself, examining wave theory, sound properties of the vibrating vocal folds, and sound shaping by the lips, jaw, tongue, and velum. I also cover the practical skill of spectrogram reading. You can uncover ways in which speech sounds affect perception (such as voice onset time and formant frequency transitions).

Part IV: Going Global with Phonetics

Part IV branches out with information on languages other than English. These languages have different airstream mechanisms (such as sucking air in to make speech), different states of the voice box (such as making a creaking sound like a toad), and use phonemic tone (making high and low sounds to change word meaning). This part also has transcribing examples drawn from children’s speech, different varieties of English and productions by individuals with aphasia, dysarthria, and apraxia of speech. The goal is to provide you with a variety of real-world situations for a range of transcribing experiences.

Part V: The Part of Tens

This part seeks to set you straight with some standard lists of ten things. Here I include ten common mistakes that beginning transcribers often make and what you can do to avoid those mishaps. This part also seeks to dispel urban legends circulating among the phonetically non-initiated. You can also find a bonus chapter online at www.dummies.com/extras/phonetics for a look at phonetics of the phuture.

Icons Used in This Book

Every For Dummies book uses icons, which are small pictures in the margins, to help you enjoy your reading experience. Here are the icons that I use:

tip.eps When I present helpful information that can make your life a bit easier when studying phonetics, I use this icon.

remember.eps This icon highlights important pieces of information that I suggest you store away because you’ll probably use them on a regular basis.

tryit.eps The study of phonetics is very hands-on. This icon points out different steps and exercises you can do to see (and hear) firsthand phonetics in action. These exercises are fun and show you what your anatomy (your tongue, jaw, lips, and so on) does when making sounds and how you can produce different sounds.

technicalstuff.eps Although everything I write is interesting, not all of it is essential to your understanding the ins and outs of phonetics. If something is nonessential, I use this icon.

warning_bomb.eps This icon alerts you of a potential pitfall or danger.

Where to Go from Here

You don’t have to read this book in order — feel free to just flip around and focus in on whatever catches your interest. If you’re using this book as a way of catching up on a regular college course in phonetics, go to the table of contents or index, search for a topic that interests you, and start reading.

If you’d rather read from the beginning to the end, go for it. Just start with Chapter 1 and start reading. If you want a refresher on the IPA, start with Chapter 3, or if you need to strengthen your knowledge of phonological rules, Chapters 8 and 9 are a good place to begin. No matter where you start, you can find a plethora of valuable information to help with your future phonetic endeavors.

If you want more hands-on practice with your transcriptions, check out some extra multimedia material (located at www.dummies.com/go/phoneticsfd) that gives you some exercises and quizzes.

Part I

Getting Started with Phonetics


pt_webextra_bw.TIF Visit www.dummies.com for more great Dummies content online.

In this part . . .

check.png Get the complete lowdown on what phonetics is and why so many different fields study it.

check.png Familiarize yourself with all the human anatomy that play important role in phonetics, including the lips, tongue, larynx, and vocal folds.

check.png Understand how the different parts of anatomy work together to produce individual consonants, vowels, syllables, and words.

check.png Examine the different parts of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to see how phoneticians use it to transcribe spoken speech and begin to make your own transcriptions.

check.png Identify how different speech sounds are classified and the importance of voicing (whether the vocal folds are buzzing), places of articulation (the location in your mouth where consonants are formed), and manner of articulation (how consonants are formed).

check.png See how sounds are broken down to the most basic level (phonemes) and how they work together to form words.

Chapter 1

Understanding the A-B-Cs of Phonetics

In This Chapter

arrow Nurturing your inner phonetician

arrow Embracing phonetics, not fearing it

arrow Deciding to prescribe or describe

People talk all day long and never think about it until something goes wrong. For example, a person may suddenly say something completely pointless or embarrassing. A slip of the tongue can cause words or a phrase to come out wrong. Phonetics helps you appreciate many things about how speech is produced and how speech breaks down.

This chapter serves as a jumping-off point into the world of phonetics. Here you can see that phonetics can do the following:

check.png Provide a systematic means for transcribing speech sounds by using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

check.png Explain how healthy speech is produced, which is especially important for understanding the problems of people with neurological disorders, such as stroke, brain tumors, or head injury, who may end up with far more involved speech difficulties.

check.png Help language learners and teachers, particularly instructors of English as a second language, better understand the sounds of foreign languages so they can be understood.

check.png Give actors needing to portray different varieties of English (such as American, Australian, British, Caribbean, or New Zealand) the principles of how sounds are produced and how different English accents are characterized.

This chapter serves as a quick overview to your phonetics course. Use it to get your feet wet in phonetics and phonology, the way that sounds pattern systematically in language.

Speaking the Truth about Phonetics

“The history of phonetics — going back some 2.5 millennia — makes it perhaps the oldest of the behavioral sciences and, given the longevity and applicability of some of the early findings from these times, one of the most successful”

— Professor John Ohala, University of California, Berkeley

When I tell people that I’m a phonetician, they sometimes respond by saying a what? Once in a rare while, they know what phonetics is and tell me how much they enjoyed studying it in college. These people are typically language lovers — folks who enjoy studying foreign tongues, travelling, and experiencing different cultures.

Unfortunately, some people react negatively and share their horror stories of having taken a phonetics course during college. Despite its astounding success among the behavioral sciences, phonetics has received disdain from some students because of these reasons:

check.png A lot of specialized jargon and technical terminology: In phonetics, you need to know some biology, including names for body parts and the physiology of speech. You also need to know some physics, such as the basics of acoustics and speech waveforms. In addition, phonetics involves many social and psychological words, for example when discussing speech perception (the study of how language sounds are heard and understood) and dialectology (the study of language regional differences). Having to master all this jargon can cause some students to feel that phonetics is hard and quickly become discouraged.

check.png Speaking and ear training skills: When studying phonetics, you must practice speaking and listening to new sounds. For anyone who already experienced second language learning (or enjoys music or singing), doing so isn’t a big deal. However, if you’re caught off guard by this expectation from the get-go, you may underestimate the amount and type of work involved.

check.png The stigma of being a phonetician: Phoneticians and linguists are often unfairly viewed as nit-picking types who enjoy bossing people around by telling them how to talk. With this kind of role model, working on phonetics can sometimes seems about as exciting as ironing or watching water boil.

I beg to differ with these reasons. Yes, phonetics does have a lot of technical terms, but hang in there and take the time to figure out what they mean because it will be worth your time. With phonetics, consider listening and speaking the different sounds as a fun activity. Working in the field of phonetics is actually an enjoyable and exciting one. Refer to the later section, “Finding Phonetic Solutions to the Problems of the World” and see what impact phonetics has in everyday speech.

Prescribing and Describing: A Modern Balance

This idea that linguists (those who study language) and phoneticians (those who work with speech sounds) are out to change your language comes from a tradition called prescriptivism, which means judging what is correct. Many of the founders of the field of modern phonetics, including Daniel Jones and Henry Sweet, have relied on this tradition. You may be familiar with phoneticians taking this position, for example, the character of Henry Higgins, in the play Pygmalion and the musical My Fair Lady, or Lionel Logue, as portrayed in the more recent film, The King’s Speech. At this time and place (England in early 1900s) phoneticians earned their keep mainly by teaching people how to speak “properly.”

However, much has changed since then. In general, linguistics (the study of language) has broadened to include not only studies close to literature and the humanities (called philology, or love of language), but also to disciplines within the cognitive sciences. Thus, linguistics is often taught not only in literature departments, but also in psychology and neural science groups.

These changes have also affected the field of phonetics. Overall, phoneticians have learned to listen more and correct less. Current phonetics is largely descriptive (observing how different languages and accents sound), instead of being prescriptive. Descriptive phoneticians are content to identify the factors responsible for spoken language variation (such as social or geographic differences) and to not necessarily translate this knowledge into scolding others as to how they should sound.

You can see evidence of this descriptive attitude in the term General American English (GAE), used throughout this book, when talking about American norms. (GAE basically means a major accent of American English, most similar to a generalized Midwestern accent; check out Chapter 18 for more information about it.) Although the difference may seem subtle, GAE has a very different flavor than a label such as Standard American English (SAE), used by some authors to refer to the same accent. After all, if someone is standard, what might that make you or me? Substandard? You can see how the idea of an accent standard carries the sense of prescription, making some folks uneasy.

Scientifically, descriptivism is the way to go. This viewpoint permits phoneticians to study language and speech without the baggage of having to tell people how they should sound. Other spokespeople in society may take a presciptivist position and recommend that certain words, pronunciations, or usages be promoted over others. This prescriptivism is generally based on the idea that language values should be preserved and that nobody wants to speak a language that doesn’t have correct forms.

Finding Phonetic Solutions to the Problems of the World

Phonetics can help a lot of problems related to speech. You may be surprised at how omnipresent phonetics is in everyday speech. If you’re taking a phonetics course or you’re reading to discover more about language and you come across a perplexing problem, the following can refer you to the chapter in this book where I address the solutions.

check.png How does my body produce speech? Check out Chapter 2.

check.png I have seen these symbols: /ʒ/, /ʧ/, /ə/, /θ/, /ɚ/, /ӕ/, /ŋ/, /ʌ/, and /ʊ/. What are they? Refer to Chapter 3.

check.png Why do Chinese and Vietnamese people sound like their voices are going up and down when they speak? Head to Chapter 3.

check.png What happens in my throat when I speak, whisper, or sing? Flip to Chapter 4.

check.png How are speech sounds classified? Check out Chapter 5.

check.png I have taken a phonetics course, but I still don’t understand the ideas of phoneme and allophone. What are they? Refer to Chapter 5.

check.png What exactly is a glottal stop? Go to Chapter 6.

check.png What is coarticulation? Does it always occur? Flip to Chapter 6.

check.png How are vowels produced differently in British and American English? Check out Chapter 7.

check.png Is it okay to drop my “R”s? Head to Chapter 7.

check.png What exactly is phonology? Go to Chapter 8.

check.png Do all people in the world have the same kind of sound changes in their languages? Check out Chapter 8.

check.png How do I apply diacritics in transcription? Chapter 9 can help.

check.png I need to know how to narrowly transcribe English. What do I do? Look in Chapter 9.

check.png How do I transcribe speech that is all run together? Head to Chapter 10.

check.png What role does melody play in speech? Go to Chapter 10.

check.png How do I mark speech melody in my transcriptions? Check out Chapter 11.

check.png How is speech described at the level of sound? Refer to Chapter 12.

check.png How can I use computer programs to analyze speech? Look in Chapter 12.

check.png My teacher asked me to decode a sound spectrogram, and I am stuck. What do I do? Chapter 13 can help.

check.png How do people perceive speech? Refer to Chapter 14.

check.png Why do speakers of different languages make those odd creaky and breathy sounds? Go to Chapter 15.

check.png What is voice onset time (VOT)? Chapter 15 has what you need.

check.png How do speakers of other languages make those peculiar r-like sounds? What about guttural sounds at the backs of their throats and clicks? Look in Chapter 16.

check.png Are some consonants held longer than others? What about some vowels? Refer to Chapter 16.

check.png How do I transcribe child language? Check out Chapter 17.

check.png How can you tell normal child speech from child speech that is delayed or disordered? Go to Chapter 17.

check.png What exactly are the differences between British, Australian, and New Zealand English? I just opened my mouth and inserted my foot. Chapter 18 can help ease your problems.

check.png Can you show me some examples of aphasia, apraxia, and dysarthria transcribed? Head to Chapter 19.

check.png I make mistakes when I transcribe. What can I do to improve? Chapter 20 discusses ten of the most common mistakes that people make when transcribing, and what you can do to avoid them.

check.png How can I know when someone is telling an urban myth about English accents? Zip to Chapter 21.