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What+is+phonetics - What is Phonetics Linguistics 101 P P...

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What is Phonetics? Linguistics 101 P. & P. Houghton Spring 2009 1 What is phonetics? To begin our study of linguistics, we’ll start with the very smallest building block and work our way up. When we think about language, we often first think of whole conversations, or at least whole sentences; but sentences are made up of words, and words are made up of even smaller pieces called morphemes, like the past tense -ed . Even smaller than these word-bits are the parts that make up those word bits – the individual sounds that combine to form something meaningful. This is where we’ll begin, with the tiniest piece of language that we can study: the sounds. The study of these tiny pieces of sound is called phonetics . Specifically, phonetics is concerned with the physical aspects of these sounds, such as how they are produced and perceived. Linguists refer to these tiny bits of sound as phones . Phones can be either consonants or vowels, though in this class we will only concern ourselves with consonants. Native speakers sometimes have intuitions about how many phones a word has; for in- stance, most English speakers would tell you that the word dog is made up of three sounds – d , o , g . For dog , this might seem obvious; for a word like psycho , it might seem less obvious. In dog there is a one-to-one correspondence between letters and phones, but in psycho things are not so neat – being composed of ps , y , ch , and o . To make things even worse, even though ch shows up in psycho , chef , chimp , it sounds different every time. Clearly, spelling and pronunciation do not line up – as anyone trying to learn English would surely agree! If spelling and pronunciation had a regular correspondence, then learning how to write and spell English would be significantly simpler (until one considers just how many dialects of English there are, and consequently how many different pronunciations of the same word). Orthography , the system of symbols used to spell, is remarkably inconsistent in terms of how it relates to pronunciations of sound; ch isn’t the only culprit. Consider the examples in (1) through (5). (1) Same sound, different letters f un , ph one , cough (2) Different sound, same letters teeth , teeth e , poth ole , Th omas
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Linguistics 101 What is Phonetics? (3) One sound, combination of letters nati on , kick , off er , th at (4) Combination of sounds, one letter box , u se (5) No sound, some letter(s) though , is land , k not , bomb As these examples illustrate, using orthography (or spelling) is not helpful for linguists concerned with the study of sound. The recurring problem in using orthography to represent sounds is the lack of a one-to-one correspondence between the symbol and the sound. As a result, linguists developed their own set of symbols used to represent sounds; each of these symbols represents one and only one sound, and each sound is represented by one and only one symbol.
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