1.1 Definitions Of Phonology And Phonetics02
1.2 What´sThe Main Difference Between Phonology And Phonetics? 02
1.3 Differences Between Phonology And Phonetics02
1.4 What’s The Advantage Of Learning Phonetics And Phonology For Esl Students?03

2.1 What Do The Branches Of Phonetics Study?03
2.2 Articulatory Phonetics03
2.3 Auditory Phonetics08
2.4 Acoustic Phonetics 011

3.1 Classifying Speech Units 015
3.2 Kinds of Segments 015
3.3 Marginal segments 015
3.4 Suprasegmentales016



* The branch of linguistics dealing with the way speech sounds behave in particular languages or in languages generally. It examines patterns of sounds.
* The science of speech sounds including especially the history and theory of sound changes in a language or in two or more related languages.

* The study of speech sounds. Phonetics deals with the physical nature of speech sounds and not with their relations to other speech sounds in particular languages.”
* The system of speech sounds of a language or group of languages. 2 a: the study and systematic classification of the sounds made in spoken utterance b: the practical application of this science to language study.

Though I don’t have independent knowledge in using these two terms, there seems to be some degree of difference. Phonologyappears to have a broader scope, including history, theory, and comparative language studies.
1.2 What’s The Main Difference between Phonology and Phonetics?
Phonetics and phonology are both linguistic fields that are interested in the role of sound in language.
The main differences are that:
•Phonetics focuses on the way these sounds are made, classified, and how they are represented. In essence, phonetics looks at the relationship between sound and speech.
•Phonology concentrates on the relationship between sound and language. The meaning of sounds is more relevant to this field, and phonology also looks at how changes or patterns in sounds work in a language.
1.3 Differences Between Phonology And Phonetics
Traditionally, phonology breaks down language into basic segments of sound called phonemes. These are fragments that, according to the International Phonetics Association, are “the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrast between utterances”.

The confusion between phonetics is commonly made because the two fields are very closely related. The main difference is that phonetics has no interest whatsoever in whether a sound has any effect on the meaning of a word, but rather concentrates on how that word is vocalized and how we can represent that vocalization.
Example of the difference between Phonetics and Phonology
One example that highlights the difference between the two fields is the English phoneme c or k in words like ‘school’ and ‘cat’. Whilst the ‘k’ sound in school and the ‘k’ sound in ‘cat’ may sound identical, they are actually slightly different.
* A phoneticist would mark this by aspirating the ‘k’ in ‘cat’ as [khæt].
* A phonologist would not be interested in noting the aspiration as it does not alter the meaning of the word. ‘k’ and ‘kh’ are interchangeable in English. This means they are part of the same ‘phoneme’- a group of allophones (similar sounds) that have the same impact on the meaning of a word. A phonologist would write ‘cat as /kæt/
1.4 What’s the advantage of learning phonetics and phonology for ESL students?
Learning phonetics will help a foreign speaker sound more like a native speaker by making them aware of the different sounds that English makes use of. For example, the ‘r’ sound in English is phonetically different from the ‘r’ sound in Spanish, even though they are often represented by the same symbol in written language. A good phonetic understanding is very useful when learning another language.

Phonology, on the other hand, will help an ESL student understand when using a slightly different sound will impact on the meaning of a word.
One example would be Arabic-speakers who often don’t differentiate between the bi-labial plosives ‘b’ and ‘p’ in their own language. Not understanding the phonological implications of distinguishing between ‘b’ and ‘p’ in English might result in an Arabic-speaker asking their baker for ‘a dozen hamburger puns’ for a barbecue they’re hosting.

2.1 What Do The Branches Of Phonetics Study?
* Articulatory phonetics: is the study of the way speech sounds are made by vocal organs;
* Acoustic phonetics: studies the physical properties of speech sound, as transmitted
* Auditory phonetics: studies the perceptual response to speech sounds
2.2. Articulatory phonetics

Articulatory phonetics is a branch of phonetics which is largely based on data provided by other sciences, among which the most important are human anatomy and physiology. This is a result of the fact that human beings do not possess organs that are exclusively used to produce speech sounds, all organs involved in the uttering of sounds having in fact, primarily, other functions: digestive, respiratory, etc.

We can hardly think of speaking as being separated from the activity of breathing, as the air that is breathed in and out of the lungs has a crucial role in the process of uttering sounds.

Breathing is a rhythmic process including two successive stages: inspiration and expiration.

It is during the latter phase that speech production takes place in most languages. Because we speak while we expel the air from our lungs, the sounds that we produce are calledegressive. The continuous alternation between inspiration and expiration fundamentally shapes the rhythmicity of our speech.

Oral communication is based on sound waves produced by the human body. The initial moment of this rather complex process is the expelling of the air from our lungs. The lungs can therefore be considered the very place where speech production originates. The airstream follows a road that is called the vocal tract. We will follow this tract of the air that is expelled from the lungs out of the body. This tract includes segments of the respiratory and digestive tracts and the physiology of speaking is therefore intimately linked to the physiology of the respective vital processes. The lungs arepair organs, situated inside the thoracic cavity (the chest). They are formed of three, respectively two spongy lobes (the left lung is smaller because of the vicinity of the heart within the thoracic cavity).

We can never completely empty our lungs of air during expiration. During normal breathing, however, only about 10-15% of the vital capacity is used. The act of speaking requires a greater respiratory effort and consequently the amount of air increases to up to 30-80% ofthe vital capacity (30-40% during expiration and 45-80% during inspiration). Variations are due to different position of the body, to the quality, quantity and intensity (loudness) of the sounds we articulate. Breathing is a complex process that essentially consists in the exchange of air between our body and the environment. It leads to the oxygenation of our body and to the expulsion of the carbon dioxide resulting from the processes of combustion within our body. It is basically achieved by the successive expanding and compressing of the volume of the two lungs, the air being sucked in and pushed out respectively. This happens because the thoracic cavity itself modifies its volume, a complex system of bones (the ribs), muscles (of which the most important are the intercostal ones, that coordinate the movements of the ribs, and the diaphragm, that represents the floor of the thoracic cavity) and membranes (pleurae) being involved in the process. The entire process is controlled by the respiratory centers in the brain.

From each of the lungs a bronchial tube starts. At one end, the ramifications of these tubes spread inside the spongy mass of the pulmonic lobes. They are called bronchioles and their role is to distribute and collect the air into and from the innermost recesses of the lungs. These exchanges are made at the level of small air sacs called alveoli and represent the ultimate ramifications of the bronchioles. At the other end, the two bronchial tubes are joined at the basis of the trachea, or the windpipe.

The windpipe has a tubular cartilaginous structure (its components are a number of cartilages held together by membranous tissue) and is about 10 cm long and 2.5 cm in diameter. Its elasticity and the position of the larynx can result in important variations in the actual length of the organ. The latter is an essential segment of the respiratory system but does not play an active role in speech production.

The larynx is a cartilaginous pyramidal organ characterized by a remarkable structural complexity and situated at the top of the trachea.

As all speech organs, it primarily performs a vital role, namely it acts as a valve that closes, thus blocking the entrance to the windpipe and preventing food or drink from entering the respiratory ducts while we are eating.They are instead directed down the pharynx and the esophagus. The larynx is the first speech organ proper along the tract that we are following, as it interferes with the outgoing stream of air and establishes some of the essential features of the sounds that we produce. However, it is not the larynx proper (that is the organ in its entirety) that performs this important role within the speech mechanism, but two muscular folds inside it, called the vocal cords. As mentioned above, the larynx consists of a number of cartilaginous structures that interact in an ingenious way enabling the larynx to perform its important respiratory and articulatory functions. The thyroid cartilage is made of two (left and right) rectangular flat plates that form an angle anteriorly, resembling the covers of a book that is not entirely open. The aperture of the angle, oriented posteriorly, varies with the sex. It is a right angle in men (90°) while in women it is 120°. The angle is more visible, because more acute, in the former situation and the cartilage is popularly known as “Adam’s apple”. Posteriorly, each of the plates has two horns (an inferior and a superior one) called cornua, through which the thyroid cartilage is connected with the cricoid one. The joint that the two cartilages form, resembling a sort of hinges, allows the cricoid one to move anteriorly and posteriorly with respect to the thyroid one, thus controlling the degree of tension in the vocal cords.

One of the main functions of the thyroid cartilage is to protect the larynx and particularly the vocal cords. The cricoid cartilage is made of a ring-shaped structure, situated anteriorly and of a blade situated posteriorly and represents the base of the larynx, controlling communication with the trachea. On top of its blade, on the left and right side respectively, another pair of cartilages is situated: the arytenoid ones. The last important cartilage in the process of phonation or speech production is the epiglottis which is a spoon-shaped cartilage also playing an important role in keeping the food away from the respiratory tract. It is between the arytenoid cartilages and the thyroid cartilage that the two vocal cords mentioned above stretch.

The vocal cords are each made of a so-called vocal ligament and a vocal muscle. They are covered in mucous membranes or skin folds also known as the vocal folds. They connect the lower part of the thyroid cartilage to the anterior part of the arytenoid cartilages. The opening between the folds and the arytenoid cartilages represents the glottal aperture, more commonly called the glottis. The length of the vocal folds varies with the age and the sex. They become longer at the age of puberty and are longer in men (24-26 mm) than in women (17-20 mm). During breathing, the two folds part, letting the air come into the larynx or go out. During phonation they come closer, having an important role in establishing some of the main characteristics of the sounds we articulate. By the pretty complex action of adjacent anatomical structures (the cartilages described above and a number of laryngeal muscles) the two vocal cords can be brought together or parted. They thus interfere to various extents with the outgoing airstream. They can obstruct the passage completely, as in the case of the so-called glottal stop (see below, when a detailed description of consonants is given), or their participation in the uttering of a given sound can be minimal (as in the case of many hissing sounds). The rapid and intermittent opening and closing of the vocal cords, which results in the vibration of the two organs, plays a key role in one of the most important phonetic processes, that of voicing. Thus, vowels and vowel-like sounds, as well as a number of consonants, are produced with the vibration of the cords and are consequently voiced.

The amplitude of the vibration is also essential for the degree of loudness of the voice: thus the intensity of the sound that is uttered depends on the pressure of the air that is expelled. The rate at which the vocal cords vibrate has alsoimportant consequences as far as the pitch of the voice is concerned; this is closely linked to the pressure exerted on the vocal cords. When we produce acute (high-pitched or shrill)) sounds the vocal cords come closer to each other, while during the articulation of grave sounds the vocal cords leave a greater space between them. (Further details will be given below, when the acoustic characteristics of sounds are discussed.)

The next stop on our way along the vocal tract is the pharynx, an organ situated at a kind of crossroads along the above-mentioned tract. It doesn’t play an active part in the articulation of sounds its main role being to link the larynx and the rest of the lower respiratory system to its upper part, thus functioning as an air passage during breathing. It is also an important segment in the digestive apparatus as it plays an essential role in deglutition (the swallowing of food).

The pharynx branches into two cavities that act as resonators for the air stream that the vocal cords make vibrate: the nasal cavity and the oral cavity.

Before discussing the two respective cavities, it is important to mention the roleplayed during articulation by the velum or the soft palate. The velum is the continuationof the roof of the mouth also called the palate. The harder, bony structure situatedtowards the exterior of the mouth continues with the velum into the rear part of themouth. The latter’s position at the back of the mouth can allow the airstream to go outthrough either the mouth or the nose or through both at the same time. Thus, if the velumis raised, blocking the nasal cavity, the air is directed out through the mouth and thesounds thus produced will be oral sounds. If the velum is lowered, we can articulateeither nasal sounds, if the air is expelled exclusively via the nasal cavity, or nasalizedsounds if, in spite of the lowered position of the velum, the air is still allowed to go outthrough the mouth as well as through the nose. If we nip our nostrils or if the nasal cavity is blocked because of a cold, hay fever, etc., we can easily notice the importance of thenasal cavity as a resonator and the way in which its blocking affects normal speechproduction. The distinction nasal/oral is essential in all languages and it will further bediscussed when a detailed analysis of both English consonants and vowels is given.

We have mentioned above the oral cavity as one of the two possible outlets for theairstream that is expelled by our respiratory system. The oral cavity plays an essentialrole in phonation as it is here that the main features of the sounds that we articulate areuttered. The cavity itself acts as a resonator, and we can modify its shape and volume, thus modifying the acoustic features of the sounds we produce, while various organs that delimit the oral cavity or are included in it (the tongue) are active or passive participants in the act of phonation. If we follow the airstream out through the mouth (oral cavity) we can easily notice the above-mentioned organs that play an important role in the process of sound articulation.

Undoubtedly, the most important of all is the tongue, which plays a crucial role in oral communication, the very fact that in many languages (Greek, Latin, Romance languages) the same word is used to refer to both the anatomical organ and language as a fundamental human activity showing that in many cultures the two concepts came to be assimilated or at least considered to be inseparable. The tongue is actually involved in the articulation of most speech sounds, either through an active or a comparatively more passive participation. It is a muscular, extremely mobile and versatile organ (by far the most dynamic of all speech organs) and it plays an essential role in the producing of consonants, while its position in the mouth is also very important for differentiating among various classes of vowels. When an articulatory classification of speech sounds is given below, the upper surface of the tongue will be “divided”, for practical and didactic purposes, into several parts: a) its fore part, made up of the tip (apex) and the blade; b) the front, and back part (the dorsum) – the label dorsum is often applied to front and back together – and c) the root (radix) of the tongue (the rearmost and lowest part of the organ, situated in front of the laryngo-pharynx and the epiglottis. The sides or rims of the tongue also play an important role in the uttering of certain sounds. (Various parts of the tongue lend their names to the sounds they help produce: thus, sounds uttered with the participation of the tip of the tongue will be called apical – from the Latin word apex, meaning top or extremity – those in the production of which the blade is involved will be called laminal- from the Latin word lamina having the same meaning – while the back part of the body of the tongue, the dorsum, will give its name to dorsal sounds, produced in the velar region.)

The tongue is a mobile articulator (the term active is usually used) that influences the way in which sounds are produced. But more often than not it does that with the help of other articulators (fixed or mobile i.e. passive or active) as well, like the roof of themouth (the palate), the lips or the teeth. The palate essentially consists of two parts: the hard palate and the soft palate or the velum. We have shown the important role played by the velum in differentiating between the articulation of oral and nasal sounds. The hard palate in front of it functions as a fixed (passive) articulator. Not less important are, at the other end of the mouth, the teeth and the lips. Just behind the teeth we can notice the alveolar ridge (the ridge of the gums of the upper teeth). While the upper teeth are fixed, the lower jaw (the mandible) is mobile and its constant moving permanently modifies the size and shape of the oral aperture. The lips also play an important role in the articulation of some consonants by interacting with each other or with the upper teeth and their position (rounded or spread) is also relevant for differentiating between two major classes of vowels. They are pretty mobile articulators, though far less so than the tongue. Just like the tongue, they can yield a variety of configurations. The lower lip can “cooperate” with the upper teeth to produce labio-dental sounds, the two lips can interact to articulate bilabial sounds, while lip position (rounded or spread) is essential in determining one of the basic configurations of vowels.

Our brief and fatally schematic presentation of speech production has consciously neglected the essential role the brain plays in the articulation of sounds. Speech production is a process that can be observed quite easily as the major articulators lend themselves to direct and detailed scientific observation. We should not forget, however, that our presentation above is obviously partial, since all articulatory processes are controlled by the brain and we cannot imagine any kind of activity of the articulators without the participation of the brain that actually controls the entire process of speech production. We chose to leave aside the discussion of the part played by the brain in the physiology of articulation only because the complexity of the analysis would have taken us too far away from the purpose of this study.

Note: The graph represents a sagittal mid-section through the vocal tract. The vocal cords are represented by a circle at the level of the larynx;the tongue is in a neutral, resting position.

2.3. Auditory phonetics

Speech production is a process that takes place roughly along the respiratory tract which is, comparatively, much easier to observe and study than the brain where most processes linked to speech perception and analysis occur. Our presentation so far has already revealed a fundamental characteristic of acoustic phonetics which essentially differentiates it from both articulatory and acoustic phonetics: its lack of unity.

There are in fact two distinct operations which, however, are closely interrelated and influence each other: on the one hand we can talk about audition proper, that is the perception of sounds by our auditory apparatus and the transforming of the information into a neural sign and its sending to the brain and, on the other hand, we can talk about the analysis of this information by the brain which eventually leads to the decoding of the message, the understanding of the verbal message. When discussing the auditory system we can consequently talk about its peripheral and its central part, respectively. We shall have a closer look at both theseprocesses and try to show why they are both clearly distinct and at the same time they areclosely related.

Before the sounds we perceive are processed and interpreted by the brain, the firstanatomical organ they encounter is the ear. The ear has a complex structure and its basicauditory functions include the perception of auditory stimuli, their analysis and theirtransmission further on to the brain. We can identify three components: the outer, themiddle and the inner year. The outer ear is mainly represented by the auricle or the pinnaand the auditory meatus or the outer ear canal. The auricle is the only visible part of theear, constituting its outermost part, the segment of the organ projecting outside the skull.

It does not play an essential role in audition, which is proved by the fact that theremoving of the pinna does not substantially damage our auditory capacity. The auriclerather plays a protective role for the rest of the ear and it also helps us localize sounds.

The meatus or the outer ear canal is a tubular structure playing a double role: it, too,protects the next segments of the ear – particularly the middle ear – and it also functionsas a resonator for the sound waves that enter our auditory system. The middle ear is acavity within the skull including a number of little anatomical structures that have animportant role in audition. One of them is the eardrum. This is a diaphragm or membraneto which sound waves are directed from outside and which vibrates, acting as both a filterand a transmitter of the incoming sounds. The middle ear also contains a few tiny bones:the mallet, the anvil and the stirrup. The pressure of the air entering our auditory systemis converted by the vibration of the membrane (the eardrum) and the elaborate movementof the little bones that act as some sort of lever system into mechanical movement whichis further conveyed to the oval window, a structure placed at the interface of the middleand inner ear. As pointed out above, the middle ear plays an important protection role.

The muscles associated with the three little bones mentioned above contract in a reflexmovement when sounds having a too high intensity reach the ear. Thus the impact of thetoo loud sounds is reduced and the mechanism diminishes the force with which themovement is transmitted to the structures of the inner ear. It is in the middle ear too, thata narrow duct or tube opens. Known as the Eustachian tube it connects the middle ear tothe pharynx. Its main role is to act as an outlet permitting the air to circulate between thepharynx and the ear, thus helping preserve the required amount of air pressure inside themiddle ear. The next segment is the inner ear, the main element of which is the cochlea, acavity filled with liquid. The inner ear also includes the vestibule of the ear and thesemicircular canals. The vestibule represents the central part of the labyrinth of the earand it gives access to the cochlea. The cochlea is a coil-like organ, looking like the shellof a snail. At each of the two ends of the cochlea there is an oval window, while theorgan itself contains a liquid. Inside the cochlea there are two membranes: the vestibularmembrane and the basilar membrane. It is the latter that plays a central role in the act ofaudition. Also essential in the process of hearing is the so-called organ of Corti, inside the cochlea, a structure that is the real auditory receptor. Simplifying a lot, we can describethe physiology of audition inside the inner ear as follows: the mechanical movement ofthe little bony structures of the middle ear (the mallet, the anvil and the stirrup) is transmitted through the oval window to the liquid inside thesnail-like structure of the cochlea; this causes the basilar membrane to vibrate: themembrane is stiffer at one end than at the other, which makes it vibrate differently,depending on the pitch of the sounds that are received. Thus, low-frequency (grave)sounds will make vibrate the membrane at the less stiff (upper) end, while high frequency(acute) sounds will cause the lower and stiffer end of the membrane to vibrate.

The cells of the organ of Corti, a highly sensitive structure because it includes manyciliate cells that detect the slightest vibrating movement, convert these vibrations intoneural signals that are transmitted via the auditory nerves to the central receptor andcontroller of the entire process, the brain.

The way in which the human brain processes auditory information and, in general,the mental processes linked to speech perception and production are still largelyunknown. What is clear, however, regarding the perception of sounds by man’s auditorysystem, is that the human ear can only hear sounds having certain amplitudes andfrequencies. If the amplitudes and frequencies of the respective sound waves are lowerthan the range perceptible by the ear, they are simply not heard. If, on the contrary, theyare higher, the sensation they give is one of pain, the pressure exerted on the eardrumsbeing too great. These aspects are going to be discussed below when the physicalproperties of sounds are analyzed. As to the psychological processes involved by theinterpretation of the sounds we hear, our knowledge is even more limited. It is obviousthat hearing proper goes hand in hand with the understanding of the sounds we perceivein the sense of organizing them according to patterns already existing in our mind anddistributing them into the famous acoustic images that Saussure spoke of. It is at thislevel that audition proper intermingles with psychological processes because our braindecodes, interprets, classifies and arranges the respective sounds according to thelinguistic (phonological) patterns already existing in our mind.7 It is intuitively obviousthat if we listen to someone speaking an unknown language it will be very difficult for usnot only to understand what they say (this is out of the question given the premise westarted from) but we will have great, often insurmountable difficulties in identifying theactual sounds the person produced. The immediate, reflex reaction of our brain will be toassimilate the respective sounds to the ones whose mental images already exists in ourbrain, according to a very common cognitive reaction of humans that always have the tendency to relate, compare and contrast new information to already known information.
2.4. Acoustic phonetics

The branch of phonetics that studies the physicalparameters of speech sounds is called acoustic phonetics. It is the most “technical” of all disciplines that are concernedwith the study of verbal communication. The data it handles are the most concrete, palpable, easily measurable ones that can be encountered in the domain of phonetics in general. The most important principle of physics on which verbal communication is based is that vibrating bodies send waves that are propagated in the environment. Our articulatory organs produce a number of vibrations; these vibrations need a medium to be transmitted through. The medium through which speech sounds travel is usually the air.

Classical prototypes of a vibrating body that are normally referred to in order to describe the way in which verbal communication is achieved include the pendulum or the tuning fork. When the former is set in motion or the latter is struck, they vibrate constantly. The pendulum or each of the prongs of the tuning fork move in one direction and then back to the starting point and then in the opposite direction to roughly the same extent and the movement is continued decreasingly until the vibration dies out completely. It is because friction with the environment that the movement eventually dies out. Ideally, if the vibrating body were placed in vacuum the energy of the initial impulse would be kept constant and the movement would continue forever. However, as the vibrating body is surrounded by air, its movement is transmitted to the air molecules around, that vibrate accordingly. The vibration of the pendulum or of the prong of the tuning fork can be represented graphically by a sinusoidal curve. The vertical axis or the ordinate will measure the amplitude or intensity of the sound, while the horizontal one or the abscissa will measure the duration in time of the vibration.

If the distance from the point of rest is greater, we say the amplitude of thevibration is higher. This is related to the amount of energy that is transmitted through theair by means of the respective sound wave. The higher the amplitude is, the louder the sound. The conventional way in which we refer to the intensity or loudness or amplitude of sounds is that of using the decibel scale. The decibel scale does not express the absolute intensity of a sound, but the ratio between the intensity of a sound and reference intensity. Thus, if we want to compare the intensity of two sounds, we take the logarithm to the base 10 of their ratio and multiply it by 10. For instance, if a sound is 1000 times more intense than another, it means that 10 has to be raised to the power 3 to get the ratio between them. If we multiply 3 by 10 we get 30, therefore the difference between the two sounds is of 30 decibels (dB). If a sound is a billion times more intense than another, this means that their ratio is 10 raised to the power 9, so the difference between them is of 9 multiplied by 10 thatis of 90 decibels (dB). The reference value for the decibel scale is the standard intensity of a sound which has a fixed value close to the audible limit of sound. (This value is 10-16 watts per square centimeter). Therefore, if we say that a sound is 40 decibels it means it is ten thousand times more intense than the standard reference value.

A complete movement, that is one starting from the initial point, going as far as the maximum amplitude, then back to the point of rest and beyond it to the maximum amplitude in the opposite direction and finally back again to the point of rest is called a cycle. The higher the number of cycles per unit of time (second) is, the higher the frequency of the vibration is. The time it takes for a cycle to be completed is called the period of the vibration. Frequency is measured in cycles per second (cps) or Hertz.

Sounds having a constant period (in other words sounds displaying a regular vibration) are called periodic sounds. The typical examples for this kind of sounds are musical sounds. However, in the case of other sounds, successive periods vary and these sounds are called aperiodic. In reality, periodic vibrations are seldom simple, the vibration being of a more complex kind than that represented by the simple sinusoidal wave (or sine wave) described above. A vibrating body oscillates or vibrates at various intensities, the ensuing vibration of the entire body being a wave that is not sinusoidal and will differ from any of the simple sine waves of which it is the result. The sinusoidal components of any complex periodic sound are called the harmonics of the respective sound. The higher harmonics are integral multiples of the lowest harmonic which is called the fundamental frequency or the fundamental of the respective sound. Thus, if a sound has as its fundamental frequency 200 cps and one of its higher harmonics is of, say, 400 cps, we say that the latter is the 2nd harmonic of the sound since it is twice higher than the fundamental. A harmonic having the frequency of 800 cps will be the 4th harmonic of the sound, as it is four times higher than the fundamental. We should always specify therefore, in the case of periodic sounds, which are the frequency and amplitude of its fundamental and of its higher harmonics. It is also important to note that though the various rates of vibration will result in a given timbre (tonality) of the sound, which is different from any of the harmonics, it will always be the fundamental that essentially defines (gives the quality of) a given sound. This kind of specification that includes the fundamental and the harmonics of a sound is called the spectrum of the respective sound.

An essential feature of any sound is its pitch. Pitch is, roughly speaking, the way in which we perceive the frequency of a sound, it is, in other words the perceptual correlate of the frequency of that sound. We can say that the higher the fundamental frequency of a sound will be, the higher the pitch of the respective sound is, or rather that we perceive the sound as having a higher pitch. This correlation is not, however, linear as there is not always a direct proportionality between the frequency of a sound and our perception of that frequency. Pitch has a very important role in intonation as we shall see later. Pitch differs a lot from one speaker to another. Women, for instance, have shriller voices than men; therefore the pitch of their utterances will be higher. How is it then that we recognize a sound as being “the same” even if it is pronounced by persons whose voices have very different pitches? The answer is that though the fundamental and the number of harmonics differ, obviously, in the two cases (the one with a lower pitch having a lower number of harmonics) the shape of the spectrum of the two sounds is pretty much the same in the sense that the harmonics with the greatest amplitude are at about the same frequency in both cases. While vowels and sonorants have spectra which resemble those of periodic sounds (of the kind musical sounds are), obstruent, and particularly the voiceless ones, are aperiodic sounds, which makes them pretty similar to pure noises.

Three are then the essential acoustic parameters that characterize a given sound (a sound having a certain quality): its amplitude or intensity – that we perceive as loudness; its frequency, which we perceive as pitch, and its duration. A given sound, therefore, saythe vowel /e/, can be pronounced with various degrees of intensity, the amplitude variestherefore, but fundamentally the sound is the same. In spite of frequency variations (that we perceive as variations in pitch) in the pronunciation of the above-mentioned vowel by different persons, we will still identify the “same” sound. We can also vary the length of the vowel and we will still say that the sound hasn’t fundamentally changed its quality.

The anatomy and physiology of both the articulation and audition processes drastically limit the range of sounds that we can produce and perceive, respectively. In other words we can only utter sounds within a certain range of intensity and loudness and their duration is also limited. Conversely, our auditory system is able to perceive and analyze sounds whose frequency and intensity are situated between certain values and whose duration is limited.

The vibrations of a body can be transmitted, often with higher amplitude, by a phenomenon called resonance. Certain bodies have the property of transmitting vibrations in this way and they are called resonators. It is enough to think of musical instruments and this physical process becomes clear for everybody. If we take a violin, for instance, the strings play the role of vibrating bodies, while the body of the instrument acts as a resonator. And this is true not only for string instruments, but for wind pushed into the instrument when we blow it makes vibrate the air already existing inside the instrument and the body of the instrument plays again the role of resonator.

A similar process can be witnessed in the case of speech. Remembering our description of the main articulators above we shall again mention the glottis as the first essential segment of the speech tract that shapes the sounds that we produce. The vocal cords have the role of vibrating bodies while the pharynx, the oral and the nasal cavities, respectively, act as resonators. The versatility of these cavities (notably the oral cavity) that can easily modify their shape and degree of aperture, the mobility of the tongue and the complexity of the human speech producing mechanism enable human beings to articulate a remarkable variety of sounds in terms of their acoustic features. The initially weak vibrations of the vocal cords, having a wide range of frequencies, are taken over and amplified by the above mentioned resonators. The amplitude and frequency of the sounds that are further transmitted by the resonators depend very much on the size and shape of these resonators. Resonance does not characterize, however, only cavities that modify the acoustic features of a sound. Vibrating bodies themselves are characterized by various degrees of resonance. Resonators can amplify or damp the formants of the given sound, by enhancing or suppressing various frequencies. This accounts for the wide variety in the parameters of sounds different human beings are able to produce. Each of the features of the articulators of an individual has an impact on the types of sounds that individual utters. The musicality of the sounds that we produce largely depends on the characteristics of our phonatory system, too. Vowels, for instance, have distinct and constant patterns of resonance (the resonating cavities assume certain shapes whenever a given sound is uttered) and thus we can always recognize the respective sound by its distinctive mark. The various positions of the soft palate will direct the air through either the oral or the nasal cavity or through both of them. This will give the sounds we produce a nasal or an oral character. As pointed out above, the shape and degree of openness of the mouth can vary. The tongue, the lips, the teeth, the movement of the mandible can also influence speech production assigning various acoustic characteristics to the sounds we articulate. The qualities of the vibrating bodies themselves (in our case the vocal cords) largely influence the timbre of the sound that is produced. Speech perception also fundamentally relies on the vibrating characteristics of various membranes, on the possibility of transmitting these vibrations and converting them into neural impulses.

Certain segments of the auditory system, too, act as resonators, amplifying the basic features of the sounds that reach our ear, or, on the contrary, damping these sounds, often in order to protect our auditory organs.

As we have said, acoustic phonetics is the branch of phonetics where data are most liable to measurements, quantification, etc. If we can hardly think of apparatuses being used in other linguistic fields like syntax or semantics, for instance, the situation is different in the case of phonetics, as scientists have devised various instruments that are used to provide an “image” of the way in which people speak and graphics representing the sounds we produce. Such an instrument is the acoustic spectrograph, an appliance similar in many ways to a seismograph, or to an electrocardiograph (devices that record seismic and heart activity respectively). It marks on paper the vibrations caused by speech sound production. The graphs they produce are called spectrograms and represent the frequency of the sound on the vertical and its duration on the horizontal. The darker bands in the spectrogram are called the formants of the respective sounds and they represent the frequencies at which a greater amount of energy is spent. Normally, two or three formants at the most are used to describe a certain sound. Formants are essential for the acoustic representation of sounds and all voiced sounds have a formant structure.

Different classes of sounds have, as shown above, different acoustic parameters.

We have already mentioned the fact that, of the two major classes of sounds, vowels and consonants, the former are closer, acoustically speaking, to musical sounds, as their vibration comes closer to the ideal line of the periodic constant vibration. Vowels in their turn have distinct acoustic features. Front vowels, for instance, are acute sounds, displaying higher frequencies in their second formant (between 1800 and 2300 cps), while back vowels are, comparatively, graver sounds, their second formant ranging between 800 and 1000 cps. We can also distinguish between compact and diffuse vowels, depending on the way in which the main formants are close to each other or are wider apart in the spectrum of the sound. Thus, low or open vowels have their formants grouped towards the middle of the spectrum and are consequently compact, while high or close vowels are diffuse, the distance between their formants being greater. Consonants, on the other hand, can be clearly distinguished on the basis of their acoustic features.

Non-peripheral (dental, alveolar, alveopalatal, and palatal) sounds are acute, as their formants are situated among the upper frequencies of the spectrum, while peripheral consonants are grave, as their formants are situated among the lower frequencies of the spectrum.
In linguistics (specifically, phonetics and phonology), the term segment is “any discrete unit that can be identified, either physically or auditorily, in the stream of speech.”

3.1 Classifying Speech Units
Segments are called “discrete” because they are separate and individual, such as consonants and vowels, and occur in a distinct temporal order. Other units, such as tone, stress, and sometimes secondary articulations such as nasalization, may coexist with multiple segments and cannot be discretely ordered with them. These elements are termed suprasegmentales.

3.2 Kinds of Segments
The segments of sign language are visual, such as hands, movements, face, and body. They occur in a distinct spatial and temporal order. The Signwriting script represents the spatial order of the segments with a spatial cluster of graphemes. Other notations for sign language use a temporal order that implies a spatial order.

In phonetics, the smallest perceptible segment is a phone.

In phonology, there is a subfield of segmental phonology that deals with the analysis of speech into phonemes (or segmental phonemes), which correspond fairly well to phonetic segments of the analyzed speech.

3.3 Marginal segments
When analyzing the inventory of segmental units in any given language, some segments will be found to be marginal, in the sense that they are only found in onomatopoeic words, interjections, loan words, or a very limited number of ordinary words, but not throughout the language. Marginal segments, especially in loan words, are often the source of new segments in the general inventory of a language. This appears to have been the case with English /?/, which originally only occurred in French loans.

3.4 Suprasegmentales
In written English we use punctuation to signal some things like emphasis, and the speed with which we want our readers to move at certain points. In spoken English we use sounds in ways that do not apply to individual segments but to stretches of spoken discourse from words to phrases, clauses and sentences. Such effects are described as non-segmental or suprasegmentales – or, using the adjective in a plural nominal (noun) form, simply suprasegmentales.

Among these effects are such things as stress, intonation, tempo and rhythm – which collectively are known as prosodic features. Other effects arise from altering the quality of the voice, making it breathy or husky and changing what is sometimes called the timbre – and these are paralinguistic features. Both of these kinds of effect may signal meaning. But they do not do so consistently from one language to another, and this can cause confusion to students learning a second language.

Some phonemes cannot be easily analyzed as distinct segments, but rather belong to a syllable or even word. Such “suprasegmentales” include tone, stress, and prosody. In some languages, nasality or vowel harmony is suprasegmental.

The phonemes are classes of sounds that are considered unique phonological units.

We can say then that we analyzed individual, separate segments, phonological units in isolation. The study of such segments outside of a larger phonological context is the domain of segmental phonology. Many changes undergone by sounds, many contrasts in language, many phonological processes, actually take place or can be noticed at a higher level, a level that will involve sequences or strings of sounds, or even of words and phrases. This will be the domain of suprasegmentalphonology. Stress, rhythm, intonation are obviously such phonological realities that manifest themselves at a suprasegmental level. Stress and intonation contours can even have phonemic (contrastive) value since only difference in stress placement establishes the distinction between envoy (the noun) and envoy (the verb). The same word, phrase or sentence pronounced with different intonational contours could express surprise, satisfaction, matter-of-factness.

* Dictionary of Linguistics & Phonetics, David Crystal, 2003, pp. 408-409
* David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics & Phonetics, Blackwell, 2003.
* Carlos Gussenhoven&Haike Jacobs, “Understanding Phonology”, Hodder & Arnold, 1998. 2nd edition 2005.

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