What is phonetics? Discuss the branches of phonetics


Phonetics is a level of linguistics that scientifically analyzes, studies and interprets the physical, psychological and physiological aspects of speech sounds. It deals with three main interrelated yet distinct factors of speech sounds. These are the production, description, and representation of speech sounds. Speech sounds are produced by a pulmonic aggressive air stream mechanism from the lungs.

According to famous phonetician Peter Ladefoged, “The first job of a phonetician is, therefore, to try to find out what people are doing when they are talking.”

The study of phonetics is around three basic points of view:

  1. production of speech sounds
  2. physical properties of the speech sounds
  3. Effect on the listener’s ear.

Branches of phonetics:

There are three branches of phonetics. Those are given below-

  1. Articulatory phonetics: it deals with the production of speech sound
  2. Acoustic phonetics: it deals with the transmission of speech sounds through the air
  3. Auditory phonetics: deals with the perception of the speech sound by the listener.

Articulatory phonetics:

Articulatory phonetics is concerned with the production of speech sounds. It is basic knowledge that we use different organs that help us to produce speech sounds. Those organs are called articulators. Some of them are- lips, teeth, tongue, alveolar ridge, hard palate, soft palate, nasal passage, glottal folds, lungs, and so on. These organs behave in different manners to produce speech sounds for our everyday communication. Three of the main organs and their functions are described below.


It is a bladder-like spongy organ filled with air made up of alveoli. It is located on both sides of the chest. When we breathe in, the air passes through the throat into the lungs through the trachea, also known as the bronchial tube. After that, the muscles inside the lungs expand and contract by ingression or egression of air.

The air stream related to the lungs is called the pulmonic airstream mechanism. It has two parts- an aggressive air stream mechanism and an ingressive airstream mechanism. Speech sounds are produced by an aggressive air stream mechanism. The ingressive airstream mechanism is responsible for producing non-linguistic sounds like yawning, snoring, clicking, etc.


Behind Adam’s apple, the larynx is located. Vocal cords are a part of the larynx. So the organ is often referred to as the sound box. In the larynx, the vocal cords make a structure called arytenoids cartilages.


The pharynx contains all the active and passive articulators. It is a tube-like structure with two ends. One end is the oral cavity and the other one is the nasal cavity. So it is divided in terms of the nasal and oral cavities. Besides, the entire part from the pharynx to the mouth is called the vocal tract.

Acoustic phonetics:

Acoustic phonetics deals with how the speech sound goes from the speaker’s mouth to the listener’s ears. The articulated speech sounds are transmitted through the air by the speaker to the listener. It is constituted of some physical properties such as frequency and amplitude that result in the sound wave. These physical properties of speech sounds are one of the main concerns of acoustic phonetics.

Auditory phonetics:

Auditory phonetics studies how the listener receives and realizes speech sounds. We know that speech sounds are articulated by the speaker’s articulators that get transmitted through the air. After that, the listeners use their organs to listen to it. The brain also plays an important role in comprehending because, without it, none can understand that they have listened to something.