Phonetics and Phonology Phonetics is the study of the structure

Phonetics is the study of the structure of various sounds; what physically differentiates different phonetic structures, or phones. It is not concerned with the sound inventory of any particular language, nor with the way sounds interact and comprise more complex structures within a language; this study is called phonology. Phonetics is concerned with the physical perception and production of sounds, whereas phonology studies perception of these sounds within a language.

While phonetics is concerned with phones, phonology's most basic unit of sound is the phoneme. One way to define a phoneme is as a class or set of phones which are conceived by speakers of a particular language as the same sound, even if the phonetics of the sound differ dependent upon context. For example, a native speaker of English would think of every instance of the phoneme /t/ as being the same sound, even though a speaker of American English pronounces the 't' in 'butter' very differently from the 't' in 'time,' which in turn is pronounced differently from the 't' in 'cat.' These different instances of the phoneme 't' are called allophones of the same phoneme. The various allophones of a particular phoneme tend to be phonetically related but affected by the context in which they appear, often by neighboring sounds or to ease pronunciation. Whether two different phonetic sounds are allophones of the same phoneme is different dependent on the language being considered. We can tell whether two sounds are allophones of the same phoneme or two completely different phonemes in a particular language by looking at what is known in linguistics as a minimal pair; in phonological terms, this is a word whose phones are very similar except for the pair of sounds we are analyzing. For example, in English, the words 'rip' and 'lip' would be a minimal pair for the sounds /r/ and /l/. The fact that the two words have very different meanings indicates that /r/ and /l/ are different phonemes. There are other languages, however, where the phones /r/ and /l/ vary dependent upon context; for example, in Korean, we never see the phone /l/ between vowels, and we always see /r/. Word-finally, on the other hand, we always see /l/ and never /r/. As such, we can conclude that they are allophones of the same phoneme, and simply realized differently in different contexts for ease of pronunciation. Though they have a notable phonetic difference, which is easy for speakers of English to perceive because they are different phonemes in the English language, they are perceived as being the same sound by native speakers of Korean.

This cross-linguistic difference can be problematic for obvious reasons in trying to learn a second language. For a native speaker of Korean to try to learn English, for example, they will have trouble detecting the difference between the phones /r/ and /l/ (since they are perceived to a speaker of Korean as the same sound), and they will probably try to make the same systematic changes that they make in their native language. For example, then, they might have trouble hearing the difference between the English words 'rye' and 'lie'; additionally, they would probably pronounce these words similarly, or they would always pronounce /r/ as /l/ at the end of a word, so that 'bar' would be pronounced as 'bal.'

A teacher of English as a second language, then, must be careful to pay attention to the phonology and phonetics of his or her students' native languages. These can have a profound effect on the students' understanding and pronunciation of English, possibly affecting their comprehensibility to others.

1. Lass, Roger. Phonology: An Introduction to Basic Concepts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

2. Ibid.


4.Kenstowicz, Michael. The phonetics and phonology of Korean loanword adaptation. 5..