What is phonetics?

Phonetics is the area of the language that mainly looks at 3 things:

  1. Articulatory Phonetics: How we physically (or physiologically) produce sounds.
  2. Acoustic Phonetics: How we analyze the sound transmissions and patterns including the conditions in which they are produced.
  3. Auditory Phonetics: How our ears, auditory system and brain filter and process these sounds once they receive them.

I know, I know! Don't worry. We are not going to talk about the 2nd or the 3rd but we are going to look at...

Articulatory phonetics VS Auditory phonetics

What is Phonetics?

Articulatory Phonetics

The reason that I have chosen that to walk you through is that I believe, out of all 3 areas of phonetics, it is the most relevant, hence useful skill for an English teacher to employ in the classroom. Do not get me wrong! The other two are very interesting too and I would strongly recommend that you do your homework and read up on them, however, you will probably not find a very practical use for them in a classroom of 15-18 students. Great. We should probably get a move on! What about Articulatory Phonetics?
This area of phonetics concerns itself with how we use our mouth organs and vocal cords to make sounds? Let me be a little more specific. Articulatory phonetics essentially deals with two sound categories: Consonants & Vowels. In order to understand English consonants more, you have to familiarize yourself with 3 areas: 1-The place of articulation, 2-the manner of articulation and 3-Voicing. As I have already explained and listed the voiced and voiceless consonants, I will only go through the first two areas. First things first, what are they?

  1. Place Of Articulation:Identifying the place, location, spot and mouth organs involved in the triggering and production of speech sounds.
  2. Manner Of Articulation:Describing the manner in which these mouth organs trigger or produce speech sounds.

Place Of Articulation

PlaceMeaning?The sounds produced
BilabialArticulated by the lower lip and upper lip/m/ /b/ /p/ /w/
Labio-dentalArticulated by the lip and teeth/f/ /v/
Lingua-dentalArticulated by the tongue and teeth/θ/ /ð/
Lingua-alveolarArticulated by the tongue and gum ridge/t/ /d/ /s/ /z/ /ʧ/ /ʤ/ /n/ /l/ /t̬/
Lingual palatalArticulated by the tongue and hard palate/∫/ /ʒ/ /r/ /j/
Lingua-velarArticulated by the tongue and soft palate (velum)/k/ /g/ /η/ (/w/)
GlottalArticulated by the glottis/h/ /ʔ/

Mouth Chart

Mouth chart

Manner Of Articulation

MannerMeaning?The sounds produced
 A: Stop We (start or finishing point) stop the air completely. /p/ /b/ /d/ /t/ /k/ /g/
 B: Fricative We let the air leak from a narrow passage. /f/ /v/ /s/ /z/ /∫/ /ʒ/ /θ/ /ð/ /h/
 C: Affricate We block the air (starting or finishing point) and then abruptly release it. /ʤ/ /ʧ /
 D: Nasal We push air out from our nose. /m/ /n/ /η/
 E: Liquid (approximant)We position the tongue in a manner that obstructs the airflow but without causing a friction (as in the case of /s/ or /f/, hence the term fricative)resulting in a consonant with a vowel-like quality. /r/ /l/
 F: Glide (approximant) We begin a sound from a vowel position and end it in a consonant's. /w/ /j/