6. Significance of Phonetics
1. Introduction to Phonetics
Language as “the most important means of human intercourse” exists in the material form of speech sounds. It cannot exist without being spoken. Oral speech is the primary process of communication by means of language. Written speech is secondary; it represents what exists in oral speech.
In oral speech grammar and vocabulary as language aspects are expressed in sounds. The modification of words and their combination into sentences are first of all phonetic phenomena. We cannot change the grammatical form of a verb or a noun without changing the corresponding sounds. The communicative type of sentences can often be determined only by intonation. Hence the importance of the sound (phonetic) aspect of a language is obvious. To speak any language a person must know nearly all the 100% of its phonetics while only 50-90% of the grammar and 1% (1) of the vocabulary may be sufficient.
The terms “phonetics” and “phonetic” come from the Greek word ϒωνη (fo:ne:) sound. The term “phonetics” may denote either the phonetic system of a concrete language or the phonetic science. Both the phonetic system of a language and the phonetic science are inseparably connected with each other but at the same time the one cannot be taken for the other. The phonetic system of a language is an objective reality while the phonetic science is a reflected reality.
Phonetics as a science is a branch of linguistics. It is concerned with the study of the sound system of a language. Phonetics has a long history. It was known to the ancient Greeks and Hindus. But up to the 19th century it was considered to be a part of grammar. As an independent linguistic science it began to develop in Russia and Western Europe in the 2nd half of the 19th century.
Being an independent science, phonetics is at the same time closely connected with other linguistic sciences – grammar, lexicology, stylistics and the history of a language since the phonetic system of a language, its vocabulary and grammar constitutes one indivisible whole. It is also closely interconnected with such sciences as physiology, biology, physics, pedagogy, psychology, mathematics, cybernetics. The object of phonetics is the sound matter of a language which comprises speech sounds and prosodic characteristics of speech (stress, pitch, rhythm, tempo, etc.)
Sounds and prosodic phenomena of speech are of a complex nature. They involve a number of simultaneous activities on the part of the speaker and the hearer: the movement of speech organs that is regulated by the central nervous system; the perception of sound waves resulting from the work of speech organs; the formation of the concept in the brain (at a linguistic level).
Phonetics is connected with linguistic and non-linguistic sciences: acoustics, physiology, psychology, logic, etc.
The connection of phonetics with grammar, lexicology and stylistics is exercised first of all via orthography, which in its turn is very closely connected with phonetics.
Phonetics formulates the rules of pronunciation for separate sounds and sound combinations. The rules of reading are based on the relation of sounds to orthography and present certain difficulties in learning the English language, especially on the initial stage of studying. Thus, vowel sounds, for instance, are pronounced not only as we name the letters corresponding to them: the letter a as /eI/, the letter e as /i:/, the letter I as /aI/, the letter y as /waI/, the letter u as /ju:/ the letter o as /ou/, but a can be pronounced as: /æ/ - can, /ɑ:/ - car, /ɛə/ - care; e can be pronounced as: /e/ - them, /3:/ - fern, /Iə/ - here, etc.
Though the system of rules of reading phonetics is connected with grammar and helps to pronounce correctly singular and plural forms of nouns, the past tense forms and past participles of English regular verbs, e.g. /d/ is pronounced after voiced consonants (beg-begged), /t/-after voiceless consonants (wish-wished). It is only if we know that /s/ is pronounced after voiceless consonants, /z/ after voiced and /Iz/ after sibilants, that we can pronounce the words books, bags, boxes correctly. The ending -ed is pronounced /Id/ following /t/ or /d/, e.g. waited /’weItId/, folded, /’fəuld Id/. Some adjectives have a form with /Id/, e.g. crooked /’krukId/, naked /’neIkId/, ragged /’ræɡId/.
O ne of them important phonetic phenomena - sound interchange - is another manifestation of the connection of phonetics with grammar. For instance, this connection can be observed in the category of number. Thus, the interchange of /f-v/, /s-z/ , / helps to differentiate singular and plural forms of such nouns as: calf-calves /f-v/, leaf-leaves /f-v/, house-houses /s-z/.
Vowel interchange helps to distinguish the singular and the plural of such words as: basis – bases /`beIsIs - `beIsi:z/, crisis – crises /`kraIsIs - `kraIsi:z/, analysis-analyses /ə`næləsIs- ə`næləsi:z/, and also: man-men /mæn-men/, foot-feet /fut-fi:t/, goose-geese /gu:s-gi:z/, mouse –mice /maus-maIs/.
Vowel interchange is connected with the tense forms of irregular verbs, for instance: sing-sang-sung; write-wrote-written, etc.
Vowel interchange can help to distinguish between
a) nouns and verbs, e.g. bath-bathe /a:-eI/,
b) adjectives and nouns, e.g. hot-heat /ɔ -i:/,
c) verbs and adjectives, e.g. moderate-moderate /eI-I/,
e) nouns and adjectives, e.g. type-typical /aI-I/.
Vowel interchange can be observed in onomatopoeic compounds:
jiggle - joggle
flip - flop
chip - chop
flap - flop
hip - hop
Consonants can interchange in different parts of speech for example in nouns and verbs:
extent – extend /t-d/
m outh - mouth /
relief - relieve /f-v/
Phonetics is also connected with grammar through its intonation component. Sometimes intonation alone can serve to single out predication in the sentence. Compare:
`He came home. Not Mary or John.
He `came home. So you can see him now.
He came `home. He is at home, and you said he was going to the club.
In affirmative sentence the rising nuclear tone may serve to show that it is a question. Cf.:
He `came home.
He ˡcame ˏhome?
Pausation may also perform a differentiatory function. If we compare two similar sentences pronounced with different places of the pause, we shall see that their meaning will be different.
ˡWhat ˡwriting ˡpoet is doing is ˎinteresting.
If we make a pause after the word what, we are interested in what the poet is doing in general. If the pause is made after the word writing we want to know, what book or article the poet is writing.
Phonetics is also connected with lexicology. It is only to the presence of stress, or accent, in the right place, that we can distinguish certain nouns from verbs (formed by conversion), e.g.
ˡabstract - to abˡstract
ˡobject - to obˡject
ˡtransfer - to transˡfer
Homographs can be differentiated only due to pronunciation, because they are identical in spelling, e.g.
bow /bəu/ - bow /bau/
lead /li:d/ - lead /led/
row /rəu/ - row /rau/
sewer /səuə/ - sewer /sju:ə/
tear /tɛə/ - tear /tIə/
wind /wInd/ - wind /waInd/
Due to the position of word accent we can distinguish between homonymous words and word groups, e.g.
`blackbird - ˈblack `bird
Phonetics is also connected with stylistics; first of all through intonation and its components: speech melody, utterance stress, rhythm, pausation and voice tamber which serve to express emotions, to distinguish between different attitudes on the part of the author and speaker. Very often the writer helps the reader to interpret his ideas through special words and remarks such as: a pause, a short pause, angrily, hopefully, gently, incredulously, etc. For example:
“Now let me ask you girls and boys, would you paper a room with representations of horses?”
After a pause, one half of the children cried in chorus, “Yes, sir!” Upon which the other half, seeing in the gentleman’s face that “Yes” was wrong, cried out in chorus, “No, sir!”- As the custom is in these examinations.
“Of course, no. Why wouldn’t you?”
A pause. (Ch. Dickens. Hard Times)
If the author wants to make a word or a sentence specially prominent or logically accented, he uses graphical expressive means, e.g.:
“You must paper it,” said the gentleman, rather warmly.
“You must paper it,” said Thomas Gradgrind, “whether you like it or not. Don’t tell us you wouldn’t paper it’.
Phonetics is also connected with stylistics through repetition of words, phrases and sounds. Repetition of this kind serves the basis of rhythm, rhyme and alliteration.