Why Study Phonetics?

Speech is the most important means or medium of human communication.

The signifigance of speech is self-evident in that it is hard to imagine life without speech. Unfortunately, the moments when we become aware of speech often relate to problems and disorders in speech communication: we may experience voice problems and, occasionally, difficulties even in the production of certain speech sounds and also hearing problems may have an effect on our ability to understand speech.

Phonetics is the science where all aspects of speech are considered and investigated: how speech is produced using our speech organs, what are the properties of speech sounds in the air as they travel from the speaker's mouth to the ear of the listener, and, finally, how we perceive speech and recognise its structural elements as certain linguistic symbols or signs.

Phonetics yields useful theoretical and practical information for everyone working with spoken language, including students of languages and logopedics. Areas of application of phonetic knowledge include teaching of pronunciation in foreign language didactics, disorders of speech and language that are manifested in the speaking voice, clinical speech therapy in logopedics, and in technical subjects, speech signal processing.

Phonetics has many interfaces with other disciplines investigating speech and linguistic behaviour, including general linguistics, the study of individual languages, logopedics, psychology, cognitive science, language technology (automatic speech recognition, speech synthesis), anatomy, physiology, forensic phonetics (speaker identification), etc.

If you are interested in languages – native or foreign – and you are leaning towards a research oriented profession or work, Phonetics presents itself as an extremely useful linguistic subject. Of course, studies in Phonetics in no way prevent you from entering a more teaching oriented work, since the focus of Phonetics is very much present and meaningful in almost all areas of teaching.

Phonetic research offers several possible areas of specialization in that the research motives can be as varied as linguistic (linguistic theory and language teaching), logopedic (disorders of speech communication), medical (physiology of speech and hearing) and psychological (speech perception) as well as technical (speech signal processing). 

Last updated: 1.3.2012