In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Phonetics

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks and Introductions
  • Glossaries
  • Edited Collections
  • Reference Resources
  • Foundational Works
  • Associations and Congresses
  • Journals
  • Clinical Phonetics
  • Descriptions of Individual Languages
  • Field Techniques
  • Forensic Phonetics
  • Language Teaching
  • Reconstructing Pronunciation
  • Sociophonetics
  • In Popular Culture
  • History and Historiography

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Linguistics Phonetics
Michael Ashby
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0082


Phonetics may be defined as the science of speech. It is concerned with all aspects of the production, transmission, and perception of the sounds of language. According to one’s view of the scope of the term “linguistics,” phonetics may be regarded as an independent discipline alongside linguistics, or alternatively as a component within it, though the second interpretation may imply a narrowing of subject matter to only those aspects considered directly relevant for linguistic analysis and theory. The terms “speech science(s)” or “phonetic science(s)” encountered in book titles or in the names of academic programs and departments are equivalents to phonetics in its wider sense, used to insist on the broad remit and scientific basis of the discipline. The word “phonetic” and its derivatives began to be used in English in the 1840s, and although significant insights in the science of speech can be traced across a range of cultural traditions (and back through history into Antiquity) the modern form of the subject is largely a 19th-century European creation. Contributions from British pioneers A. J. Ellis (b. 1814–d. 1890) and A. M. Bell (b. 1819–d. 1905) were especially important, and the subsequent establishment of phonetics as the basis of linguistic science as a whole can be attributed particularly to the influence of Henry Sweet (b. 1845–d. 1912) and Eduard Sievers (b. 1850–d. 1932). The dominant comparative-historical linguistics of their day has since been overtaken by several changes of paradigm, though phonetics has retained its position as what Sweet called “the indispensable foundation” of language study. Since the mid-19th century, therefore, phonetics has had a continuous and cumulative history as an interdisciplinary field sited at the three-way intersection of biomedical science (at first, mainly physiology), physical science (in the early days, chiefly acoustics), and linguistic science. Each of those areas has undergone radical diversification and development, with the result that the total field of phonetics is now huge. Any attempt at a bibliography must therefore be highly selective.

Textbooks and Introductions

The subject of phonetics is well provided with numerous excellent textbooks. For more than a generation, Peter Ladefoged’s outstanding Course in Phonetics has been the most widely adopted course book and remains the single best starting point for anyone new to the subject. The first edition appeared in 1975 and immediately set a benchmark with its clear exposition, wealth of examples from original fieldwork, superb diagrams, and problem-solving exercises. It covers traditional descriptive phonetics (including the training of practical skill in production and listening), acoustics, and the connection with phonology via a system of phonetic features. This last aspect was related to Ladefoged’s earlier work on feature systems as set out in Ladefoged 1971 (cited under Phonological Features and Processes) and excited considerable discussion in the phonological climate of the day but was much modified and diminished in later editions. Five editions appeared during the author’s lifetime, the sixth being posthumously revised and augmented by K. Johnson (Ladefoged and Johnson 2011). Ladefoged was the most energetic and prolific phonetician of his time. His writing is lucid and student friendly, and over the years his style became increasingly personal and engaging. Clark, et al. 2007 is the third edition of a substantial textbook that first appeared in 1989. It has a wide coverage, including phonology as well as many aspects of phonetics; it is also comprehensively referenced and has an extensive bibliography. Several other general works follow the same inclusive plan, covering articulation, transcription, speech production, and speech acoustics in some depth, sometimes with the clear aim of providing a text that can support a clinical speech sciences degree program: examples are Hewlett and Beck 2006 and Raphael, et al. 2007. At a more introductory level, Ashby and Maidment 2005 is a widely adopted text that aims to integrate traditional descriptive and experimental approaches. Among successful texts with little or no experimental content are Collins and Mees 2008 and Roach 2009. At an introductory level, Ashby 2005 has been particularly successful. It deals only with traditional descriptive phonetics, and the use of phonetic symbols.

  • Ashby, Michael, and John A. Maidment. 2005. Introducing phonetic science. Cambridge Introductions to Language and Linguistics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511808852

    An introductory text that integrates descriptive and experimental approaches. In addition to core topics in phonetic description and classification, this includes brief coverage of phonology, suprasegmentals, and speech perception. Has exercises (with answers) and a supporting website.

  • Ashby, Patricia. 2005. Speech sounds. 2d ed. Language Workbooks. London: Routledge.

    A popular and very student-friendly introduction to the basics of phonetic classification and transcription to a level suitable for a first examination (such as the Certificate Examination of the International Phonetic Association). Numerous exercises (with answers) and can be used for self-study. Originally published in 1995; the second edition is also made available as an e-book (2008).

  • Clark, John, Colin Yallop, and Janet Fletcher. 2007. An introduction to phonetics and phonology. 3d ed. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 9. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    The most substantial combined phonetics/phonology text. Successive editions have been in print for more than twenty years. Fairly large bibliography and thus a good starting point for more advanced study.

  • Collins, Beverley, and Inger M. Mees. 2008. Practical phonetics and phonology: A resource book for students. 2d ed. London: Routledge.

    The main title gives little indication of the contents, though “resource book” comes closer to the exceptionally wide range of topics and materials. Includes articulatory phonetics and much information on accents of English (both British and worldwide). The “Extensions” section presents well-chosen readings setting phonetics in its wider context. Glossary of technical terms, annotated bibliography, and excellent CD.

  • Hewlett, Nigel, and J. Mackenzie Beck. 2006. An introduction to the science of phonetics. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    A very substantial text from two highly respected teachers and researchers.

  • Ladefoged, Peter, and Keith Johnson. 2011. A course in phonetics. 6th ed. Boston: Cengage.

    The latest edition of the best introductory text. The book is accompanied by a CD of speech examples, most of the contents of which are also freely accessible online.

  • Raphael, Lawrence J., Gloria J. Borden, and Katherine S. Harris. 2007. Speech science primer: Physiology, acoustics, and perception of speech. 5th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins.

    Originally published in 1980, with Borden and Harris as the authors, and widely adopted as a text for courses in speech pathology and therapy. Focuses on the various constituent sciences. Its avoidance of the term “phonetics” may be taken to imply that the art and skill of sound recognition and transcription belong to a different type of discipline.

  • Roach, Peter. 2009. English phonetics and phonology: A practical course. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A simple but accurate account aimed mainly at learners of English but of value to any beginning student, regularly revised and updated. The first edition (1983) had a separate tutor’s book.

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