I'm reading an article about phonetics and phonology, and it clamis that they are different. But I can't locate where the difference is located. Referring to my dictionary, I can see:

study of speech sounds: the scientific study of speech sounds and how they are produced

study of speech sounds: the study of the system or pattern of speech sounds used in a particular language or in language in general

See? Both are described as study of speech sounds. The only difference I see here is that, phonology is related to patterns, while phonetics is related to how sounds are produced. Is it right? How they are different?

PS: I know that this question is related to linguistics. But we don't have linguistics.stackexchange.com. Thus I had no other choice, but to ask it here.

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    Of course, there is a Linguistics.SE proposal in Area51, for anyone who wishes to support it.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Aug 29 '11 at 18:46
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    Check out phonology and phonetics on Wikipedia; the difference is discussed a bit. The difference between phonetic/phonemic transcription is also confusing enough that it merits its own linguistics cartoons.
    – aedia λ
    Aug 29 '11 at 19:11
  • @aedia, I had the exactly opposite idea than the provided cartoon link. I mean, in the link, phonetics has more context and texture and things (graphical elements) have more relationship with each others. This falls opposite to what Mark says as one of the answers. I mean, phonetics should be thin and sketchy, and phonology should have the overall theme. But the cartoons were completely different. Aug 29 '11 at 19:21
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    @KitΘδς, thanks for turning me on to the linguistics.SE. I went and committed to it.
    – Mark T
    Aug 29 '11 at 19:25
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    @Saeed: phonetics studies things closer to the uninterpreted physical sensations; phonology studies things closer to the perceived thing in the brain.
    – Mitch
    Aug 29 '11 at 19:33

Phonetics deals with the actual sounds and their articulation, like the difference between the articulation of 't' and 'd' (where the 't' is voiceless and the 'd' is voiced).

Phonology deals with the rules of how those sounds, the phonetics, are put together. For instance, how a 't' in medial position is pronounced as a flap and not a hard 't' sound (i.e. 'butter').

  • 2
    So, can we by analogy say that phonetics is like ingredients of food, and phonology is like the recipe? For example, when we study the anatomy of potato, we're talking about phonetics, but when we see what can be mixed with potato and what can not, we study phonology. Aug 29 '11 at 18:57
  • Yes! That's a great analogy (why didn't I think of it...), and will be using it in the future :)
    – Mark T
    Aug 29 '11 at 19:24

I would agree with Mark T for his apt description of phonetics.

I would like to extend his phonology definition to include the study of which sounds can and cannot be combined in a given language. For example, in English, an initial t or p is aspirated (small puff of air follows: try speaking it in front of a lit candle!). But medial t or p is not aspirated. Think of the word papa, and try to not aspirate the first p and then to aspirate the medial p. It just "doesn't sound" like English.

Another aspect of phonology is how sounds may be altered but still be understood. For example, in English, many unstressed vowels move toward a neutral schwa. And certain sounds may be elided or shifted as in I wanna hold your hand or I'm gonna git you, sucka.

Yet another area of phonology is how social classes may be indicated by speech. Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady or more academic studies come to mind.

  • Nice addition. I would however disagree with your My Fair Lady reference as an example of phonology. While they were working on her phonology (among other things), the study of how language affects social class would be more appropriately filed under the "Sociolinguistics" area of research.
    – Mark T
    Aug 30 '11 at 14:08
  • I was thinking of the chart of pseudo-IPA that Prof. Higgins wrote at the beginning. I may be overreaching. But might one aspect of sociolinguistics be phonology applied to sociology? In a general search for postvocalic r, one of the papers was jstor.org/pss/486918, Postvocalic /-r/ in South Carolina: A social analysis. While phonology may not be the chief concern of the paper, it would be impossible to write without phonology. (BTW, this would be great question to migrate to area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/6673/linguistics when it goes beta.)
    – rajah9
    Aug 31 '11 at 12:52

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