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The origin of phonetics. Subject of phonetics. Segmental and suprasegmental phonetics. Methods of phonetic investigation.
The birthplace of phonetics is considered to be Ancient India. The idea of studying sounds was brought about by the need to understand Veda (1500 BC), i.e. sacred songs (brahmans) sang during religious ceremonies. Correct reading of brahmans was crucial for priests, as those texts were believed to have come from gods and, consequently, could not be mispronounced in any way. The first description of a language was suggested by Panini (Ancient India, 300 or 400 BC) Panini’s grammar was mainly focused on phonetics and morphology of Sanskrit. It included a most detailed and accurate description of sound physiology and articulation.
The term «phonetics» is originated from the Greek word «phonetikos» which means «vocalic», «related to sounds».
At the early period of its development the aim of phonetics as a science was to study individual speech sounds => Today phonetics is understood as a branch of linguistics concerned with the study of speech in human communication. It studies not only individual speech sounds and their behavior in the flow of speech, but the whole sound matter of a language: sounds, syllables, stress and intonation.
There are two basic levels of phonetic studies:
- segmental phonetics (it studies individual speech sounds)
- suprasegmental phonetics (it studies sound sequences)
Together, segmental and suprasegmental phonetics study the sound matter of a language, i.e. sounds, syllables, stress and intonation.
A human ear recognizes only those parts of speech that have distinctive features – The features of sound that differentiate meaning are called distinctive features. They are not the same in different languages. For example, in Russian palatalization (softening a consonant) can change the meaning of a word ([мел] - [мел’] [быт] - [быт’]). In English palatalization depends on the quality of the following vowel (e.g. light [l] before front vowels)
The major methods of phonetics investigation are the following:
- Phonetic observation. It is understood as listening to the test material, thus being an auditory method. Auditory phonetic observation suggests surveying vicious groups of informants, phoneticians whose ear is phonetically trained and naïve native speakers. The aim of this method is to find out what features in the speech flow are registered by the hearers’ brain as relevant for identifying meaning and which ones are ignored as irrelevant.
- Instrumental analysis originally applied in physiology and physics were introduced into phonetics in the middle of the 20th century. Instrumental analysis requires special equipment to register physiological and acoustic features of sounds and their sequences. Instrumental analysis was contrasted to auditory observation as a more objective method of study.
- Statistical methods in linguistics originate from mathematical statistics. They are applied to confirm the results obtained by other methods.
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