Learner's Diary



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Learner's Diary 14.11.2007


In our fifth session we revised the basic facts concerning phonology and phonetics.

These two fields include two views of speech sounds.
Starting with phonetics, it has to be said that phonetics is concerned with the way how sounds are produced, transmitted and received. Phonetics is mostly interested in a detailed material analysis and description of sounds (in this context, these sounds are called phones). For instance, every sound that occurs in the languages all around the world can be represented by using the IPA-chart.

Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned with the functions of sounds in our language system. Phonology analyzes sounds in a language by means of distinguishing different words. In this context, sounds are phonemes, the smallest unit distinguishing meaning.

The variants of a phoneme are called allophones. In British English, for example, the phoneme /r/ has a different kind of allophone than in American English: In British English, allophones often occur in the form of a schwa /@/.
However, speaking of allophones, it has to be mentioned also that the voiced an voiceless plosive sounds are allophones as well (/p/ - /b/, /t/ - /d/, /k/ - /g/). For instance, the velar plosive in the word skin almost sounds like a /g/-sound.

Another example for allophones are the bright and the dark /l/. Phonetically, these sounds differ to a great extent. Nevertheless, in the English language, these two sound do not have a difference in meaning, henc both are allophones of the phoneme /l/.
Moreover, we discussed the fact that in the IPA chart, there are many sounds that might sound strange to us. However, they are part of other languages. In fact, it is a symmetrical relationship: sounds that are known to us, might sound exotic to speakers of other languages.
Thus, Welsh for instance has a so-called “Welsh double l”, a sound that we tried to produce together in class.
Furthermore, once again we discussed articulatory, auditory and acoustic phonetics.

Concerning articulatory phonetics, we laid emphasis on the source filter model.
Air is released form the lungs over to the vocal cords. Thus, the vocal cords are the source of speech sounds. Then, the air passes the vocal tract, where the facilities in our mouth (glottis, tongue, etc… ) have the function of a filter. Each sound involves the modification of air with the help of the respective articulatory organs.

The following picture (Gasser 2006) displays in detail the vocal tract:

The source filter model is related to acoustic phonetics as well: since the vocal chords are the sound source, an analysis of speech sounds has to focus on this facility, thus, the acoustic signal is viewed as a source signal that is filtered. Acoustic phonetics require special equipment, such as the program Praat, for instance.
Programs such as Praat allow us to analyze our sounds in terms of their fundamental frequencies or their formants (resonances) of the vocal tract.

Finally, we learned more about the anatomy of the ear (in the context of auditory phonetics). The ear basically consists three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Each part fulfils different functions, which are described in below in detail.


Take a look at models of the ear: summarise the functions of the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear.

Outer ear: The outer ear functions as some kind of microphone. The pinna (the visible part) collects and focuses sound waves. “From the pinna the sound pressure waver move into the ear canal, a simple tube running to the middle ear.” (

Middle ear: “The middle ear consists of the tympanic membrane (TM) and three ossicles, namely, the malleus, the incus and the stapes, respectively. The stapes footplate is attached to the base of the cochlea.” (Wada Labratory 1999)
The acoustic sounds that go through the external ear canal, vibrate the tympanic membrane (ear drum). This vibration is transmitted to the three ear bones and then eventually to the cochlea. Meanwhile, the ossicles have converted mechanically the vibrations of the tympanic membrane into amplified pressure waves in the fluid. Hence, the middle ear is also called amplifier.

Inner ear: The main parts that the inner ear consists of are the cochlea, the auditory nerve and the semicircular channels. The latter are responsible for sensing movement and maintaining balance. The core element of the cochlea is the organ of Corti: it contains “between 15,000-20,000 auditory nerve receptors. Each receptor has its own hair cell.” ( Moreover, it “detects pressure impulses and responds with electrical impulses which travel along the auditory nerve to the brain.” (Nave, Carl Rod 1999)

In my opinion, today's lecture was rather difficult to follow, especially when the source filter model was introduced to us. Apart from this, it was good to revise the basic facts concerning phonology and phonetics, however, as stated above, we should have taken a closer look at the source filter model, and in how far this model concerns programs such as Praat.

18.11.07 16:33

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