1902 Encyclopedia > Phonetics


PHONETICS (_____, the matters pertaining to the voice, c/xovij) is the science and art of the production of sounds, including cries, by means of the organs of speech in man and their analogues in other animals.

This very extensive subject may be divided into the following three parts. (1) Anatomical, the accurate descrip-tion of all the organs employed, emissive (lungs, with the muscles acting on them, trachea, larynx, pharynx, mouth and its parts, nose and its passages, with its closing valve the uvula) and receptive (the ear, external and internal, and parts of the brain with which the auditory nerve com-municates). As all voice-sounds are produced by imita-tion, defects in the receptive organs entail defects in the action of the emissive. The congenitally deaf are conse-quently mute. (2) Physiological, the co-ordinated action of the parts just referred to in hearing and uttering sounds, and especially expiration and inspiration, with laryngeal, oral, and nasal actions, and the relation of these actions to the will (on these see VOICE). (3) Acoustical, with especial reference to the action of double membranous reeds, as in the glottis; the effects of resonance chambers, both fixed and variable in shape and size, open and closed, single and combined, and of the passage of air, more or less in a state of sonorous vibration, through tubes of variable lengths and widths, with walls of variable hardness, and with or without the interposition of semi-viscous fluids, as well as of flapping, smacking, or vibrating parts, and of other obstructions ; also investigations into the nature, production, and appreciation of qualities of tone, and tkeir gradual but rapid gliding one into another, as well as into the nature of sympathetic vibration, not only of the differ-ent cavities filled with air in the organs of speech but of the solid bony parts, and also the softer cartilages, sinews, and muscles connecting and supporting them. This part of the subject, which is far from having been fully investi-gated at present, has two main subdivisions—(a) musical, regarding the nature and properties of musical sound, and especially song, with their varieties due to force, pitch, and quality, as partly investigated in Helmholtz's Sensations of Tone; (b) rhetorical, regarding the mechanism of speaking as distinct from singing, the blending and differentiation of qualities of tone, partly musical and partly unmusical, with constantly variable and ill-defined pitch, and force, influenced by feeling; this subdivision embraces speech in particular, its special sounds for conveying thought and feeling, with their constantly-shifting characters, and also cries of joy and pain, as well as, properly speaking, the cries of the lower animals by which they communicate with those of the same kind; hence it comprehends also language, elocution, and philology in their fundamental constitution.

In a more restricted sense, applied solely to human be-ings and to articulate significant sounds (that is, exclusive of cries of pain and pleasure, or the inarticulate and often unconscious noises of snoring, snuffling, gargling, pant-ing, laughing, crying, sobbing, sneezing, and the like), the term " phonetics " is used to designate a work on the enu-meration, evaluation, relations, classification, analysis, and synthesis of SPEECH-SOUNDS (q.v.),—that is, of the sounds actually used in speech for conveying and recording thought by different nations and tribes, together with a means of fixing them by visible signs. The alphabet has followed speech-sounds with very halting steps. It is only in quite recent times that sufficient knowledge of the nature of speech has been obtained to enable us in some measure to understand and unravel the mysteries of the old enigmatic forms, and thus to construct a securer basis for philology than the guesses on which it once rested.
In a still more restricted and popular sense the term "phonetics" has been recentlyused for attempts to construct a new practical alphabet for English or other individual languages, or for several such languages simultaneously, with a view either of superseding the alphabets at present in use, or of improving their employment, or, at any rate, of facilitating the generally very difficult tasks of teaching and learning to read and write. Attempts of this kind are by no means recent: witness Loys Meigret, Traite touchant le commvn wage de I'escritvre francoise (1545); Sir Thomas Smith, De recta et emendata lingux Anglicx scriptione (1568) ; J. Hart, An orthographie, conteyning the due order and reason, home to write or painte thimage of mannes voice, most like to the life or nature (1569); [William] Bullokars Booke at large for the Amendment of Orthographie for English speech (1580); Alexander Gill (master of St Paul's school, London, when Milton was there), Logonomia Anglica: qud gentis sermo facilius addis-citur (1619 and 1621); Charles Butler, The English Grammar, or the Institution of Letters, Syllables, and Words in the English tongue (1633). All these works are more or less printed in the orthography proposed, and each orthography is different. They are described and illus-trated in A. J. Ellis's Early English Pronunciation, parts i. and iii. It is, however, not necessary in this place to go beyond attempts made by persons still living. In 1847, after three years of experiments, Isaac Pitman and Alexander John Ellis brought out their phonotypy, consisting of twenty-three old types and seventeen new ones, with which, among much other matter, the Bible and the Phonetic News newspaper were printed in 1849, and extensive experiments were made, showing that read- ing in this alphabet could be rapidly taught, and that when children had learned to read phonotypy well they could easily learn to read in ordinary spelling. The new letters were subsequently much and frequently altered in meaning by Pitman, who in 1884 still produced a Phonetic Journal weekly in his present phonotypy. Very numerous forms of phonotypy, following either the old or the new edition, have also appeared in America. Many other systems have been tried by accenting, italicizing, supernumbering, or diacritically marking the letters to- make the ordinary letters of English spelling convey their sounds. Almost every new "pronouncing dictionary" has its own method. This last plan has been, on the whole, successfully applied for teaching to read by many writers. In order to avoid new types, or even accented letters, and yet have a practical phonetic alphabet for English and its dialects, Ellis prefixed to part iii. of his Early English Pronunciation (1871) an account of "Glossic, a new system of spelling intended to be used concurrently with the existing English orthography, in order to remedy some of its defects without detracting from its value." This has been extensively used by the English Dialect Society and in Ellis's works on Pro- nunciation for Singers (1877) and Speech in Song (1878), in which it is fully explained and used in complete practical accounts of the phonology of English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Henry Sweet, in his Handbook of Phonetics (Oxford, 1878), proposed his "Broad Eomic," admitting, however, a few inverted letters. Subsequently, the English Spelling Reform Association was started, and great numbers of new attempts at phonetic alphabets for English only were made, which will be found described and illustrated at full length in W. R. Evans's Spelling Experimenter and Phonetic Investigator (2 vols., September 1880 to April 1883). There is also an American spelling reform association. But neither association has as yet agreed upon a new alphabet. In 1881 the Philological Society of London approved of certain "partial correc- tions of English spelling " submitted by Sweet, and these are more or less used in the Proceedings of that society, as edited by Sweet, and are generally approved by the American association, but they are not by any means an entirely phonetic scheme. In the books referred to, and particularly Evans's, the whole of this special branch of the subject of phonetics, so far as English is concerned, may be sufficiently examined. (A. J. E*.)

The above article was written by: A. J. Ellis, author of Speech in Song.

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