Phonetics vs Phonology…What is the difference?

Now that I have finished with a basic overview of Phonetics, I move onto Phonology. However, this is a distinction that I had at least a little trouble with in the past, and so I thought I would explain the difference between the two.

Phonetics is basically a branch of acoustics: the branch of acoustics which applies to speech sounds. A key distinction between acoustics and phonetics is while there is a continuum of similar sounds between a given phonetic distinction, B and P for example, studies have shown that all of those sounds are categorized (and with a very low failure rate) as either B or P, and this does not get harder as you approach the border between the two. Something voiced enough to be a B and something just unvoiced enough to be a P may actually be closer to each other than to the sounds they are lumped in with, and yet these sounds can be told apart easily. On the other hand, telling apart that almost-‘B’ P from a regular P is a rather difficult task. In this way, sounds are like the whole numbers. There is a continuum between 1 and 5, but when counting, the only numbers addressed are 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

On the other hand, Phonology deals with language specific aspects of phonetics. I have not covered all of the phonetic distinctions that can be made, but a full catalog of the entire International Phonetic Alphabet is available here


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