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Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that deals with how humans perceive and produce sounds, or with respect to sign languages, the equivalent of the same in sign. Linguists who specialize in phonetics are known as phoneticians and they study the physical properties of speech. The field of phonetics is generally divided into three sub-disciplines on the basis of the research questions that are involved:

  • Articulatory Phonetics – How humans plan and execute movements as a means of producing speech
  • Acoustic Phonetics – How various movements affect the properties of the resulting sound
  • Auditory Phonetics – How humans convert sound waves to linguistic information

In the field of phonetics, the smallest linguistic unit is the speech sounds in a language known as a phone. The phone should not be confused with phoneme – the phoneme is an abstract categorization of phones. Phonetics deals with two main aspects of human speech:

  • Production – the ways in which humans make sounds
  • Perception – the ways in which speech is understood

Language production comprises several interdependent processes that transform a non-linguistic message into a signed or spoken linguistic signal. After the identification of a message to be encoded linguistically, a speaker needs to select the individual words which are known as lexical items, for representing that message in a process known as lexical selection. During the process of phonological encoding, the mental representation of the words is assigned a phonological content as a sequence of phonemes to be produced. The phonemes are specified on the basis of their articulatory features that denote particular goals like closed lips or the tongue in a certain location. After that, these phonemes are coordinated into a sequence of commands that are sent to the muscles, as a result of which sound is produced. 

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