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Posted by on Jul 9, 2013 in Language | 30 comments

25+ Difference between Phonetics and Phonology

25+ Difference between Phonetics and Phonology

Phonetics vs Phonology: 25+ Difference Between Phonetics and Phonology

How many differences are there between phonetics and phonology? These can be as many as 25 or more! Phonetics and phonology are two important intra-disciplinary branches of linguistics. Though closely interlinked and serving the same purpose, i.e. dedicated to the study of human speech sounds and sound structures, phonetics and phonology differ from each other to an extent that each has been given a separate disciplinary status.

Some of the most prominent differences between phonetics and phonology can be elaborated as follows:


  1. Descriptive vs. Theoretical:    The first major difference between phonetics and phonology is that former is descriptive while the latter is theoretical. Phonetics is a subfield of descriptive linguistics while phonology is an area of theoretical linguistics.
  2. Major Field vs. Sub-discipline:    Linguists often consider phonology a major field of linguistics. While, on the other hand, phonetics is regarded as a subfield placed under phonology as shown in the diagram below: difference phonology phonetics
  3. Phonological Analysis vs. Further Studies:    Phonetics is the basis for phonological analysis. On the other hand, phonology is the basis for further work in morphology, syntax, discourse, and orthography design.
  4. General Speech Sounds vs. Particular Sound Pattern Analysis:    Phonetics (the study of the physical aspects of sound) analyzes the production of all human speech sounds, regardless of any language it is dealing with. While, phonology analyses the sound patterns of a particular language by determining which phonetic sounds are significant, and explaining how these sounds are interpreted by the native speaker.
  5. Concrete vs. Abstract:    Phonetics discusses the physical characteristics of speech sounds or signs, especially, their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception and neurophysiological status. Phonology is primarily concerned with the abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds or signs.
  6. Audible Sounds vs. Their Meanings:    Phonetics is strictly about audible sounds and the things that happen in our mouth, throat, nasal and sinus cavities, and the lungs to make these sounds. It has nothing to do with meaning. It is only description. Phonology, on the other hand, is both physical as well as meaningful. It explores the differences between the sounds in a language that change the meaning of an utterance.
  7. Limited vs. Wide Scope:    Phonetics only asks, “Does this sound go here or not?” Phonology asks, “Does the meaning change if this sound is put here instead of that one?”
  8. Form vs. Function:    Phonetics is concerned with the form, i.e. the physical properties of sounds. Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned with the function, i.e. the differences and similarities of sounds.
  9. Parole vs. Langue:    The linguistic term ‘parole’ is the concern of phoneticians while ‘langue’ is studied by phonologists.
  10. Universal vs. Language Specific:    Phonetics deals with the universal phenomenon of human speech sounds. Phonology, on the other hand, is language specific.
  11. Phone vs. Phoneme:    In phonetics, the smallest structural unit is a phone. In phonology, on the other hand, the minimal meaningful unit is called a phoneme.
  12. Phone vs. Allophone:    Every language consists of speech sounds called phones. Phonetics is concerned with phones in general. Phonology, on the other hand, describes phones as allophones of phonemes.
  13. Phonetic vs. Phonemic Transcription:    Phonetics deals with the phonetic transcription of speech sounds. Phonology, on the other hand, deals with the phonemic transcription of speech sounds.
  14. Square Brackets vs. Slanted Brackets:    In phonetic transcription, square brackets are used to enclose transcribed symbols. In phonemic transcription, on the other hand, slashes are used for the same purpose.
  15. Speech Act vs. Language System:    Phonetics is concerned with the speech act. Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned with the language system.
  16. Continuous vs. Discrete Entity:    Phonetics is the domain of the continuous, while phonology is the domain of discrete entity.
  17. Gradient vs. Categorical:    Phonetics is gradient while phonology is categorical.
  18. Phonetics in Phonology vs. Phonology in Phonetics:    During their interaction, when phonetics affects phonology, the phonetics effects and constraints are reflected in the phonology. This is referred to as naturalness. On the other hand, when phonology affects phonetics, it results in the mapping between the units of phonology and their physical realization.
  19. Individuality vs. Interrelationship of Sounds:    Phonetic transcription depends simply on the pronunciation of each individual sound regardless of its function in the sound system of the given language, whereas phonemic transcription depends upon the interrelationship of sounds in each particular language.
  20. Identification vs. Interpretation of Sounds:    Phonetics studies ‘which sounds are present in a language’. Phonology, on the other hand, studies how these sounds combine and how they change in combination, as well as which sounds can contrast to produce differences in meaning.
  21. Phonetic vs. Phonemic Features:    Phonetic features whose presence or absence can alter meaning are called phonemic features. On the other hand, adding or subtracting a phonemic feature normally results in a change of meaning as well as in a change in pronunciation.
  22. Predictability vs. Unpredictability of Features:   The occurrence of certain phonetic features is entirely predictable in phonetic environment, called redundant phonetic features, as is the case in English with voicing or sonorants, nasality of vowels, or length in vowels. On the other hand, the presence of a phonemic feature is not predictable according to phonetic context.
  23. Phonetic Symbols vs. Phonemic Symbols:    The symbols of phonetic alphabet are universal. On the other hand, phonemic symbols are a type of phonetic shorthand with specific value for a particular sound in a language.
  24. Marking vs. Ignoring Phonetic Detail:    Phonetic transcription, enclosed in square brackets, attempts to express as much phonetic detail as possible, redundant or otherwise; phonemic transcription does not mark redundant features, but rather is intended to represent only those phonetic details of a given language that are distinctive.
  25. “One for One” vs. “One for Several”:    The 25th difference between phonetics and phonology is that, in phonetics, a phonetic symbol stands for one and the same sound regardless of language, but a phonemic symbol often stands for any one of the several actual sounds.
  26. Examples:    Let us take an example of the word “bed”. Phonetics is concerned with its physical production, acoustic properties, and its physiological status. On the other hand, phonologists take the word “bed” differently. They say the word “bet” is very similar to the word “bed” in terms of the physical manifestation of sounds. The only difference is that at the end of “bet,” the vocal chords stop vibrating so that sound is a result only of the placement of the tongue behind the teeth and the flow of air. However, the meanings of the two words are not related in the least. What a vast difference a muscle makes! This is the biggest distinction between phonetics and phonology, although phonologists analyze a lot more than just the obvious differences.



  1. The page is terrific

  2. you just wow(ed) me. im totally speechless at what you’ve explained.

  3. So far this article has been my best. But referencing is becoming a problem. So, please provide reference. Thanks

  4. its a very nice article but it has no examples to make it more vivid to understand

    • You did a great job here, welldone. But more examples would’ve made it more digestible.


  6. This article is so grand,marvelous and wondrous.
    chilled work done

  7. Am so much greatfull thanks alot

    • We are also grateful to provide you such information. Please like and share. Thanks

  8. A marvellous job,keep it up!

  9. Never did I understand phonetics and phonology the way I did here. Thanks

  10. You did a great job, butif you have provided it with examlpes,it will be better!

    • Thanks so much for your appreciation. Surely, I’ll try to improve it.

  11. Wow… this is amazing. Sure gonna help a lot.

  12. Thank you a lot and go on

  13. It is a nice work but we do not see the references .

  14. In fact am speechless here, it really marveled me to see such a tremendously created lecture, thanks a whole lot.
    But then I think further examples will make it more understandable and well explanatory.

    by: Mordy Brown Exclusive

  15. it really helped me

  16. Thanks a lot. God bless you.

  17. The distinctions are systematically captured. But the only trouble with the write up is its references which were not provided. References will help to make the write up more academic. Thanks greatly.

  18. I’m pleased with this work. Thanks.
    Between phonetics and phonology, which one does with human languages in general and which deals with a particular language?

    • You are most welcome. Well, it is phonetics which deals with human language in general. On the other hand, phonology deals with the sound system of a particular language. Hope that’s answer to your question.

  19. Thank helped me a lot to improve my understanding..

  20. Nice article! Thanks but more examples and references will be even make it more helpful.

  21. The best of all i was searching! mwalimu, let me believe with this content i’ll be able to pass my papers.

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