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Study of speech sounds. It deals with their articulation (articulatory phonetics), their acoustic properties (acoustic phonetics), and how they combine to make syllables, words, and sentences (linguistic phonetics). The first phoneticians were Indian scholars (c. 300 BC) who tried to preserve the pronunciation of Sanskrit holy texts. The Classical Greeks are credited as the first to base a writing system on a phonetic alphabet. Modern phonetics began with Alexander Melville Bell (1819–1905), whose Visible Speech (1867) introduced a system of precise notation for writing down speech sounds. In the 20th century linguists focused on developing a classification system that can permit comparison of all human speech sounds. Another concern of modern phonetics is the mental processes of speech perception.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on phonetics, visit Britannica.com.