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Experimental Phonetics: Production, acoustics and perception of speech



Phonetics (also known as speech science) studies the process of speaking and understanding. Speaking and understanding are linguistic processes, which is why Phonetics and Linguistics are complementary disciplines. The basic question of Phonetics concerns the relationship between language (as an ensemble of structural principles) and speech (the concrete realisation of the abstract structures in terms of movements of the speech organs, the physical sounds emanating from these, and the response of the human ear and brain to the ensuing sensory input). The process of speaking and understanding is the prototypical form of human communication. Many properties of human language can only be accounted for if we know the (im)possibilities of the human speech organs and the hearing mechanism. In this way Phonetics contributes important explanations for many structural properties of human language.
Phonetics is an experimental science, i.e. phoneticians arrive at knowledge and understanding by doing experiments. The ultimate proof of the pudding (to check whether our insights make sense) is to simulate human language and speech processes with the aid of artificial systems, nowadays typically computer programs. To this end reading machines (with speech synthesis) have been developed, as well as dictation machines and even complete dialog systems, in which a computer fullfils the role of one of the communication partners (i.e. either speaker or hearer) in so-called man-machine interaction. Such systems are still identifiable as non-human; in so far as they fall short of human language and speech behaviour, they confront us with the gaps in our understanding of the communication process, and indicate directions for future research.
Phonetics and its practical applications also contribute to the development of diagnostics and treatment of speech and hearing defects (including the causes and effects of speaking with a foreign accent).
The course deals with the structure and dynamics of the human speech organs and the hearing system, as well as with the neural control from the brain. The core of the course addresses the acoustical properties of speech sounds, by examining oscillograms, spectra and spectrograms. The second half of the course will be devoted to special topics, such as the phonetics of prosody (sentence melody, accentuation, word tones, stress patterns, rhythm and phrasing), the process of spoken word recognition, non-native accent, and clinical and technological applications of phonetic research.

Course objectives

Acquiring knowledge and insight into:

  • The process of human communication through speech and hearing.

  • The relationship between languistic structure and speech sound.

  • Structure and dynamics of the human speech organs and hearing mechanism.

  • The physical properties of speech sounds and the synthesis thereof.

  • Clinical and technological applications of phonetics.

Course materials

The course will not use a dedicated textbook. Weekly power point slide shows will be made available through Blackboard. Reading materials from various sources (in English) wil be assigned on a weekly basis.


Students will be assessed on the basis of the quality of weekly practical assignments (50%) and the the written exam score (open questions).


Tuesday, 9.15-11.00
Location: Lecture room of Phonetics Laboratory, Lipsius 107


via USIS


Prof. dr. Vincent J. van Heuven
Coordinator: Ms. dr. J.Caspers