The Importance of the Phonetic Alphabet in Languages and Communication Studies

As of yet the phonetic alphabet is not considered an independent field of study, but the significance of the practical implications of using the phonetic alphabet in language and communication studies tell a different story.

Modern phonetics has three main branches: articulatory phonetics, the study of the way sounds are made; acoustic phonetics, which studies the acoustic results of different articulations; and lastly auditory phonetics, which is the study of how listeners perceive and understand linguistic signals. Each one of these three branches of phonetics is used, practically and theoretically, in the study of native and foreign languages and communications between people.

Practical Applications of the Phonetic Alphabet in Higher Education

In higher education phonetics is not seen as an independent subject as is the case with languages, linguists and communication studies. Yet many scholars still consider phonetics an important discipline which is why scholars and educators have incorporated the phonetic alphabet into language, linguistic and communications programmes and courses where the knowledge and understanding of the phonetic alphabet comes in very handy.

Numerous language courses, especially foreign languages, use the phonetic alphabet to teach students the correct pronunciations of foreign speech sounds and words. Phonetic transcription, on the other hand, is useful in the exploration and reflection of psycholinguistics, pragmatics, rhetoric, communication analysis and so forth.

Many scholars have suggested and strongly recommend that students of language and communication studies learn the phonetic alphabet, the different symbols and code words that represent each letter and speech sound of the English alphabet, as well as those of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

In doing so, both students and language scholars will be able to transcribe speech sounds of different accents and languages, as well as use the phonetic alphabet’s symbols and code words to help them achieve the correct pronunciation of new or foreign words.

Knowledge and understanding of the phonetic alphabet will also help students grasp and understand the finer differences in and among similar speech sounds of a given language as well as the articulation of similar sounds of different languages. Educators have noted that the use of the phonetic alphabet and the straight-forward phonetic explanations sharpen their students’ articulatory awareness while learning.

The International Phonetic Alphabet is also widely used by publishers of foreign language course work and dictionaries. The use of the International Phonetic Alphabet enables students to transcribe their course materials independently and with greater accuracy. It helps them avoid making mistakes regarding confusing speech sounds and build on pronouncing foreign words correctly in a targeted language.

The importance of the phonetic alphabet in language and communication studies is undeniable, especially when used in foregin coursework as it assists students to better understand the speech sounds of various alphabets used around the world.

Variants of the Phonetic Alphabet

Variants of the phonetic alphabet have been developed and adapted over time in different regions around the world and for different purposes. Aside from the International Phonetic Alphabet, there is also the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, more commonly known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, or simply the military alphabet. The practical applications of the military alphabet vary from the International Phonetic Alphabet but the basic principles on which they are both based remain the same.

While the International Phonetic Alphabet indicates intonation, syllabus, and other factors of speech, the military alphabet’s only practical application is oral communication, which means the military alphabet is much less significant to the theoretical study of language and communication unless you hope to pursue a career in the navy or military. If you are, then you better start learning, here’s the military alphabet and some tips on how you can get started today.

Final Word

The phonetic alphabet plays a significant role in the study of language and communication. Considering the practical applications of the phonetic alphabet in higher education and the use of phonetics in teaching and learning clearly speaks to its relevance in the field. This direct link between the phonetic alphabet to the study of languages, linguistics, and communication is testament to its importance in the education sector and the need to make it an independent field of study within tertiary institutions.

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