COOL CLASSES: “Phonetics and Phonology”

Students leave Visiting Instructor Noah Elkins’ class prepared to accurately pronounce any sound in any human language.

Class name: “Phonetics and Phonology”

Taught by: Visiting Instructor of Linguistics Noah Elkins

Says Elkins about his class:
Phonetics and Phonology” (or “Phon/Phon” as it’s called in the department) is a course about the sounds of languages. Phonetics is concerned with the production and perception of speech sounds, as well as the physical properties of the speech signal. Phonology is concerned with how speech sounds are organized and patterned in languages, as well as how language users conceptualize the sounds that make up their languages. Students come away from the class with the ability to produce (that is, accurately pronounce), as well as transcribe, any sound in any human language. They also learn how to analyze sound patterns in a variety of languages under a number of theoretical frameworks. Additionally, we learn how concepts in phonetics and phonology translate to signed languages, which are not spoken but adhere to all the same mechanisms as spoken languages.

Elkins on why he wanted to teach this class:
Phonetics and phonology are two sub-fields of linguistics that I’ve always found particularly interesting, and I focused on them during my career in undergrad and grad school. My own dissertation research focuses on what is called phrasal phonology, or the ways in which speakers “chop up” sentences into pronounceable chunks. I focus empirically on Mayan languages like Mam, spoken in western Guatemala, and so I hope to be able to share with my students the interesting sound systems that make up language families most of them will probably be unfamiliar with.

Elkins on what makes this class unique to his department:
This is the only class in our department that deals primarily with the sounds of languages. Linguists typically break up its major sub-fields into the “P-side” (phonetics and phonology), which deals with sounds, and the “S-side” (syntax and semantics), which deals with words and sentences. Whereas students get a flavor of all of these sub-fields (and more!) when they take an introductory course (LING 101 at Haverford), this is the only course that explores the “P-side” in depth. Understanding the sounds of languages is extremely important for linguists of all stripes since it has a part to play in all domains. For just a few examples, phonological rules often shape syntactic (sentence) structures and are important for understanding the semantics of words. How we pronounce words also has strong ties to our social identity, and helps explain the variation among dialects.

Learn more about other courses offered by the Tri-Co Department of Linguistics.