The Speech Chain and Phonetics

speech (SAY WORDS) /spi?t?/ noun

  1. [U] the ability to talk, the activity of talking, or a piece of spoken language:
  2. Children usually develop speech in the second year of life.
    People who suffer a stroke may experience a loss of speech.

  3. [U] the way a person talks:
  4. His speech was slurred and I thought he was drunk.

  5. [U] the language used when talking:
  6. Some expressions are used more in speech than in writing.

  7. [C] a set of words spoken in a play:
  8. Do you know the words to Hamlet’s famous speech at the beginning of Act III?

(taken from Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)

Why is speech so important? Speech is one of many factors that makes human culture possible to develop day-by-day, year-by-year, century-by-century. Using speech, humans can communicate each others and share their knowledge, experiences, and even ideas.

The Speech Chain

The Speech Chain

(from Denes & Pinson, 1993)

According to picture above, there are 5 ‘state’ in the speech chain, i.e. Linguistic Level (Speaker Side), Physiological Level (Articulatory), Acoustic Level, Physiological Level (Auditory), and Linguistic Level (Listener Side)

At linguistic level (speaker side), human will select, combine, and order suitable words into suitable sentences. Note that words are comprised of syllables and syllables are comprised of phonemes. Then, the ‘state’ move to physiological level (articulatory), which will involve neural and muscular activity, based on the input signal (phoneme) from the previous ‘state’. The muscular activity will form the articulator in a certain shape, so that the vocal tract for a specific phoneme is formed. The ‘state’ moves to acoustic level when there is air flowing through the vocal tract from the lungs. At this level, speech sound wave is generated and then transmitted on the medium of air. When the speech sound wave reaches listener’s ears, the ‘state’ moves to physiological level (auditory). The incoming wave will activates the hearing mechanism, which then involve neural activity in the hearing and perceptual mechanism. The speech chain is completed on the linguistic level (listener Side) when the listener recognizes the words and sentences produced by the speaker.


Phonetics is the study of speech sounds. From the explanation about speech chain above, we know that there are 3 levels which are correspond with speech sounds, i.e. physiological level (articulatory), acoustic level, and physiological level (auditory). Therefore, there are 3 subfields of Phonetics, i.e. Articulatory Phonetics, Acoustic Phonetics, and Auditory Phonetics.

Articulatory Phonetics talks about how speech sounds are produced and how we classify and transcribe speech sounds. Acoustic Phonetics talks about how speech sounds are described acoustically and the acoustic properties of speech sounds. And, Auditory Phonetics talks about how speech sounds are received and perceived.

For my final-year project, I have to study a lot about Articulatory Phonetics and Acoustic Phonetics.

The short URL of the present article is:

One thought on “The Speech Chain and Phonetics”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *