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Fraser HB. Phonetics and phonology. 2011.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/9642
Phonetics and phonology
Phonetics and phonology are among the branches of linguistics with least impact on applied linguistics. This is unfortunate, as they have a great deal to offer research and teaching in the many applications that investigate the production, understanding or representation of speech, especially second language teaching, which will be the focus of this chapter. One reason for their lack of impact might be they are often perceived as highly complicated topics, dominated by theoretical issues of limited relevance to practical applications. It is useful in this regard to invoke a distinction between 'complicated' and 'complex'. A simple system has few parts, related by a small enough number of rules as to be easily understood by the average person. A complicated system is quantitatively different, with many more parts, related by more numerous, more inter-related rules. A complex system is qualitatively different, with larger, less clearly-defined parts, connected by a smaller number of general, context-dependent principles (Ellis this vol). Working effectively with either kind of system requires recognition of which kind it is. However, since their products can seem superficially similar, it is possible to confuse them, with unfortunate results (Westley et al. 2006). The argument of this chapter is that speech is a complex system, but most current theories of phonetics and phonology model it as a complicated system. While this is appropriate for some applications, for others, a theoretical framework which recognises the complex nature of speech is needed. One problem is that understanding speech as a complex system means revising basic ideas in ways that challenge not just existing academic theories, but apparently obvious facts about speech. The intention here, however, is not to contradict existing ideas, but to place them in a wider context, with the aim of encouraging cross fertilisation between branches of theoretical and applied research that have had too little contact in recent decades. The chapter begins by reviewing some well-known observations, and equally well-known misconceptions, about speech. It then provides a simple analogy as a basis for understanding and comparing different views about speech, and goes on to use the analogy in an interpretive overview of the historical development of phonetics and phonology in relation to applied linguistics. Discussion then turns to how the knowledge acquired by phonetics and phonology can be framed in a way that allows fruitful, two-way interaction with various branches of applied linguistics, especially sociocognitive theories of second language teaching.