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Look, I understand the basics of phonetics and phonology. Phonetics is a physical science and phonology is a psychological science, sort of. Nonetheless, they both treat the same object: linguistic sounds.

Is it possible to illustrate this interface to a naive and dimwitted undergrad?

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  • Phonology is not at all psychologically directed. – lemontree Sep 8 '16 at 7:56
  • So far as I understand: Phonological objects are distinct from phonetic objects. The former are psychologically real and the latter are physically really. No? – Teusz Sep 8 '16 at 8:42
  • The sounds your hear are just as much "psychologically real". I somewhat understand what you mean, but wording it that phonoloy is a "psychological science" is pretty misleading considering what psycholinguistics usually deals with. That fact that phonology deals with abstract rather than concrete physical objects doesn't make it a psychological science - although you could of course do psychologically motivated phonetics/phonology research, but this is not the core goal of these fields. – lemontree Sep 8 '16 at 12:13
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    If you are looking for a simple illustration, you might find this analogy helpful. – lemontree Sep 8 '16 at 12:15
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    I've always liked this illustration of the difference between phonetics and phonology. – Gaston Ümlaut Sep 9 '16 at 6:09
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If you have decided that phonology is all about the mind and phonetics is all about the body, then all you need is a drawing of a person, dichotomized into the mind versus the body, and you can label the parts. Good luck with that.

However, I disagree with your initial premise (though I do recognize that that is the standard undergrad edu sound bite). In fact, phonology is about mental manipulation of sound qua symbol, and phonetics is about how those symbols are realized / perceived. Before you get to actual neural impulses and movement of air and muscles, there is a lot of pre-physical planning. Some of this is quasi-scalar, so for example "voicing" during obstruent stops is not uniform across languages (and I mean even excluding situations like English where [g] is for some people voiceless unaspirated), voicing can be strong (higher amplitude, less prone to decay) vs. weak. The path of coarticulation from vowel to consonant is not uniform across languages (e.g. Marshallese vs. English vs. Turkish).

The real question is, why would you want to explain this difference? The simplest solution is to say that it's very complicated and controversial, but here are a few approaches (and then explain some of them). Or, if there is a real point that motivates you (such as that phonology does not deal in continuous functions or numeric values and that is has rules / operations of a particular type), then define the difference that way. The graphic should be trivial and really unnecessary, once the concept is clear.

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  • I don't think it's as simple as a traditional Cartesian mind/body divide though... Even Descartes required a homunculus to connect the two. I guess Decartes' homunculus is like the phonetics/phonology interface... haha – Teusz Sep 9 '16 at 16:07
  • The fact that the interface is, as you say, "complicated and controversial" is precisely why I want to explain the difference to myself!!! – Teusz Sep 9 '16 at 16:08
  • So the naive and dimwitted undergrad falls out of the picture, right? So does the graphic. Then we're down to understanding the difference between phonetics and phonology, and unfortunately, that is a non-scientific ideological question. – user6726 Sep 9 '16 at 16:16
  • Do you really think the difference between the two is non-scientific (or even arbitrary?). Each subdiscipline has a different object of study, no? That seems good enough motivation to me – Teusz Sep 10 '16 at 7:43

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