What is the difference between phonetic and phonemic transcription?

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Put simply, something phonemic is always phonetic, but something phonetic is not always phonemic. The two terms as you list them (phonetic and phonemic) are listed from general to specific. Phonetics, as has been previously stated, is the study of the organization of sounds no matter what language is in...

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Put simply, something phonemic is always phonetic, but something phonetic is not always phonemic. The two terms as you list them (phonetic and phonemic) are listed from general to specific. Phonetics, as has been previously stated, is the study of the organization of sounds no matter what language is in question. Phonetic transcription is the transcription of these sounds. Therefore, phonetics corresponds to specific, physical characteristics (and not necessarily how they are patterned within words). Because phonemes are a specific kind of phonetic sound, the transcription of these sounds will be more about the specific patters that these sounds make, such as the differing sounds that change a word’s meaning in a particular language. For example, people who speak English as their native language will understand the differing phonemes at the end of “ton” and “tong” and how they change the meaning of the word. You will, as another example, find phonemic transcription (represented in between two backslashes) in almost every dictionary right next to the word being defined. Why? To help with pronunciation within that specific language.

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Phonetics is the study of the systematic organization of sound in different languages and further specifies phonetic features. Phonetic transcription can be categorized into broad and narrow transcription whereby phonemic transcription forms one type of the broad transcription in phonetics. Thus Phonemes belong to a particular branch of phonetics.

Phonemic transcription is concerned with the distribution of sound therefore when a sound alters the meaning of the word it becomes important to allocate separate symbols to make them distinguishable. For instance the word “bet” and “bed” have the two sounds “t” and “d” which alter the meaning of the word thus making them different.

Phonetic transcription on the other hand is concerned with the physical characteristics of sounds and not their patterns. Thus phonetic transcription focuses on acoustic transmission of sound, production and its perception in speech.

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