Phonetics: the study and classification of speech sounds.
Let’s be honest, the English language is far from consistent. For this reason, linguists created the phonetic alphabet, a set of symbols used to demonstrate what letter(s) sound like. For example, the group of letters one.
- alone = own
- gone = on
The set of letters don’t rhyme; their pronunciations are different. This pair is a sight/eye rhyme, where the words look like they should sound similar but they don’t. Due to this seemingly random representation of letters, there is a system to classify the sounds and make sense of the English language.
Some of it looks familiar, but then there are symbols like ʃ = voiceless postalveolar fricative (“sh”).
When I first saw it I thought it was a made up language, like children come up with to communicate with friends. I also thought it may have come from the font drop-down menu on Microsoft Word. Nope, it’s the real deal. (And it’s actually pretty cool.) Once you get the hang of it, decoding sentences in phonetic form is easy. Eventually, you can almost see the word it represents.