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Definition: Phonetics is the study of the minimal units that make up language. For spoken language, these are the sounds of speech - the consonants, vowels, melodies, and rhythms. While phonetics is traditionally the study of the sounds of speech, the study of phonetics is not actually limited to spoken modalities. Because phonetics has come to refer to the study of the minimal units that make up language in general. phoneticians may also study the minimal units (the phonetics) of signed languages.
Source: Language Files, eleventh edition, edited by Vedrana Mihalicek and Christin Wilson