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Acoustic phonetics is a subfield of phonetics, which deals with acoustic aspects of speech sounds. Acoustic phonetics investigates time domain features such as the mean squared amplitude of a waveform, its duration, its fundamental frequency, or frequency domain features such as the frequency spectrum, or even combined spectrotemporal features and the relationship of these properties to other branches of phonetics (e.g. articulatory or auditory phonetics), and to abstract linguistic concepts such as phonemes, phrases, or utterances.
The study of acoustic phonetics was greatly enhanced in the late 19th century by the invention of the Edison phonograph. The phonograph allowed the speech signal to be recorded and then later processed and analyzed. By replaying the same speech signal from the phonograph several times, filtering it each time with a different band-pass filter, a spectrogram of the speech utterance could be built up. A series of papers by Ludimar Hermann published in Pflügers Archiv in the last two decades of the 19th century investigated the spectral properties of vowels and consonants using the Edison phonograph, and it was in these papers that the term formant was first introduced. Hermann also played back vowel recordings made with the Edison phonograph at different speeds to distinguish between Willis’ and Wheatstone’s theories of vowel production.