This paper sets out from a global definition of phonetics as ‘the study of the spoken medium of language’ in the broadest sense, whose goal is the description, modelling and explanation of speech communication in the languages of the world. Within this overall scientific frame, three general perspectives are distinguished — ‘speech signal analysis’, ‘historical linguistics and sound change’, ‘phonetics of the languages of the world’ — under which a wide array of specific questions, including applications, e.g. in language teaching, speech therapy and speech technology, may be subsumed. The three perspectives are outlined individually and in relation to each other, also with regard to their separate historical developments in the study of language and speech. The modem integration of the three perspectives into the unified paradigm of ‘phonetic or experimental phonology’ is then illustrated with reference to recent research at some leading phonetics labs around the world. From this examination of past history and present-day state-of-the-art of what is considered to be the core paradigm for phonetic study, conclusions are drawn for future research and teaching on the basis of this paradigm. In the shaping of phonetics as a scientific discipline, a strong plea is put forward for scientific, explanatory integration rather than modular, taxonomic diversification of the subject.