LanDi Liu strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 6 03:04:21 UTC 2008

On Sun, Apr 6, 2008 at 6:29 AM, Michael Covarrubias <mcovarru at>

> Scot LaFaive wrote:
> > Essentially, phonemes are
> > in your head and allophones are the actual production of phonemes in
> > specific environments. I don't know of any other definitions for
> > phoneme and allophone that phonologists use, so I'm not sure what you
> > mean by "search engines give several definitions." I think I'll go
> > with what phonologists mean by phoneme and allophone instead of Google
> > and Yahoo.
> >
> > Scot
> >
> Something "in your head" isn't much of a definition. Phonologists
> probably have more definitions of phoneme than Google and Yahoo combined.
> michael
> Why not?  It's just a less technical way to say that phonemes are
perceptual.  Allophones are the way that phonemes are physically expressed.
A tapped /t/, an aspirated /t/, and an unaspirated /t/ are all the same
phoneme, /t/, but are different allophones.  /t/, however, is a very clean
example.  When you get into vowels, especially diphthongs, it gets tricky,
and murky.  For example, some of you may think Mary, marry, and merry have
different phonemes, but they're all the same for people like me who have
merged them.

And if you're American, you probably say "man" and "male" with the same
vowel sound -- "man" with a tensed ash, and "male" the same way, but you
also probably consider "man" to have a short a sound, and "male" to have a
long a sound.  If you say them that way (and I do), you are using the same
sound in two different phonemes.

When defining an accent one must make some arbitrary decisions about what
constitutes a phoneme in that accent, and what constitute allophones in each
phoneme.  Usually we try to apply an objective rule to this process, like
the idea that changing phonemes affects meaning, but changing allophones
doesn't, but this is not always cut and dry.

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China

The American Dialect Society -

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