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Phonemes and allophones
The definitions of the phoneme vary greatly.
L.V. Shcherba: the phoneme may be viewed as a functional, material and abstract unit.
V.A.Vassilyev: The phoneme is a smallest unit capable of distinguishing one word from another word, one grammatical form of word from another.
B. Bloch: phoneme is a class of phonemically similar sounds contrasting and mutually exclusive with all similar classes in the language.
R. Jacobson: phoneme is a minimal sound by which meaning may be discriminated.
Views of the phoneme seem to fall into 4 main classes:
1) the “mentalistic” or “psychological” view regards the phoneme as an ideal “mental image” or a target at which the speaker aims.
2) The so-called “functional” viewregards the phoneme as the minimal sound unit by which meanings may be differentiated without much regard to actually pronounced speech sounds.
3) A stronger form of the “functional” approach is the so-called “abstract” viewof the phoneme, which regards phonemes as essentially independent of the acoustic and physiological properties associated with them, that is of speech sounds.
4) The “physical” view regards the phoneme as a “family” of related sounds satisfying certain conditions, notably:
a) the various members of the “family” must show phonetic similarity to one another, in other words, be related in character;
b) no member of the “family” may occur in the same phonetic context as any other.
An allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds (or phones) used to pronounce a single phoneme.
Compare the sound [t] in the phrase “let us” and “let them”, they are not the same. The [t] of “let us” is alveolar while the [t] in “let them” is dental. They are the variants of the phoneme [t] and are called “allophones”. Allophones of the same phoneme need the following requirements:
§ though they possess some similar features they may show difference.
§ They never occur in the same phonetic context.
§ The allophone which is heard in isolation or stands in the position where it is not the subject (in such words as door, dark, etc.) and doesn’t undergo any distinguishable changes in the chain of speech is called “principal”. The allophones which are influenced by the neighbouring sounds and change the articulation are called “subsidiary”.
10/ Complementary distribution and free variation.
Complementary distribution is the distribution of phones in their respective phonetic environments such that one never appears in the same phonetic context as the other. When two variants are in complementary distribution, one can predict where each will occur because one can simply look at the environment in which the allophone is occurring.
Sounds in complementary distribution:
1 never occur in the same environment
2 occur in predictable environments (with respect to each other)
3 Sounds in complementary distribution are allophones of the same phoneme.
For instance, English speakers pronounce plural /s/ as voiceless [s] after voiceless consonants but voiced [z] after vowels or voiced consonants: [bʊks] versus ['fownijmz] or [dejz]. Sounds in complementary distribution are also non-contrastive, since they are not heard as two distinct sounds but as variants of the same sound. Like free variants, they are allophones of the same phoneme.
For example, In English, [pʰ] and [p] are allophones of the phoneme /p/, since [pʰ] can be found at the beginning of syllables ([pʰɪn]) and nowhere else. Likewise, [p] is never found at the beginning of syllables, but can be found in other positions ([spɪn]). Summarizing in a table:
Free variation is the interchangeable relationship between two phones, in which the phones may substitute for one another in the same environment without causing a change in meaning. Free variation may occur between allophones or phonemes. Two sounds do not represent two separate phonemes if they are in FREE VARIATION; that is, if you may use one in any position you may use the other without any semantic effect. For example, aspiration may be omitted from stops at the end of words in English, too; however, whether it is dropped or not is indifferent; the meaning of the word does not change. Sounds that are in free variation occur in the same context, and thus are not predictable, but the difference between the two sounds does not change one word into another. Truly free variation is rather hard to find. Humans are very good at picking up distinctions in ways of speaking, and assigning meaning to them, so finding distinctions that are truly unpredictable and that truly have no shade of difference in meaning is rare.
Example: realization of e in economics as either /ɛ/ or /i:/; realization of the ei in either as /i:/ or /aɪ/.
[tə'mɑːtəu] in British English or [tə'meitəu] in American English
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