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Phonetics and Social Sciences

Language is not an isolated phenomenon, it’s a part of society. The use of language and pronunciation in particular is determined by the social context (situation).

Sociophonetics studies the way language functions in social context. The social features/ factors we are interested in:

- regional/ geographical factor

- the age of the speaker

- gender

- social status

- sphere of communication


Phonetics is necessary in:

- linguistics

- communication engineering

- foreign language teaching

- rhetorical training (эффективная коммуникация)

- speech posology treatment Communication Technology (Criminal Law)



Прагмалингвистика – влияние

Экстралингвистическая ситуация – то, что не имеет отношения к лингвистике.

The Phoneme Theory


Segmental phonetics – the linguistic function of individual sounds or segments of speech.

[let] apical alveolar fortis [l]

[led] apical alveolar lenis [d]

[let them] dental [t] (assimilation)

are different in one feature, but the contrast between first 2 sounds changes the meaning.

The contrast between 1 and 3 sounds has no functional significance because it doesn’t change the meaning.

In our speech we are not aware of sounds differences which don’t change the meaning.


2 terms: a phoneme and an allophone

a phoneme – is a sound in its contrasting position (capable of distinguishing the meaning of a word)

an allophone – is a representation of a phoneme in a particular position/ context.

[let] – [led] phonemes

[let] - [let them] allophones


The phoneme is a minimal abstract language unit realized in speech in the ofrm of speech sounds opposable to other phonemes of the same language to distinguish the meaning of morphemes and words (by Shcerba + Vasiliev).


3 aspects of the phoneme:

1) material;

2) abstract (generalized);



The material aspect.

Each phoneme is realized in speech as a set of predictable (=depended on the context) speech sounds which are called allophones.

phoneme [t]

[to:k] apical alveolar [t] |

[tip] slightly palatalized [t] |

[not there] dental [t] | allophones

[not kwait] loss of plosion |

[trai] post-alveolar [t] |

[stei] not aspirated [t] |


The requirements to the allophones of the same phoneme:

1) they poses similar articulating feature, but at the same time they can show considerable phonetic differences.

2) they never occur in the same phonetic context

3) they are not capable of differentiating the meaning


2 types of allophones: principal and subsidiary

Principal are the allophones which don’t undergo any changes in the flow of speech => they are the closest to the phoneme) Ex: [t] -> [to:k]

In the articulation of a subsidiary allophone we observe predictable changes under the influence of the phonetic context.

Ex: [d] – occlusive plosive stop, forelingual, apical-alveolar, voiced lenis (the phoneme)

[do:], [dog] – the principal allophones

- [d] is slightly palatalized before front vowels and [j]: [ded], [did ju:]

- without plosion before another stop: [gud dei], [bad pain]

- with nasal plosion before nasal sonorants [m], [n]: [‘s^nd]

- before [l] a literal plosion: [midl]

- followed by “r” – [pst alveolar [d]: [dr^m]

- before interdental sounds it becomes dental: [bredth]

- when followed by [w] it becomes labialized: [dwel]

- in word final position it’s partly devoiced: [ded]

They are all fore-lingual lenis stops, but they show some differences. The allophones of the same phoneme never occur in the same phonetic context.

We can’t pronounce a phoneme, we pronounce allophones, which are accompanied by several social and personal characteristics. The actual pronounced sounds which we hear are formed with stylistic, situational, personal and etc. characteristics. They are called phones.


The Abstract aspect

The phoneme is a minimal language unit.

The phoneme belongs to the language, the allophone – to the speech.

Language is an abstract category, it’s an abstraction from speech. Speech is the reality of a language, thus the phoneme as a language unit is materialized in speech sound. The phoneme is a sort of generalization (abstraction).


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