Kinds of Allophones

The Study of Phonemes
Definition of Phoneme
• A minimal class of phones which possess
shared features that clearly contrast to those
of other phonemes and form the basis of
distinguishing one utterance from another.
Most Languages have 50 or fewer phonemes.
No language uses all possible phonemes
The phones contained in corresponding
phonenemes in different languages may
vary significantly.
Phonemic Categories Differ from
One Language to Another
In English, trilled and untrilled
r’s are in the same phoneme.
In Spanish, trilled and untrilled
r’s are in different phonemes.
pero vs. perro
In English b and v are in
different phonemes.
berry vs. very
In Spanish, b and v are in the
same phoneme.
In English r and l anre in
different phonemes
river vs. liver
In Chinese r and l are in the same
Definition: Phones that occupy the same
phoneme are called allophones.
Goals of a Phonemic Analysis
1. To identify a minimal set of phonemes for
the language
2. To identify which phones from the
language are classified together in a given
phoneme as allophones
3. To identify the contexts in which a given
allophone will be used instead of others in
the same phoneme
Kinds of Allophones
Free variation allophones
Complementary distribution
Free Variation Allophones
Where the use of a particular allophone
overlaps with the use of others
Two sounds are used indiscriminately in
different phonetic contexts
Complementary Distribution
Two allophones are in complementary
distribution if the contexts in which they
appear do not overlap.
Two sounds are never used in the same
phonetic context.
Kinds of Phonetic Context
Some Examples
• Immediate context = the sounds which
immediately precede and follow the allophone
• The stress of the sounds that follow or precede the
• Whether the allophone begins or ends a word
• When the allophone begins a word, the sound with
which the word preceding the allophone ends
• When the allophone ends a word, the sound with
which the word following the allophone begins
Immediate Context Example
She vs. Shoe
The vowel following the “sh” sound
changes the way the sound is made. The
two “sh” sounds are allophones of the same
phoneme, but are used in different contexts,
one following the “oo” and one following
the “ee” sound.
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