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Term Definition

The allophone may be a strange concept to the average English speaker, due to the fact that the average person is not aware of the full set of one allophone or another that he is using at one time or another. For example, there may be several different variations of the consonant sound "t", although they may all sound the same to the layman. Each of these variations would be an allophone relative to every other one, as long as the meaning of the word won't change. 

In linguistics, an allophone is one of two or more variations of the sound of the same phoneme. (A phoneme is a perceptually distinct unit of sound in a specified language that distinguishes one word from another.) In a language, a phoneme might be the sound of the letter /d/ as it is pronounced in the word “dog.” Thus, an allophone is a variation on the pronunciation of /d/ in various instances, such as at the end of the word “concluded.” The allophone used in a given speech situation is usually predictable from the phonetic context, but may occur in free variation. An American essay service writer can help you identify and include allophones in your projects.

Examples of allophones

Another example of a phoneme is /p/ as in the word “spin” or as in the word “pin;” the allophone in pin is aspirated (causing it to sound almost like a “phi”), whereas the allophone in “spin” is not, and sounds like “pih.”

Aspiration is a strong explosion of breath with an allophone, for example, the “ph” sound at the beginning of the word “pin.”

Complementary allophones are instances where a specific allophone must be selected to avoid confusion or make the speaker sound native. In this case, each allophone must be used in a specific phonetic context.

Free variation allophones can be freely selected based on personal preference.

A tonic allophone is sometimes called an allotone as in the neutral word “Mandarin.” 

Some examples of allophonic processes in English are retraction, lack of plosion, nasal plosion, partial devoicing of sonorants, complete devoicing of sonorants, partial devoicing of obstruents, and shortening or lengthening vowels.

Origin of the term

Benjamin Lee Whorf coined the term “allophone” in the 1940s, which helped develop phoneme theory. The American structuralist tradition cemented the word’s standard usage, helped along by G.L. Trager and Bernard Bloch’s paper on English phonology. Replacing a sound in a word by another allophone will not usually change the meaning of a word, but may make the word unintelligible to others. Every speech sound produced for a given phoneme is slightly different, even for the same speaker. Some debate over the universality of phonemes has resulted. 

Complementary allophones of a single phoneme are difficult to transcribe (write down), due to the fact that phonemes are abstractions of speech sounds, not the actual sounds.

Since allophone choice is seldom a conscious choice, many people do not realize that allophones exist. Contrasting pronunciation examples are helpful in these instances, with the differences noted by distinctions such as aspirated, glottalized, flapped, or nasalized flapped. In Mandarin, for example, /t/ and the “th” sound differences have been taught since birth, which is not the case with an English speaker. Thus, the Mandarin speaker is more conscious of the difference in allophones.

Languages such as Hawaiian and Toki Pona have a small phoneme inventory; thus there is much allophonic variation, which is used to distinguish between words and meanings. Allophones are best understood within the context of the language within which they occur. Additional areas of research for more understanding of allophones might include allophonic rule, allomorphs, linguistic alternation, phonemes, complementary distribution, free variation, and positional variants.

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Synonyms: allophone

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