LINGUIST List 10.1791

Wed Nov 24 1999

Disc: Issue: 10.1785/ What Exactly Are Allophones?

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Francisco Dubert, Original Issue # 10.1785/ What exactly are allophones?

Message 1: Original Issue # 10.1785/ What exactly are allophones?

Date: Wed, 24 Nov 1999 11:33:53 +0100
From: Francisco Dubert <>
Subject: Original Issue # 10.1785/ What exactly are allophones?

>From: "Richard D. Janda" <>
>Subject: Phonemes, Allophon(e)-emes, Allo-allophones; Minimal Pairs

> Joining the chorus of previous similar voices, I would add that I myself
>always emphasized to students that there are at least three kinds of
>phonemes, allophones as TYPES of variant phoneme realizations, and the infi-
>nitely many TOKENS instantiating these types (and thus also the relevant pho-
>neme). [...]
>For reasons mentioned below, it seems misleading to consid-
>er all allophones-as-types solely as elements of parole; certainly the usual
>sort of definition given for linguistic competence would include a speaker's
>knowledge of what the allophone types for his/her idiolect are.

I agree enterely with this ideas.

In my opinion, there are speech sounds, and each of these speech sounds are
the "realization" of an abstract entity: the "phone". In the "phone", all
the features must be specificated. These specifications may produce
different speech sounds that are tokens of the same "phone". 

In the "phoneme", we only have distinctive features (that is why the
"phoneme" is most abstract than the "phone", and one or more "phones" are
related to one "phoneme".

In Galician or in Spanish, the "phoneme" /b/ has two allophones (stop and
approximant). The stop or the approximant allophones can be related to
different speech sounds. 

There is a problem with the terms "phone" and "allophone". In my opinion, a
"phone" is a phonetic entity (but abstract, not the real and acoustic
sound). The speech sound that I describe as [back, open-mid rounded vowel]
is different from the speech sound of my wife, but both speech sounds are
[back, open-mid rounded vowel], i.e., they are the same "phone".

Phonemes can have one or more "phones", but two (or more) "phones" that are
related to one "phoneme" are "allophones" of this "phoneme".

In Galician, the difference between [back, open-mid rounded vowel] and
[back, close-mid rounded vowel] is distinctive, so, this phones belong to
two different phonemes; Spanish has these two phones, but the difference is
not distintive, they belong to the same phoneme, they are allophones of the
same phoneme.

In Galician or in Spanish, a lateral palatal phoneme has only one phone
[lateral, palatal, voiced, approximant...], but /b/ has two phones, each of
them being an allophone of the phoneme. There are allophones if there are
more than one phone as realization of the same phoneme: the stop
realization and the approximant realization of /b/ are allophones of /b/.

In my opinion, the relationship between a phoneme and the (allo)phone
belongs to the phonological component, and the relationship between the
(allo)phone and the speech sound (the acoustic event) belongs to the
phonetic component.

Phonemes and allophones are entities of the "langue" (or of the
competence); speech sounds are entities of the "parole" (or of the

Francisco Dubert Garc�a
Departamento de Filolox�a Galega
Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela

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