LINGUIST List 10.1867

Sat Dec 4 1999

Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Lee Fullerton, Re: 10.1855, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?
  2. Ronald Cosper, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?
  3. Jorge Guitart, Re: 10.1857, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?
  4. Celso Alvarez Caccamo, On allophones and thingness

Message 1: Re: 10.1855, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 15:21:48 -0700
From: Lee Fullerton <>
Subject: Re: 10.1855, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

On Dec. 1 Moonhawk wrote:
>And [x], let's call it a flap, may be an
>allophone of both /Y/ and /P/, let's call them /t/ and /d/, at the same
>time -- which could lead to an ambiguity sorted out by context by the
>speaker: bring me the "ladder/latter".

In American English I find three cognitive flaps (to be distinguished from
context) and three physiological types of flap. Any one of the former can
be realized by all three of the latter. Physiologically the tounge's tip
can meet the teeth, the alveolar ridge, or the hard palate. Cognitively
these instantiate 1) the non-alternating flap as in _ladder_ and _gutter_,
2) the flap alternating with [t] as in _latter_ derived from _late_, 3) the
flap alternating with [d] as in _sadder_ derived from _sad_. I'd say we
need to define three (systematic) phonemes, each with a flap allophone
having three classes of phones distinguished by place of articulation.

Lee Fullerton
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Message 2: Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Fri, 03 Dec 1999 15:20:23 -0400
From: Ronald Cosper <Ronald.CosperSTMARYS.CA>
Subject: Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

I wanted to point out that the term 'allophone' in Canada has a completely
different meaning. It is used to refer to a speaker of a language other
than English or French. (As opposed to a francophone or an anglophone.)

See: Tomas M. Paikedy (editor), Penguyin Canadian Dictionary. Markham,
Ontario: Penguin Books, 1990.

Dr. Ronald Cosper			Telephone 902-420-5874
Department of Sociology				 902-429-5871
Linguistics Program			FAX 902-420-5121
Saint Mary's University			E-mail
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada, B3H 3C3
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Message 3: Re: 10.1857, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 18:09:07 -0500 (EST)
From: Jorge Guitart <>
Subject: Re: 10.1857, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Benji Wald said
 Phoneticians have long been
> aware that vowels are perceived "continuously", not discretely, even though
> phonemes are supposed to "always" be discrete (i.e., the phonemes of which
> phoneticians study the allophones). That means that if there is no gap
> between the spaces of the /i/ and /e/ phonemes, then there will indeed be
> an in-between area which speakers will inconsistently identify with either
> /i/ or /e/.
Benji, allow me to seize on this:
If a person who says git and has never said get because she is monolectal
(and just starting--most probably unwittingly--to be trained in the
standard) is being taught to say get and when asked repeatedly to say
[get], says [gIt] instead, what would be wrong with saying that she 
repeatedly perceives (misperceives from the viewpoint of the teacher) [e]
as [I]? If it is not wrong to say that, how could assigning the incoming
signal to the slot [I] rather than to the slot [e] be not binary (and
therefore discrete)? 
What does it mean to say that a sound that does not exist in your lect is
perceived "continuously" (your quotation marks) rather than as a unitary
entity that is then assigned to a given slot in correspondence with the
learner's native system? You have to "put" it someplace! YOu cannot
assign it to a range that is neither [e] nor [I]. It goes into the
discrete category /I/. 

What happens when you hear a vowel in isolation that doesn't belong in
your native lect or language? I ran an experiment with Spanish dominant
Puerto Rican kids. As part of it a native speaker of American English who
knew linguistics pronounced [I] (the vowel of, say,PIT) in isolation. We
asked the children to write down the
sound they heard (they were literate--seventh graders). Some kids heard it
as Spanish /i/ (they wrote the letter I) and some heard it as Spanish /e/
(they wrote the letter E).English [I] has features in common with both
Spanish [i] and Spanish [e], so this was no surprise. Now, no kid failed
to decide either for I or for E There were only two discrete slots, and
they put it in one or the
other! How would you characterize these results in a framework that denies

Jorge Guitart
SUNY Buffalo

PS Thanks, Francisco, for coming out for thinginess and to the other
colleague for pointing out the coarticulation of supposedly not

PPS Message to Dan (who thinks that allophones are relations): Can
relations have phonetic features? We speak in
English of the aspirated allophone of /p/ as opposed to the unaspirated
one. In Spanish we have the approximant allophone of /b/ as opposed to the
plosive one, etc.
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Message 4: On allophones and thingness

Date: Fri, 03 Dec 1999 00:49:56 +0100
From: Celso Alvarez Caccamo <>
Subject: On allophones and thingness

"If it looks like a flap, walks like a flap, and quacks
like a flap, it probably is a flap, whatever a flap is".
-The Grown Linguist-

I beg the readers to overlook my naivete on this issue, ok?
I ain't a grown Linguist, or a Phonologist -- just
an allo-teacher with other allo-colleagues within
the hungry-tiger-like mental thing "teacher". That's why I
don't know how to cite.

Jorge Guitart, who seems to know quite a bit about sounds
even though he doesn't' pronounce all of them habitually
(or simultaneously), says:

"What is indeed a relation is the connection between phoneme
and allophone"

Yes, that's a relation, but, is that THE allophonic relation?
I've always understood that the ALLOphonic relation is the
one between two comparable things which are "other" to each
other -- it's a relation of co-thingness ;-) or
alternation. It's a relation between a(n allo)phone and
a (nother allo)phone. In a nutshell, it's like a phone
conversation, but without sound ;-). Then there are
three-way phone conversations. But, when one picks up
the receiver to call no one as there is no one -- just to
hear for a while the comforting beep in a lonely snowy
night -- then there's no allophonic relation. The lonesome
phone may still establish a relation with an archi-phonic
phonemic switchboard, but there's no other allophone turned
on to dialogue with.

If I may offend your sensibilities even more, an allophone is
then something like the mental representation of a given phone
in terms of it being an alternant with another, somehow
perceptually similar (allo)phone which is also a mental
representation of the manifestation, in speech, of yet another
mental thing called phoneme, somehow common to both phones.
So, strictly speaking, there seems to be at least three types
of mental thingness -- apart from physical sounds, which
don't count, even though they may also be things, who knows.

Now, we may be lying a little when we tell students (telling
it to ourselves is worse) that "[X] is an allophone of /Y/",
as Moonhawk claims, when we actually mean "[X] is one among two
or more identifiable sound units in the speaker's mind which
are abstract representations of sounds which correspond to the
abstract representation /Y/". But, we also lie when we teach
that phoneticians are some magicians who identify "real
sounds" out of scribbles and numbers in a spectrogram or
palatogram -- as their categorization of a given set of
empirically recorded, not-always-cooccurring acoustic and
articulatory facts as a distinct "sound" is also a representation
in the phonetician's mind and discourse.

Celso Alvarez C�ccamo Tel. +34 981 167000 ext. 1888
Lingu�stica Geral, Faculdade de Filologia FAX +34 981 167151
Universidade da Corunha
15071 A Corunha, Galiza (Espanha)
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