LINGUIST List 10.1947

Thu Dec 16 1999

Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Celso Alvarez Caccamo, Re: What Exactly Are Allophones OF?
  2. Peter T. Daniels, Re: 10.1936, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Message 1: Re: What Exactly Are Allophones OF?

Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 21:51:48 -0100 (GMT)
From: Celso Alvarez Caccamo <>
Subject: Re: What Exactly Are Allophones OF?

Dan Moonhawk writes,

> "Allo-" only works *between* levels.

I disagree, and that's the root of our overall disagreement. I am aware
that the standard description is "[X] is an allophone of /y/", meaning
'one among several types of realizations of /y/'. However, "allophone"
literally means nothing but 'another, a different phone', and that's what
I'm trying to focus on. Of course, we can say "an allophone OF /Y/",
meaning 'a different phone OF phoneme /Y/', but this pressuposes the
existence of a previous phone from which another one is different. I
believe that in the coinage of the term "allophone" initially underlied
the notion that each phoneme has one canonical type of realization (a
representative phone, e.g. [p] as canonical of /p/) and, therefore, a
variant type of realization should be regarded as 'another phone'. (At the
level of abstraction I'm working with to babble about this, a phone is a
type of sounds, not each of the tokens). But the (vertical?) relation
between a phoneme and a phone is actually one of
realization-representation; whereas it is the (horizontal) relation
between phone-types which entails otherness, difference -- it is an
allo-phonic relation. Strictly speaking, then, a given segment [X] is a
phone OF /y/, which may be allophonic TO (different from) another phone
[Z] OF /y/. 

> Perhaps you can mount a campaign to get all linguists to accept that
> -- or perhaps the revolution has already begun since I was last a
> student, and I'm now in early stages of old-fogyness! ;-)

That is not my intention. All I'm trying to say in my limited English is
that the use of the standard description "[X] is an allophone OF /y/"
shouldn't preclude us from understanding that "allo" pressuposes
difference between comparable objects (phones), and that this difference
is THE allophonic relation between phones of a given phoneme. If we
replace "allophones" with "complementarily distributed phones" this
relation becomes clear: allophones are complementarily distributed to each

That's my take on the issue. If I am utterly wrong, I hope I'll have the
opportunity to realize it sooner or later. 

Thank you,

 Celso Alvarez-Caccamo Tel. +34 981 167000 ext. 1888
 Linguistica Geral, Faculdade de Filologia FAX +34 981 167151
 Universidade da Corunha
 15071 A Corunha, Galiza (Espanha)
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Message 2: Re: 10.1936, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 18:41:59 -0400
From: Peter T. Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 10.1936, Disc: What Exactly Are Allophones?

Jorge Guitart's parable doesn't quite capture the nature of the
allophonic relationship. I believe another layer of detail needs to be
added. Perhaps the ten items on the table are: two different issues of
*National Geographic*, two different issues of *Die Stern*, one old
issue of *American Heritage*, two novels by David Lodge, one volume of
the collected works of Shiro Hattori, an edition of Herodotus, and a
bound volume of the four issues of *Language* for 1998. Arguably a
number of different analyses of these TYRs into alloTYRs of /B/ and /M/
are possible -- depending on how their owner views their function. (For
the younger or unAmerican reader, *American Heritage* is a quarterly
magazine, but some years ago each issue was hardbound, so it was
physically a series of books.)

Peter T. Daniels
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