What are the differences between a phoneme, phone, and allophone?

A phone is the most basic unit of speech sound. A phoneme examines the various ways sounds vary due to the way the sounds themselves are produced. Some, for instance, initiate vocal cord vibrations while other, similar phonemes do not. An allophone of a phoneme is often determined by its proximity to other phonemes.

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A phoneme can be defined as the smallest unit of sound in a language that distinguishes one word from another. In the word "cat," for example, there are three phonemes: "c," "a," and "t." If we change the first of these phonemes from "c" to "h," then we'd have a...

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A phoneme can be defined as the smallest unit of sound in a language that distinguishes one word from another. In the word "cat," for example, there are three phonemes: "c," "a," and "t." If we change the first of these phonemes from "c" to "h," then we'd have a different word, "hat" instead of "cat."

A phoneme is a mental representation of a sound, but not the actual sound itself. The sound is referred to as a phone. Phones are the sounds that we make when we say a word out loud. The big difference between a phone and a phoneme is that the whole of a phone needs to be substituted to give us a different word, whereas, as we've already seen, the replacement of just one phoneme can be enough to change a word.

An allophone is a phonetic variation, a different pronunciation of the same phoneme. Changing a phoneme can, as we've already seen, change the meaning of a word. But this isn't the case with allophones. The meaning of a word remains the same with different allophones; all that changes is their pronunciation.

For instance, the allophones for the phoneme "t" in the word "water" sound different in British and American English, and yet the meaning of the word "water" remains the same.

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A phone is the most basic unit of speech sounds. In examining the phones of a word, the sounds are typically placed inside brackets. Thus, the word bat begins with the [b] phone. It has three distinct sounds: the b sound, the a sound, and the t sound. The four-letter word ball has only three phones: the b sound, the a sound, and a single l sound.

Phonemes examine the ways various phones are produced as words are spoken. For example, the sounds for t and d are actually formed in by positioning the tongue directly behind the top front teeth. However, t will not vibrate the vocal cords; d will. The t sound will emit a puff of air; the d sound does not produce this same aspiration. There is more muscular tension in the production of a d sound than a t sound. When transcribing phonemes, the sounds are typically placed between two slash marks. Therefore, /b/ identifies the initial phoneme in the word ball.

Allophones of a phoneme are determined by context and placement in relation to other phonemes. Consider the way the p is voiced differently in the words pot and spoon. While English speakers generally believe the p sound to remain constant, there is actually a variance. In pot, the p sound has an accompanying puff of breath. In the word spoon, the p sound blends in to the s sound, creating no puff. Allophones examine the way sounds become devoiced or retracted when they are in close proximity to other sounds. Consider, for example, how the typical t sound changes in when it initiates a word like tip and then how that sound retracts in a word like tree, due to the r sound which follows it.

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Speaking in phonetic terms, a phone is quite simply a speech sound. This can be absolutely any sound or gesture, and it is the broadest of these terms since its meaning does not hinge on whether or not it changes the descriptive meaning of the language in which it is used.

A phoneme, on the other hand, is a phonetic sound that would change the meaning of the word that it is used in if it were swapped with another. For example, pear and bear have two completely different meanings, though they are only separated by the phonemes /p/ and /b/.

Allophones are different spoken sounds for the same phoneme, and typically do not have bearing on the meaning of the word in language. In fact, speakers of native language and laymen in the field of phonetics typically are not aware of different allophones within a phoneme.

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All of these words and their corresponding definitions have to do with the study of phonetics and linguistics. Both the study of phonetics, which focuses on the details of human speech, and the study of linguistics, which focuses on the structural elements of language, require an understanding of these terms.

A phone is any sound made during speech in any language at all, but it does not necessarily mean anything specific. In contrast, a phoneme is specific to a language, and different phonemes in English and other languages do actually mean different things. Allophones are different versions of specific phonemes, or spoken sounds in speech. They do not necessarily change the meaning of the phoneme, and in fact, sometimes people use different allophones in their own speech without even realizing it.

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These concepts in linguistics are often confused, but they are quite distinct.

A phoneme is a unit of sound that differentiates one word from another. For example, the phoneme “t“ in “Tim” differentiates it from “him”. Likewise, “h” is the distinguishing phoneme in “him.”

A phone is any unit of sound in English. It need not change the meaning of a word if replaced.

An allophone is a variety of a phoneme, pronounced slightly differently to other varieties but having the same outcome and representing the same thing. For example, the letter “p” in “push” is pronounced with aspiration, more strongly than the “p” in “spit,” but these remain two versions of the same phoneme. Exchanging one for the other will not actually alter the meaning of the word.

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