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Phonological and phonetic side of phoneme

We may summarize by saying that the phoneme is a linguistically relevant unit that exists in speech in the material form of its allophones. The phoneme is, therefore, a phonological unit which is represented in speech by phonetic units (the speech sounds).In analyzing speech we constantly carry out a phonetic and phonological analysis. The analysis is primarily phonetic when we describe the articulatory and acoustic characteristics of particular sounds and their combinations; but when we determine the role of those sounds in communication, it is mainly phonological analysis. Thus both phonemes and sounds are simply two sides of one and the same phenomenon – the sound substance of language, which can be analyzed on either the phonemic ( functional) level or the allophonic (variational) level.

Every phoneme displays a vast of variation in connected speech. Among the different types of variation we distinguish idiolectal, diaphonic and allophonic variation.

English vowels are considerably modified in unstressed syllables. The weakening of articulation and shortening of the duration of unstressed vowels results in modification of their quality and quantity. This phonetic phenomenon is reduction.

The process of adapting the articulation of a vowel to a consonant, or a consonant to a vowel, is accommodation.

It is generally considered that allophonic modification is caused by “economy of effort”. The speaker avoids articulatory movements which are not absolutely necessary for intelligibility of speech. This process is to some extent regulated by the orthoepic norm, by the system of phonemes in the language, and by the system of phonologically relevant features of phonemes in the language.

Different phenomena of combinatory phonetics are regulated by “the law of the stronger”. According to it, the stronger phoneme influences the weaker one. The stronger phoneme assimilates, or accommodates the neighbouring phoneme because of its articulatory strength and stability, or by its position in the syllable.


1.4. Allophones, their types:

Since every phoneme has several variants, the need arises for their classification. Besides free variants, the following types of allophones are distinguished: principal or typical, and subsidiary. Principal or typical allophones do not undergo any distinguishable changes in the chain of speech.


Each allophone of a certain phoneme is characterized by definite phonologically relevant features (which are common to all its allophones) plus a number of irrelevant, or incidental, features (which distinguish the allophone from all the other allophones of the phoneme).

A transcription, which is a visual system of notation of the sound structure of speech, is also a generalization of a great variety of sounds that are uttered by speakers of a given language.

If it is accuracy only in the representation of the phonemes of the language that is required, the transcription should provide each phoneme with a distinctive symbol to avoid ambiguity. Such a transcription is generally called phonemic, or broad, transcription.

Scholars usually make use of both ways: they provide some of the typical allophones with distinctive symbols and special marks (called “diacritic marks”) to denote the different features the allophones are characterized by. Such a transcription is called a phonetic or narrow transcription.

At the same time, there are quite predictable changes in the articulation of allophones that occur under the influence of the neighbouring sounds in different phonetic situations. Such allophones are called subsidiary, they may be of two types: 1)combinatory and 2) positional , e.g.- clear and dark variants of [l].



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