Phoneme as a unit of language and its possitional variants

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1.   Defenition of the phoneme and its functions.
2.   Features
3.   Types of allophones
4.   Methods of the phonemic analysis
5.    Main phonological schools
6.   The system of consonant phonemes. Problem of affricates
7.   The system of vowel phonemes. Problems of diphthongs and vowel length
In the lexicon of a language, each word is represented in its underlying, or basic, form, which discounts all of the alternations in pronunciation that are predictable by phonological rules. For example, there are phonological rules that will account for the variations in the placement of stress and the alternations of vowel quality that occur in sets of words such as harmOny, harmOnic, harmOnious and melOdy, melOdic, melOdious. The rules that predict the pronunciation of the capitalized O's are general, rather than specific for each word, and the grammar should state such rules so that the regularities are revealed. Accordingly, each of these words must be entered in the lexicon in a way that represents simply its underlying form, and that allows the alternations that occur to be generated by phonological rules. The underlying form is known as the phonemic--sometimes morphophonemic, or phonological--representation of the word. The phonemes of a language are the segments that contrast in the underlying forms. American English may be said to have at least 13 vowel phonemes, which contrast in the underlying forms of words such as bate, bat, beat, bet, bite, bit, bout, but, boat, dot, bought, balm, and boy. Some authorities consider that there are additional vowel phonemes exemplified in the words bush and beaut(y), but others believe that these can be derived from the same underlying vowel as that in the word bud. Phonemes are traditionally written between slanting lines, as /P/, /M/, or /L/.
The variants of phonemes that occur in phonetic representations of sentences are known as allophones. They may be considered to be generated as a result of applying the phonological rules to the phonemes in underlying forms. For example, there is a phonological rule of English that says that a voiceless stop such as /P/ is aspirated when it occurs at the beginning of a word (e.g., in pin), but when it occurs after a voiceless alveolar fricative (i.e., after /S/), it is unaspirated (e.g., in spin). Thus the underlying phoneme /P/ has an aspirated and an unaspirated allophone, in addition to other allophones that are generated as a result of other rules that apply in other circumstances. Allophones are conventionally written inside brackets--e.g., [p] or aspirated [ph].
In stating phonological rules it is necessary to refer to classes of phonemes. Consider part of the rule for the formation of the plural in English: there is an extra vowel in the suffix if the word ends in the same sound as occurs at the end of horse, maze, fish, rouge, church, or judge. The plural forms of words of this kind are one syllable longer than the singular forms. The phonological rules of English could simply list the phonemes that behave in the same way in the rules for plural formation; the rules for the possessive forms of nouns and for the 3rd person singular of the present tense of verbs are similar in this respect. The rules are more explanatory, however, if they show that these phonemes behave in a similar way because they form a natural class, or set, whose members are defined by a common property. In the case of these plural forms, the phonemes are all, and only, those that have a high-frequency fricative component; they may be called the sibilant, or strident, phonemes.
Other phonological rules that refer to the natural classes of phonemes is the rule concerning voiceless stops' being aspirated in some circumstances and unaspirated in others refers to the subset of phonemes that are both voiceless sounds and stops. Similarly, the variations in vowel length in cat and cad can be expressed with reference to the set of phonemes that are vowels, and also to the set that comprises both voiceless sounds and stops.
1.Defenition of the phoneme and its functions.
The definitions of the phoneme vary greatly.
Considering the sounds of language, the term "sound" can be interpreted in two different ways. First, we can say that [t] and [d] , for example, are two different sounds in English: e.g. ten-den, seat-seed. But on the other hand, we know that [t] in “let us” and [t] in “let them” are not the same. In both examples the sounds differ in one articulatory feature only. In the second case the difference between the sounds has functionally no significance. It is clear that the sense of "sound" in these two cases is different. To avoid this ambiguity, linguists use two separate terms: phoneme and allophone.
The phoneme is a minimal abstract linguistic unit realized in speech in the form of speech sounds opposable to other phonemes of the same language to distinguish the meaning of morphemes and words.
Theese are the defenitions of the phoneme of different linguists:
L.V.Shcherba: the phoneme may be viewed as a functional, material and abstract unit.
V.A.Vassilyev: The phoneme is a smallest unit capable of distinguishing one word from another word, one grammatical form of word from another
Bloch: phoneme is a class of phonemically similar sounds contrasting and mutually exclusive with all similar classes in the language
Jacobson: phoneme is a minimal sound by which meaning may be understood
Thee aspects of the phoneme.
1. the phoneme is a functional unit. Function is usually understood to mean discriminatory function, that is, the role of the various components of the phonetic system of the language in distinguishing one morpheme from another, one word from another or also one utterance from another.
The opposition of phonemes in the same phonetic environment differentiates the meaning of morphemes and words. 
said— says
sleeper — sleepy
 bath — path
light — like
Sometimes the opposition of phonemes serves to distinguish the meaning of the whole phrases:.
He was heard badly — He was hurt badly.
Thus we may say that the phoneme can fulfill the distinctive function.
2. the phoneme is material, real and objective. That means it is realized in speech in the form of speech sounds, its allophones. The phonemes constitute the material form of morphemes, so this function may be called constitutive function.
3. the phoneme performs the recognitive function, because the use of the right allophones and other phonetic units facilitates normal recognition. We may add that the phoneme is a material and objective unit as well as an abstract and generalized one at the same time.
Each of the phonemes that appears in the lexicon of a language may be classified in terms of a set of phonetic properties, or features. Phoneticians and linguists have been trying to develop a set of features that is sufficient to classify the phonemes in each of the languages of the world. A set of features of this kind would constitute the phonetic capabilities of man. To be descriptively adequate from a linguistic point of view, the set of features must be able to provide a different representation for each of the words that is phonologically distinct in a language; and if the feature set is to have any explanatory power it must also be able to classify phonemes into appropriate natural classes as required in the phonological rules of each language.
In the earlier work on feature sets, emphasis was placed on the fact that features were the smallest discrete components of language. Not much attention was paid to their role in classifying phonemes into the natural classes required in phonological rules. Instead, they were considered to be the units to which a listener attends when listening to speech. Features were justified by reference to their role in distinguishing phonemes in minimal sets of words such as bill, pill, fill, mill, dill, sill, kill.
As a result of studying the phonemic contrasts within a number of languages, Roman Jakobson, Gunnar Fant, and Morris Halle concluded in 1951 that segmental phonemes could be characterized in terms of 12 distinctive features. All of the features were binary, in the sense that a phoneme either had, or did not have, the phonetic attributes of the feature. Thus phonemes could be classified as being consonantal or not, voiced or not, nasal or not, and so on. In 1968, Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle stated that nearer 30 features are needed for a proper description of the phonetic, and linguistic, capabilities of man. In agreement with Jakobson, they claimed that each feature functions as a binary opposition that can be given the value of plus or minus in classifying the phonemes in underlying forms. But they suggested that the features may require more precise systematic phonetic specifications.
3.Types of allophones
the phoneme is material, real and objective. That means that it is realized in speech in the form of speech sounds, its allophones. The sets of speech sounds, that is the allophones belonging to the same phoneme are not identical in their articulatory content though there remains some phonetic similarity between them.
considering the English phoneme [d] wee see that it is occlusive, forelingual, apical, alveolar, lenis consonant. This is how it sounds in isolation or in such words as door, darn, down, etc, when it retains its typical articulatory characteristics. In this case the consonant [d] is called principal allophone.
The allophones which do not undergo any distinguishable changes in speech are called principal.
Allophones that occur under influence of the neighboring sounds in different phonetic situations are called subsidiary.
Deal; did-
it is slightly palatalized before front vowels
bad pain, bedtime –
it is pronounced without any plosion
sudden, admit –
it is pronounced with nasal plosion before [n], [m]
dry –
it becomes post-alveolar followed by [r].
If we consider the production of the allophones of the phoneme above we will find out that they possess three articulatory features in common - all of them are forelingual lenis stops. Consequently, though allophones of the same phoneme possess similar articulatory features they may frequently show considerable phonetic differences.
Native speakers do not observe the difference between the allophones of the same phoneme. At the same time they realize that allophones of each phoneme possess a bundle of distinctive features that makes this phoneme functionally different from all other phonemes of the language. This functionally relevant bundle is called the invariant of the phoneme. All the allophones of the phoneme [d] instance, are occlusive, forelingual, lenis. If occlusive articulation is changed for constrictive one [d] will be replaced by [z]: e. g. breed - breeze, deal — zeal, the articulatory features which form the invariant of the phoneme are called distinctive or relevant.                        
To extract relevant features of the phoneme we have to oppose it to some other phoneme in the phonetic context.
If the opposed sounds differ in one articulatory feature and this difference brings about changes in the meaning this feature is called relevant: for example, port — court, [p] and [k] are consonants, occlusive, fortis; the only difference being that [p] is labial and [t] is lingual.
The articulatory features which do not serve to distinguish meaning are called non-distinctive, irrelevant or redundant. For example, it is impossible to oppose an aspirated [ph] to a non-aspirated one in the same phonetic context to distinguish meaning.
We know that anyone who studies a foreign language makes mistakes in the articulation of sounds. L.V. Shcherba classifies the pronunciation errors as phonological and phonetic. If an allophone is replaced by an allophone of a different phoneme the mistake is called phonological. If an allophone of the phoneme is replaced by another allophone of the same phoneme the mistake is called phonetic
4. Methods of the phonemic analysis
The aim of the phonological analysis is, firstly, to determine which differences of sounds are phonemic and which are non-phonemic and, secondly, to find the inventory of phonemes of the language.
As it was mentioned above, phonology has its own methods of investigation. Semantic method is applied for phonological analysis of both unknown languages and languages already described. The method is based on a phonemic rule that phonemes can distinguish words and morphemes when opposed to one another. It consists in systematic substitution of one sound for another in order to find out in which cases where the phonetic context remains the same such replacing leads to a change of meaning. This procedure is called the commutation test. It consists in finding minimal pairs of words and their grammatical forms. For example
pen [pen]
Ben [ben]
gain [gain]
cane [kain]
ten [ten]
Minimal pairs are useful for establishing the phonemes of the language. Thus, a phoneme can only perform its distinctive function if it is opposed to another phoneme in the same position. Such an opposition is called phonological. Let’s consider the classification of phonological oppositions worked out by N.S. Trubetzkoy. It is based on the number of distinctive articulatory features underlying the opposition.
1. If the opposition is based on a single difference in the articulation of two speech sounds, it is a single phonological opposition, e.g. [p]-[t], as in [pen]-[ten]; bilabial vs. forelingual, all the other features are the same.
2.   If the  sounds in distinctive opposition have two differences in their articulation, the opposition is double one, or a sum of two single oppositions, e.g. [p]-[d], as in [pen]-[den], 1) bilabial vs. forelingual 2) voiceless-fortis vs. voiced-lenis
3. If there are three articulatory differences, the opposition is triple one, or a sum of three single oppositions, e.g. [p]- [ð], as in [pei]-[ ðei]:   1) bilabial vs. forelingual, 2) occlusive vs. constrictive, 3) voiceless-fortis vs. voiced-lenis.
American descriptivists, whose most zealous representative is, perhaps, Zellig Harris, declare the distributional method to be the only scientific one. At the same time they declare the semantic method unscientific because they consider recourse to meaning external to linguistics. Descriptivists consider the phonemic analysis in terms of distribution. They consider it possible to discover the phonemes of a language by the rigid application of a distributional method. It means to group all the sounds pronounced by native speakers into phoneme according to the laws of phonemic and allophonic distribution:
1. Allophones of different phonemes occur in the same phonetic context. In this case their distribution is contrastive.
2. Allophones of the same phoneme(s) never occur in the same phonetic context. In this case their distribution is complementary.
There is, however, a third possibility, namely, that the sounds both occur in a language but the speakers are inconsistent in the way they use them, for example, калоши-галоши, and [‘ei∫э - ‘егжэ]. In such cases we must take them as free variants of a single phoneme. We could explain the case on the basis of sociolinguistics. Thus, there are three types of distribution: contrastive, complementary and free variation.

5.       Main phonological schools
Let’s consider the phrase [на лугу кос нет] and words [вАлы ], [сАма]. Logically, there can only be three answers to the question: which phonemes are represented by the consonant sound [c] in [кос] and by the vowel sound [А] in [вАлы]:
M (1) If [кос] and [вАлы] are grammatical forms of the words коза and вол respectively, then the consonant [c] represents phoneme /з/, while the vowel [А] is an allophone of the phoneme /o/. If [кос] and [вАлы] are grammatical forms of the words коса and вал respectively, then the consonant [c] belongs to the phoneme /с/, while the vowel [А] should be assigned to the phoneme /а/.
СП (2) The consonant [c] in [кос] belongs to the phoneme Id no matter whether it is a form of коза or that of коса, while the vowel [А] in [вАлы] represents the phoneme /a/ no matter whether it is a form of вол or that of вал.
П (3) The consonant [c] represents neither phoneme /з/, nor phoneme Id, while the vowel [А] in [вАлы] does not belong either to the phoneme /a/ or to the phoneme /о/.
Since there are three possible answers to the above questions, there are three schools of thought on the problem of identifying phonemes.
Those   linguists   who   give   the   first   answer   belong   to   the   so-called morphological (Moscow phonological) school (R.I. Avanesov, V.N. Sidorov, P.S. Kuznetsov, A.A. Reformatsky, and N.F. Yakovlev). The exponents of this school maintain that two different phonemes in different allomorphs of the same morpheme may be represented on the synchronic level by one and the same sound, which is their common variant and, consequently, one and the same sound may belong to one phoneme in one word and to another phoneme in another word.
In order to decide to which phoneme the sounds in a phonologically weak (neutral) position belong, it is necessary to find another allomorph of the same morpheme in which the phoneme occurs in the strong position, i.e. one in which it retains all its distinctive features. The strong position of a Russian consonant phoneme is that before a vowel sound of the same word, whereas the strong position of a vowel phoneme is that under stress. The consonant [c] in кос belongs to the phoneme Id because in the strong position in such allomorphs of the same morpheme as in коса, косы the phoneme is definitely /с/. In коз the same sound [c] is a variant of the phoneme /з/ because in the strong position, as in коза, козы, the phoneme is definitely /з/. The vowel [А] in валы is an allophone of the phoneme /a/ because the phoneme occurs in the strong position in вал while the same vowel [А] in волы is a variant of the phoneme /o/ because this phoneme is found in the strong position in вол.
According to this school of thought, the neutral vowel sound in original should be assigned to the English phoneme /σ/ because this phoneme occurs in the strong position in such word as origin.
The second school of thought, originated by L.V. Shcherba, advocates the autonomy of the phoneme and its independence from the morpheme. Different allomorphs of a morpheme may differ from each other on the synchronic level not only in their allophonic, but also in their phonemic composition. According to the Leningrad (Petersburg) phonological school (L.V. Shcherba, L.R. Zinder, M.I. Matusevich), speech sounds in a phonologically neutral position belong to that phoneme with whose principal variant they completely or nearly coincide. Thus, the sound [c] in [кос] should be assigned to the phoneme /с/ because it fully coincides with the latter's principal variant, which is free from the influence of neighboring speech sounds. The vowel [А] in [вАлы] should be assigned to the phoneme /a/ because it nearly coincides with the latter's principal variant [a]. The vowel [ъ] in [въдАвос] does not even resemble either [o] or [a] or [А] but it is still assigned to the /a/ phoneme because both /o/ and /a/ are reduced to [ъ].
According to the third school of thought, there exist types of phonemes higher than the unit phoneme. Different linguists call them differently. One of the terms for them introduced by Prague Linguistic Circle, namely by N.S. Trubetzkoy and R. Jacobson, is archiphoneme. According to them, the archiphoneme is a combination of distinctive features common to two phonemes. Thus each of the speech sounds [c], [з] represents the phonemes /c/, /з/. These two phonemes differ from each other only in matter of voice, while both of them possess the other two distinctive features: (1) forelingual (2) fricative articulation. These two features together constitute the archiphoneme to which both [c] and [з] belong. This archiphoneme is, therefore, neither voiceless nor voiced. It designated by Russian capital letter C. The sound [c] in [кос] in both На лугу кос нет and На лугу коз нет belongs to this archiphoneme and not to the phoneme /c/ or /з/.
The phoneme /а/ and /о/ belong to archiphoneme which is realized in the sound [A], as in [вАлы] meaning both валы and волы.
6.The system of consonant phonemes. Problem of affricates
The phonological analysis of English consonant sounds helps to distinguish 24 phonemes: [p, b, t, d, k, g, f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ∫, ж, h, t∫, dж, m, n, ŋ, w, r, 1, j]. Principles of classification suggested by Russian phoneticians provide the basis for establishing of the following distinctive oppositions in the system of English consonants:
1.   Degree of noise
     bake - make, veal - wheel                                           
2.   Place of articulation
a.   labial vs. lingual
     pain — cane
b. lingual vs. glottal
     foam — home, care — hair, Tim - him
3.   Manner of articulation
     3.1 occlusive vs. constrictive
      pine -fine, bat - that, bee - thee
3.2                   constrictive vs. affricates
            fare — chair, fail -jail
3.3                   constrictive unicentral vs. constrictive bicentral
same – shame
      4. Work of the vocal cords and the force of articulation
4.1 voiceless fortis vs. voiced lenis
pen — Ben, ten - den, coat - goal
      5. Position of the soft palate
            5.1 oral vs. nasal
 pit — pin, seek — seen
There are some problems of phonological character in the English consonantal system; it is the problem of affricates - their phonological status and their number. The question is: what kind of facts a phonological theory has to explain.
1) Are   the   English   [t∫, dж]   sounds   monophonemic   entities   or biphonemic combinations (sequences, clusters)?
2) If they are monophonemic, how many phonemes of the same kind exist in English, or, in other words, can such clusters as [tr, dr] and [tθ, dð] be considered affricates?
To define it is not an easy matter. One thing is clear: these sounds are complexes because articulatory we can distinguish two elements. Considering phonemic duality of affricates, it is necessary to analyze the relation of affricates to other consonant phonemes to be able to define their status in the system.
The problem of affricates is a point of considerable controversy among phoneticians. According to Russian specialists in English phonetics, there are two affricates in English: [t∫, dж]. D. Jones points out there are six of them: [t∫, dж], [ts, dz], and [tr, dr]. A.C. Gimson increases their number adding two more affricates: [tθ, tð]. Russian phoneticians look at English affricates through the eyes of a phoneme theory, according to which a phoneme has three aspects: articulatory, acoustic and functional, the latter being the most significant one. As to British phoneticians, their primary concern is the articulatory-acoustic unity of these complexes.
Before looking at these complexes from a functional point of view it is necessary to define their articulatory indivisibility.
According to N.S. Trubetzkoy's point of view a sound complex may be considered monophonemic if: a) its elements belong to the same syllable; b) it is produced by one articulatory effort; c) its duration should not exceed normal duration of elements. Let’s apply these criteria to the sound complexes.
1. Syllabic indivisibility
butcher [but∫ -ə]                                          lightship [lait-∫ip]
mattress [mætr-is]                                     footrest    [fut-rest]
curtsey [kз:-tsi]                                          out-set      [aut-set]
eighth   [eitθ]                                              whitethorn [wait-θo:n]
In the words in the left column the sounds [t∫], [tr], [ts], [tθ] belong to one syllable and cannot be divided into two elements by a syllable dividing line.
2. Articulatory indivisibility. Special instrumental analysis shows that all the sound complexes are homogeneous and produced by one articulatory effort.
3.   Duration. With G.P. Torsuyev we could state that length of sounds depends on the position in the phonetic context, therefore it cannot serve a reliable basis in phonological analysis. He writes that the length of English [t∫] in the words chair and match is different; [t∫] in match is considerably longer than |t| in mat and may be even longer than [∫] in mash. This does not prove, however, that [t∫] is biphonemic.
According to morphological criterion a sound complex is considered to be monophonemic if a morpheme boundary cannot pass within it because it is generally assumed that a phoneme is morphologically indivisible. If we consider [t∫], [dж] from this point of view we could be secure to grant them a monophonemic status, since they are indispensable. As to [ts], [dz] and [tθ], [dð] complexes their last elements are separate morphemes [s], [z], [θ], [ð] so these elements are easily singled out by the native speaker in any kind of phonetic context. These complexes do not correspond to the phonological models of the English language and cannot exist in the system of phonemes. The case with [tr], [dr] complexes is still more difficult.
By way of conclusion we could say that the two approaches have been adopted towards this phenomenon are as follows: the finding that there are eight affricates in English [t∫], [dж], [tr], [dr], [ts], [dz], [tð], [dθ] is consistent with articulatory and acoustic point of view, because in this respect the entities are indivisible. This is the way the British phoneticians see the situation. On the other hand, Russian phoneticians are consistent in looking at the phenomenon from the morphological and the phonological point of view which allows them to define [t∫], [dж] as monophonemic units and [tr], [dr], [ts], [dz], [tð], [dθ] as biphonemic complexes. However, this point of view reveals the possibility of ignoring the articulatory and acoustic indivisibility.
7. The system of vowel phonemes. Problems of diphthongs and vowel length
The following 20 vowel phonemes are distinguished in BBC English (RP): [i:, a:, o:, u:, з:, i, e, æ, σ, υ, л, ə; ei, ai, oi, аυ, eυ, υə, iə].
Principles of classification provide the basis for the establishment of the following distinctive oppositions:
1.   Stability of articulation
1.1. monophthongs vs. diphthongs
bit - bait, kit - kite, John - join, debt — doubt
1.2. diphthongs vs. diphthongoids
bile - bee, boat — boot, raid - rude
2.   Position of the tongue
2.1. horizontal movement of the tongue
a) front vs. central
         cab — curb, bed — bird
          b) back vs. central
           pull – pearl, cart - curl, call - curl
          2.2. vertical movement of the tongue
a)     close (high) vs. mid-open (mid)
bid — bird, week - work
b)     open (low) vs. mid-open (mid)
lark - lurk, call — curl, bard-bird
4.     Position of the lips rounded vs. unrounded
don — darn, pot - part
The English diphthongs are, like the affricates, the object of a sharp phonological controversy, whose essence is the same as in the case of affricates are the English diphthongs biphonemic sound complexes or composite monophonemic entities?
Diphthongs are defined differently by different authors. One definition is based on the ability of a vowel to form a syllable. Since in a diphthong only one element serves as a syllabic nucleus, a diphthong is a single sound. Another definition of a diphthong as a single sound is based on the instability of the second element. The 3d group of scientists defines a diphthong from the accentual point of view: since only one element is accented and the other is unaccented, a diphthong is a single sound.
D. Jones defines diphthongs as unisyllabic gliding sounds in the articulation of which the organs of speech start from one position and then glide to another position.
N.S. Trubetzkoy states that a diphthong should be (a) unisyllabic, that is the parts of a diphthong cannot belong to two syllables; (b) monophonemic with gliding articulation; (c) its length should not exceed the length of a single phoneme.
In accordance with the principle of structural simplicity and economy American descriptivists liquidated the diphthongs in English as unit phonemes.
The same phonological criteria may be used for justifying the monophonemic treatment of the English diphthongs as those applicable to the English affricates. They are the criteria of articulatory, morphophonological (and, in the case of diphthongs, also syllabic) indivisibility, commutability and duration. Applied to the English diphthongs, all these criteria support the view of their monophonemic status.
Problem of length. There are long vowel phonemes in English and short. However, the length of the vowels is not the only distinctive feature of minimal pairs like Pete -pit, beet - bit, etc. In other words the difference between i: i. u: - υ is not only quantitative but also qualitative, which is conditioned by different positions of the bulk of the tongue. For example, in words bead- bid not only the length of the vowels is different but in the [i:] articulation the bulk of the tongue occupies more front and high position then in the articulation of [i].
Qualitative difference is the main relevant feature that serves to differentiate long and short vowel phonemes because quantitative characteristics of long vowels depend on the position they occupy in a word:
(a) they are the longest in the terminal position: bee, bar, her;
(b) they are shorter before voiced consonants: bead, hard, cord;
(c) they are the shortest before voiceless consonants: beet, cart.
1. Меркулова Елена «English. Introduction to Phonetics» Москва 1995
3. «OILS PHONETICS» Oxford 2003
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