phoneme


phoneme
/foh"neem/, n. Ling.
any of a small set of units, usually about 20 to 60 in number, and different for each language, considered to be the basic distinctive units of speech sound by which morphemes, words, and sentences are represented.
They are arrived at for any given language by determining which differences in sound function to indicate a difference in meaning, so that in English the difference in sound and meaning between pit and bit is taken to indicate the existence of different labial phonemes, while the difference in sound between the unaspirated p of spun and the aspirated p of pun, since it is never the only distinguishing feature between two different words, is not taken as ground for setting up two different p phonemes in English. Cf. distinctive feature (def. 1).
[1890-95; < F phonème < Gk phónema sound, equiv. to phone-, verbid s. of phoneîn to make a sound (deriv. of phoné sound, voice) + -ma n. suffix denoting result of action]

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Smallest unit of speech distinguishing one word (or word element) from another (e.g., the sound p in tap, which differentiates that word from tab and tag).

The term is usually restricted to vowels and consonants, but some linguists include differences of pitch, stress, and rhythm. A phoneme may have variants, called allophones, that differ phonetically without affecting meaning. Phonemes may be recorded with special symbols, such as those of the International Phonetic Alphabet. In transcription, linguists conventionally place symbols for phonemes between slash marks: /p/.

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      in linguistics, smallest unit of speech distinguishing one word (or word element) from another, as the sound p in “tap,” which separates that word from “tab,” “tag,” and “tan.” A phoneme may have more than one variant, called an allophone (q.v.), which functions as a single sound; for example, the p's of “pat,” “spat,” and “tap” differ slightly phonetically, but that difference, determined by context, has no significance in English. In some languages, where the variant sounds of p can change meaning, they are classified as separate phonemes—e.g., in Thai (Thai language) the aspirated p (pronounced with an accompanying puff of air) and unaspirated p are distinguished one from the other.

      Phonemes are based on spoken language and may be recorded with special symbols, like those of the International Phonetic Alphabet. In transcription, linguists conventionally place symbols for phonemes between slash marks: /p/. The term phoneme is usually restricted to vowels and consonants, but some linguists extend its application to cover phonologically relevant differences of pitch, stress, and rhythm. Nowadays the phoneme has a less central place in phonological theory than it used to have, especially in American linguistics. Many linguists regard the phoneme as a set of simultaneous distinctive features, rather than as an unanalyzable unit.

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Universalium. 2010.

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