Phoneme vs Allophone
In the study of speech sounds of a language, called phonetics, students often confuse between phoneme and allophone. This is because of their similarities. Phoneme is a unit of sound in a language that cannot be sliced further. It is the most basic unit of sound. If the sound made by the letter T in English is the most basic unit of sound, it is called a phoneme. Phoneme is an utterance or a sound that cannot be altered if one wants the meaning to remain the same. The same phoneme can lead to different allophone as there can be different sounds of the same phoneme. Many believe phoneme and allophone to be same or identical. However, this is not true, and there are subtle differences that will be highlighted in this article.
What is a Phoneme?
The smallest sound unit that can be used in many different words but sounds the same in all words such as the smallest sound of /p/ in words like pot, spot, spit, phase etc. Though the sound made in all these words is not identical, the sound of phoneme p is perceived as same and believed to be making use of the same phoneme /p/.
What is an Allophone?
For a single phoneme, there can be a number of different sounds that can be made. These sounds become clear when we place a piece of paper in front of our mouths and see the reaction when making different sounds with the same phoneme. Thus, different sounds made using the same phoneme are called its allophones.
What is the difference between Phoneme and Allophone?
• Phonemes are basic sound units. They are significant and non-predictable.
• In different positions, in different words, phonemes have different sounds. This is when they are called allophones which are non-significant and predictable.
• The main distinction between a phoneme and an allophone lies in what is there in your mind and what comes out through your mouth