Difference Between Phone and Allophone | Phonology

Difference between Phone and Allophone

There are several terms which are regularly used in phonology. Phone and allophone are the two confusing terms for students. Today, we will discuss difference between phone and allophone. For better understanding, we will discuss each term in detail.

What is Phone in Phonology?

Phone means a sound; any sound that is produced by vocal organs. Phone, particularly in phonology, is a smallest possible segment of sound (which has some physical feature) abstracted from the continuum of speech. The terms ‘phonetics’ and ‘phonology’ in linguistics are also take from the word ‘phone’ because both these branches deal with sounds in linguistics.

What is Allophone in Phonology?

Two words ‘pack’ and ‘spoon’ contain same phoneme /p/ in their pronunciation. The difference of /p/ sound in both word is unnoticeable. Even native speakers cannot guess the difference between /p/ sounds. However, a linguist can notice a huge difference between the /p/ sounds in both words. As we know that /p/ is the phoneme in both words but has a slight difference in pronunciation because of adjacent letters.

In the first word, the phoneme /p/ has a sudden release of air after release of lips. If we place a paper or tissue in front of mouth when we pronounce the word ‘pack’, the paper or tissue will face a thrust of air.

In the second word ‘spoon, when we pronounce it, we have already released air by pronouncing first phoneme /s/ and we close lips for a very short time without outward thrust of air to pronounce /p/. Because followed letter also need release of air that cause a change in sound of /p/.

Above explained variation in a single phoneme is known as allophones.

To clarify your concept, look at below examples.

  • ‘S’ sound in soul, still and speed.
  •  ‘T’ sound in true and top.
  • ‘K’ sound in kite, cool and calm.

If you carefully analyze above words given in example as a student of linguistics, you will notice a huge difference in the sounds of same phoneme. So all variant of same phonemes are allophones.

Difference between Phone and Allophone

Hope you have understood that what is phone, and what is an allophone. Below are more points that will clear you to understand the difference between phone and allophone.

  • Phone is a phonetic transcription of a phoneme.
  • Allophones are the systematic variants of a phoneme.
  • We enclose phonetic transcription of a phoneme in a square bracket like [bird].
  • Allophones are enclosed in slashes like /b/ in bird.
  • Phones are understood prior to any other information.
  • Sometimes, allophone are predictable depending on adjacent words or context.