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An allophone (from ancient Greek ἄλλος állos , German 'different' and φωνή phōnḗ , German 'voice' , i.e. ' different sound') is a phonetic variant of a phoneme in linguistics . Allophones are also known as phoneme variants or subphoneme variants .

Differentiation from the phoneme

Allophones are two or more free or positional realizations of one and the same phoneme . They do not affect the status of the phoneme as such: phonemes that have allophone realizations are equated with those without realization variants. The phonetic features by which allophones differ from each other are not meaningful, but in such a way that they can no longer be explained as coarticulation effects . What is considered a subphoneme variant in one language can be a separate phoneme in another language.

Free allophony is e.g. B. before when a phoneme is realized differently in different dialects. If z. If, for example, a phoneme with the dialectal allophones [g] and [d͡ʒ] is in a language / g /, then the speakers of one dialect speak [g] wherever the others speak [d͡ʒ]. (The simpler of the two allophone signs is used here as the phoneme sign. However, one could also choose the sign of the variant of the main dialect or that of the historically older variant as the phoneme sign.)

Positional allophony is e.g. For example, if the quality of a following vowel determines the variant with which a phoneme is realized. If z. B. in a language the phoneme / s / before [a] and [u] is realized with the allophone [s], but before [i] but with the allophone [ʃ], then this means that [s] never before [ i] and [ʃ] never appear before [a] or [u]. (The more common character is usually used as a phoneme character).

In a minimal pair analysis , in which (preferably lexical) morphemes are sought which differ in only one phonetic feature, sounds can be classified as allophones of one and the same phoneme.

Types of allophones

A distinction is made between:

Free variation
The variants are equal realizations of a phoneme, e.g. For example, the tongue and suppository r in German: front rolled [⁠ r ⁠] or behind the uvula [⁠ ʀ ⁠] rubbed, or there [⁠ ʁ ⁠] . The interchanging of the variants does not change the meaning.
Combinatorial variation
The variants occur depending on the phonological environment, e.g. B. the sounds written with the digraph ch in German. They are ordered after front ("light") vowels (/ iː /, / ɪ /, / aɪ̯ /, / eː /, / ɛ /, / ɛː /; / yː /, / ʏ /, / ɔʏ̯ /, / øː / / œ /) as [⁠ ç ⁠] in " I " spoken ( "as [⁠ ç ⁠] implemented"), after rear "dark" () and after the open vowels (/ u /, / ʊ /, / aʊ̯ /, / o /, / ɔ /, / a /, / a /) in the same morpheme as [⁠ χ ⁠] or [⁠ x ⁠] in " oh " spoken.
In such a case of “position-bound” allophones one speaks of allophones in “complementary distribution”.


  • Karl-Heinz Best : LinK - linguistics in brief with an outlook on quantitative linguistics. 5th revised edition. RAM Verlag, Lüdenscheid 2008, p. 4. No ISBN. Chapter: Phonetics and Phonology (= phonemics) of German , p. 3–8 and p. 12 f.
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.) With the collaboration of Hartmut Lauffer: Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 4th, revised and bibliographically supplemented edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-45204-7 , keywords: allophone, phoneme, phoneme analysis.
  • Theodor Lewandowski : Linguistic Dictionary. Volume 1, 2; 4th edition. Heidelberg 1984; ISBN 3-494-02020-5 , ISBN 3-494-02021-3 , keywords: allophone, phoneme, phoneme analysis.

Web links

Wiktionary: Allophone  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations