Phon (phonetics)

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In linguistics , the phon (also: sound , linguistic sound) is the smallest distinguishable "sound unit in the sound continuum" - a minimal sound segment that is still perceived as independent.

Meanings of "Phon"

The term “phon” itself is ambiguous. He describes

  • a concrete utterance : a concrete spatiotemporal sound event caused by a concrete speaker.
  • an abstract sound unit : an abstract sound pattern or sound form, hence a sound form or an allophone .

The phon in the sense of an abstract sound unit cannot be empirically observed and is implemented in each case by an empirically perceptible and measurable concrete utterance.

Phon and Phoneme

It is sometimes assumed that the term “phon” specifically designates in the context of phonetics the specifically audible speech sound produced by a certain person at a certain point in time. The phonetics of phonetics should then differ from the abstract phoneme of phonology by its situation-relatedness . Such an interpretation is suggested by the fact that the phone is assigned to the parole and opposed to the langue , while the opposite term of the phoneme is considered part of the langue. However, this is not the phonetic term used in phonetics. The concept of the phone is also abstract. Because “sounds are produced in an infinite range of variations”.

Every utterance is unique. No utterance is identical to another. In the case of human vocalizations, this is often audible and measurable even in individual people (variation in volume, emphasis, pitch, depending on the situation, fatigue, cold, puberty) and in comparison to other people it is the norm (woman or man, child or adult, Bavarian or Frisian). The step in which the phonetician assigns a sound event to a specific phon is “a proper abstraction”. The phone is “already a first abstraction from the concrete sound event”. Phon in the sense of phonetics means an (abstract) "class of sounds with identical differentiating (distinctive) properties".

Phon and phoneme do not differ in their concreteness on the one hand and abstractness on the other hand, but in that the concept of the phon is based solely on the identification and assignment to a sound class, without asking whether this is associated with a semantic difference in meaning in a specific individual language .

Phone are ultimately to be seen in a universal language perspective. There is not an unlimited number of phones, although there are any number of concrete spatiotemporal vocalizations. The limitation of the phonetic inventory is expressed in the possibility of displaying it in the form of a "phonetic alphabet" like that of the International Phonetic Association (IPA). The property of a sound to be only a phon and not also a phoneme is relative to the individual language.

example 1
The tip of the tongue-r [r] and the uvula-r [ʁ] are (objectively and cross-lingual) two different phones, but do not lead to any difference in meaning in German. In German, these two phones (together with [ʀ]) therefore only realize one phoneme and are combined as allophones in the phoneme / r /.
In Spanish, however, a distinction is made between two different phonemes [ɾ] and [r], which are also separated in the written language. This can lead to differences in meanings that would be considered homophonic in other languages .
Example 2
In Japanese, the phones [l] and [r] do not differ in meaning and are only allophones of a single phoneme.

The phonetic system is based on the fact that phones (sounds) are called “atoms of linguistic utterances”, but this image of indivisibility should not be confused with inanalytical ability. Phones can be identified and described in the context of phonetics on the basis of their articulatory and acoustic properties (phonetic features). The individual sounds (phone) are a bundle of phonetic features. Similarly, the phonemes of a single language are a bundle of "phonological features".

The "decisive feature" of the phoneme is that it leads to a difference in meaning in words of a specific individual language. In phonetics, on the other hand, one does not ask about a meaning-differentiating function in relation to an individual language. In this perspective, a phone is a phoneme if it has a meaning-distinguishing function in words of a single language, i.e. H. but also that a phoneme is a potential phoneme from a universal language perspective.

In phonology , the phones that are relevant for each language are examined, segmented and classified as phonemes. The individual phoneme is then considered to be the realization of a phoneme: It serves to "make the phoneme audible" in a concrete utterance. Such phones that have been assigned to a phoneme are then referred to as allophones within phonology .

With certain restrictions, the ratio of phones and phonemes can be compared with the ratio of the following figure “Δ” and the category “triangle”. The picture has properties such as line thickness, material, size, position and is therefore strictly speaking different from this picture "△". Both structures can, however, be assigned to the abstract category “triangle”, whereby the mentioned properties have been abstracted to form the category. Just as you cannot use the “triangle” category, but only draw a concrete picture of a triangle, you cannot pronounce a phoneme - only phone can be expressed.

In linguistics Phone are generally placed in square brackets, and with the sign of the International Phonetic Alphabet written: [⁠ f ⁠] , [ O ], [⁠ n ⁠] .

See also


  • Michael Dürr, Peter Schlobinski: Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics. 3rd, revised edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 978-3-525-26518-5 (= study books on linguistics , volume 11).

Web links

Wiktionary: Phon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Speech sounds  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Dürr, Peter Schlobinski: Descriptive Linguistics. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-525-26518-2 , p. 299.
  2. ^ Cf. Gabriel, Meisenberg: Romance Linguistics. 2007, p. 106 f.
  3. Volmert: Language and Spoken: Basic Terms and Linguistic Concepts. In: Volmert (Hrsg.): Grundkurs Sprachwissenschaft. 5th edition. 2005, p. 20.
  4. a b Ritter: Phonetics and Phonology. In: Volmert (Hrsg.): Grundkurs Sprachwissenschaft. 5th edition. 2005, pp. 59-60.
  5. ^ Brandt, Dietrich, Schön: Linguistics. 2nd Edition. 2006, p. 247.
  6. ^ Brandt, Dietrich, Schön: Linguistics. 2nd Edition. 2006, p. 235.
  7. a b Volmert: Language and Spoken: Basic Terms and Linguistic Concepts. In: Volmert (Hrsg.): Grundkurs Sprachwissenschaft. 5th edition. 2005, pp. 20,21.
  8. Cf. Clément: Basic Linguistic Knowledge. 2nd Edition. 2000, p. 213.