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The characteristics of the phoneme as a unity of three aspects.

The existence of various schools of linguistics and different approaches to the phoneme theory proves that it is difficult to give a definition of the phoneme which is quite satisfactory from all points of view. The reason of it is the fact that the phoneme is a dialectal unity of three aspects: 1) material, real and objective; 2) abstractional and generalized; and 3) functional, which determine one another and are thus interdependent. They can be separated from one another only for purposes of analysis and description.

The phoneme is a material, real and objective unit because it really exists in actual speech in the material form of speech sounds which have definite articulatory and acoustic features, independent of the will of individual members of a given language community.

The phoneme is a functional unit because in speech it serves to perform three functions: constitutive, recognitive and distinctive, as sounds constitute, help to recognize and distinguish morphemes, words and sentences. (Ex. bath – path; He was hurt badly – He was heard badly).

The phoneme is an abstractional and generalized unit as it is an abstraction from and a generalization of a number of speech sounds, which are its variants. This abstraction and generalization has been unconsciously made by and unconsciously exists in the mind of each member of a language community. No matter how different the articulation of variants may be, they function as the same linguistic unit.

Thus, the definition of the phoneme which reflects all the three aspects is the following: The phoneme is a minimal abstract linguistic unit realized in speech in the form of speech sounds opposable to other phonemes of the same language to distinguish the meaning of morphemes and words.




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Guess the name of the linguist. | The phonemic variant (allophone). The classification of variants

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