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As we all should already know, phonemes are the abstraction of the sounds we
produce within words, being their smallest unit in terms of speech. Each
phoneme is important within a word, because changing just one of them within
a word could mean a total change in its meaning. Normally, phonemes are used
for words in their isolation form or when in emphasis, when words are not in
isolation or emphasis, very probably they will sound different, and thats when
allophones come to be used. Allophones are one or more similar speech
sounds belonging to a determined phoneme which is the one being replaced by
the allophone. This replace has the singularity of keeping the words meaning,
which makes the main difference between phonemes and allophones.
Allophones are nowadays used in many ways either accepted or unaccepted,
and its a task for us English Language Teachers to teach their correct way of
being used. This paper is about the way in which allophones are used and how
its different among languages, English and Spanish in this case.

Types of allophones and their uses

As already told, allophones are replacements for phonemes which do not alter
the meaning of the words. We have allophones for almost any sound we wish to
make, and its important to have clear how many allophones can we find,
normally allophones are in free variation, meaning that both phonemic and
allophonic speech would be correct. We shall focus on the following types of

Weak forms of words



Yod coalescence

Yod dropping






Specific allophones for specific phonemes

Consequent changes

Weak forms
In English, most words will have at least one stressed syllable, and hence no
separate strong and weak forms. Also, in English, all the words having that
distinction between strong and weak forms are monosyllables, and are usually
function words or particles. When having words said to be in their isolation form,
meaning that they are pronounced with nothing before or after them, they are
shown as when we pronounce them in their strong form, this form is also used
when wanting to mark that word. As opposed, the weak form is a form that can
be used when the word has no stress.

In RP, the main words with weak forms are: A, am, an, and, are, as, at, be,
been, but, can, could, do, does, for, from, had, has, have, he, her, him, his, just,
me, must, of, shall, she, should, some, than, that, the, them, there, to, us, was,
we, were, who, would, you.
Lets take this first word a as an example. It will normally be used in its weak
form unless we want to implicate more things.

Ive found a /eI/ leaf in your hair. When told like that, youre probably

answering or correcting the fact that there was just one leave, trying to denote
- Ive found a [] leaf in your hair. This means that there was one leaf in the
hair of the listener. In here, the article a lacks of real importance. This one is
the weak form.
When voiceless plosive sounds /p/, /t/ and /k/ are in stressed syllables, they are
accompanied by a strong burst of air. They are symbolized as a [ h] put over the
phoneme, meaning that they would look like this: [th], [ph], [kh].
In most of English dialects, this rule does not apply when theres a /s/ before the
phoneme t, p or k, so words like <store> (/st :/), <skill> (/skIl/) or <split> (/splIt/)
will remain without any aspiration, not as <tore> ([t h:]), <kill> ([khIl]) or <pill>


Another way of having a phoneme is with nothing in the place of the phoneme.
As its name says, elision means to elide sounds, but you cant elide just any
sound you find. You must follow certain rules, some of which were going to

The sound /d/ can be elided when being at the end of words between
consonants, especially if being a weak form.

We have to buy tomato and cheese phonemically, it should be transcribed

as /nd ti:z/, but what people normally would say is [n ti:z]

The sound /t/ is elided in the same way as the sound /d/ is.

This is my last night here as phonemic transcription: /la:st naIt/ but with an
allophonic transcription of [la:s naIt]

The sound /k/ is just elided in the word <asked> (from /a:skt/ to [a:st])

The sound /l/ is elided after the sound / :/ and before a consonant, but
that is just within a word, especially when those words are frequently

<Always> /:lweIz/, [:weIz]

Yod coalescence

Theres a semivowel sound called yod, which is symbolized as /j/. This sound,
when coming after the plosive sounds /t/, /d/, /s/ and /z/ suffers certain changes
according to the sound.

When going after /t/, it turns into a [ t] sound instead of /tj/ as in the

Havent you? /hvnt ju:/ is transcribed as [hvnt u:]


When going after /d/, yod turns into a [ d], being like follows:

Did you? /dId ju:/ is transcribed as [dIdu:]


When following a /s/ sound, it turns into a []

Those are the stars you were counting /sta:s ju:/ turns into [sta:u:]

When a /z/ is followed by a yod, they turn into a [] sound.

This is his yellow shirt /hIz jel/ is turned into [hIel]

Yod dropping
This is the elision of the sound /j/ after some phonemes.

After [t, d, j], for example chew [tu:], juice [du:s], yew [ju:]

After //, for example rude [u:d]

After consonant + /l/ clusters, for example blue [blu]


Nasal Release
When plosive sounds as /t/ or /d/ are put before a nasal sound /n/, their release
turns into a nasal release, which is symbolized as [t nn] or [dnn] respectively,
meaning that the sound you produce is still a release but with a different place
of articulation. As goes the examples:
<Cloud Nine> /klad naIn/ would turn into [kladnnaIn]
<I dont know> /aI dnt n/ would turn into [aI dntnn]
Lateral Release
It works nearly the same as with nasal release, but the difference lies in the
sound following the plosives, which is the lateral sound /l/. This turns the
phonemes into the allophones [tll] or [dll] as in the examples:
<Bottle> /botl/ is turned into [botll]
<Cradle> /kreIdl/ would now be [kreidll]


When two sounds are produced by the same articulators, it is said that those
are homorganic phonemes. When plosives are followed by a homorganic
consonant, there is not a separate release, its better to say that the plosive is
released through the following consonant.
That is to say:
< but take> [t^t] creating some kind of musical Saltillo from one /t/ to the
Heres a list of Englishs plosive sounds, which homorganic sounds to
coarticulate with and which one not to.
/p/, /b/
/t/, /d/
/k/, /g/

/p/, /b/
/t/, /d/, /s/, /z/
/k/, /g/

/l/, /n/

In English, /n/, /t/ and /d/ sounds change their point of articulation, becoming
bilabial when followed by a bilabial sound.

Followed by
/p/, /b/, /m/
/p/, /b/, /m/
/p/, /b/, /m/

Turns into

<Im in Paris> /n p/ [mp]
<Great picture> /t p/ [p p]
<Good point> /d p/ [b p]

In the same way as labialization, when phonemes /n/, /t/ and /d/ are followed by
a velar sound, they turn into a velar sound as well.


Followed by
/k/, /g/
/k/, /g/
/k/, /g/

Turns into

<Im in Cuba> /n k/ [k]
<Hes a great guy> /t g/ [kg]
<Good come> /d k/ [g k]

Sounds /t/, /d/, /l/ and /n/ change its pace of articulation to the teeth when being
followed by the dental consonants // and //. They have a [] symbol under the
dentalized sound.

Hit the road [t^]

Some specific allophones for specific phonemes


Dark l (for the /l/ sound)

Symbolized as [], its a velarized version of the /l/ sound.


Flap (for the /t/ sound)

Symbolized as [], its used when the /t/ sound goes at the end of a word,
between vowel sounds.

Glotal stop (for the /t/ sound)

Symbolized as [] voiceless glottal plosive, its used in a final syllable

when preceded by a sonorant (nasal liquid semivowel) and followed
by an obstruent (affricate fricative plosive). Its used to add more
emphasis and reinforce voiceless plosives.

One significant consequent change because of allophones is the syllabic

consonant. This is because in English sometimes syllables would end being
vowel-less. In this case, a consonant is needed to be the centre of that syllable,
and thats the syllabic consonant, which is symbolized by placing a [,] under the

Allophones definition applies to all languages, that is to say, the idea of

allophone is the same in every language and dialect. When speaking
about allophone you talk not only about sound variations, it also has to
do with the different factors that have an influence when producing
speech such as intention, emphasis, phonological rules, speed, context,
register, etc. These variations, which are not only specific alternative
sounds but also processes that take place in spoken speech that result as
different sounds; occur in consonants and vowel sounds, being these last
ones the object of our analysis.