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What is free variation?



Free variation is the interchangeable relationship between two phones, in which the phones may substitute for one another in the same environment without causing a change in meaning.


Free variation may occur between allophones or phonemes.

Examples (English)
  • In utterance-final position, there is free variation between unreleased and aspirated plosives, as demonstrated below:

  • [hQt|] ‘hat’
  • [hQtH] ‘hat’
  • In the word ‘data’, there is free variation between the phonemes /eJ/ and /Q/, as demonstrated below:

  • [deJR«] ‘data’
  • [dQR«] ‘data’
  • See also

    Context for this page:

    Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

    Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

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