The graphical basis of phones and phonemes

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The notion of phonetic segment, phone and phoneme are closely related and all are intuitively appealing. At least one of them seems like the right description for speech. But all those who report these intuitions happen to be people who learned to write using a phonetic alphabet in early childhood. Speech is difficult to attend to because of its rapidity, its variability, and the invisibility of the most important body movements, so some cognitive scaffolding for attending to speech accurately is required. The technology of alphabetic writing was modified for this purpose about a hundred years ago. Our alphabet experience accounts for the persuasiveness of our intuitions but segments (phonemic or phonetic) are probably not important units in the psychological representation of language.


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