I recently learned the the flap [ɾ] letter is part of both the /t/ and /d/ phonemes. A common example is writer /ˈraɪtər/ and rider /ˈraɪdər/. If they're both pronounced [raɪɾər], then shouldn't the two phonemic transcriptions be the same?

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    In addition to whatever answer you find regarding (I'll use F for flap, I don't have the character right now) t->F and d->F, the presence of the voiced stop phonemically means that the vowel that precedes it is lengthened. That means that the phonetic descriptions are actually different. [ra|Fe^r] and [ra|:Fe^r] – Throsby Apr 22 '16 at 18:48

What is the language you transcribe? Assuming Standard (American or British) English, writer /ˈraɪtər/ and rider /ˈraɪdər/ are different and the transcription is correct.

When you do a phonetic transcription of some dialect (or even a phonemic one after determining the phonemes of that dialect) you'll use the flap [ɾ] letter.

  • hmm, so phonemes are for capturing multiple dialects. So because they are phonetically distinct in certain dialects, writer and rider have different phonemic transcriptions. But if there was only one dialect, then writer and rider would have the same phonemic transcription? – woojoo666 Apr 20 '16 at 10:15
  • @woojoo666: When a so-called neutralisation occurs and all traces of difference are lost in a certain dialect, you will use the same symbol in both places. Your phonemic analysis will tell you which one (it can be ɾ or d or t in your example). – jk - Reinstate Monica Apr 20 '16 at 10:19
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    No, phonemes aren't "for capturing multiple dialects". Whether to try and capture all the distinctions made in different dialects in one phoneme inventory is an operational decision, made to serve the purpose for which you are analysing and transcribing words. There is no right answer. – Colin Fine Apr 20 '16 at 11:13
  • So just to clarify, phonemes are based solely on phonetics and phonetic patterns, right? So the only reason why writer and rider have different phonemic transcriptions is because in Standard English they are pronounced differently. But in my dialect, where they are both pronounced [raɪɾər], they would have the same phonemic transcriptions – woojoo666 Apr 20 '16 at 11:33
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    @woojoo666: I get the impression you think that phonemic analysis is straightforward, and as soon as you look at a language you can list the phonemes. It's not always like that: sometimes choosing the phoneme inventory for describing a (variety of a) language involves some arbitrary choices, or some choices motivated by theoretical concerns. – Colin Fine Apr 20 '16 at 20:25

No. All it shows is that the two phonemes /d/ and /t/ have overlapping allophones. Minimal pairs such as /dip/ and /tip/ show that they are still distinct phonemes.

  • but how would you transcribe [raɪɾər] to phonemes? – woojoo666 Apr 20 '16 at 9:55
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    @woojoo666 You can't out of context. It could be either word. – curiousdannii Apr 20 '16 at 10:03
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    Except in those dialects where the distinction is indirectly realized on the previous vowel as a vowel height difference. – user6726 Apr 20 '16 at 23:01

Yes, the phonemic transcriptions should be the same. But they're not the same, so this is a problem for phonemic analysis. It has been much discussed. Generative phonologists give up phonemics entirely, other linguists have attempted to weaken the principles of phonemics somehow, to accommodate such difficult cases.

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    Generative phonologists have given up on taxonomic phonemic analysis, but they haven't given up on phonemes. Since the mid 70's, phonemes have been thick on the ground in generative phonology. It's the bi-uniqueness requirement that is hard to find. – user6726 Apr 20 '16 at 19:09
  • can you clarify what "taxonomic phonemic analysis" is? – woojoo666 Apr 21 '16 at 4:58
  • See section 4.3 of Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, books.google.com/books/… – Greg Lee Apr 21 '16 at 16:39

Update: So I asked my teacher, and he explained it well enough that I think I finally understand it (though correct me if I'm wrong :/).

Basically, he said that phonemes not only capture phonetics, but they also take into account root words and meaning. So while "writer" and "rider" both have the same phonetic transcription, this is only because the "-er" suffix and the flap rule cause neutralization. However, with the "-es" suffix we get "writes" [raɪts] and "rides" [raɪdz], which now have different transcriptions. This distinction comes from the difference in phoneme bases, "write" /raɪt/ and "ride" /raɪd/.

So I guess the idea is that phonemic transcription doesn't just look at phonetics, but also factors in similar words and root words (in both meaning and phonetics) to determine the phonemic breakdown.

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    In this case it works, but not in general. The roots do determine how words are inflected, but the phonemes aren't simply copied. Each inflected form has its own phonemic form. – curiousdannii Apr 21 '16 at 1:18
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    You could ask if underlying forms contain phonemes, and if surface forms contain phonemes. If the answer to both is "yes", then ask if there is a difference between a "phonemic transcription" and an "underlying form". That may make clear how s/he defines "phoneme". – user6726 Apr 21 '16 at 2:01
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    A lot of this is language-specific rather than purely theoretically based. For example, German (along with many other languages) has a process where underlyingly voiced obstruents are devoiced in most contexts at the end of a syllable or word. These devoiced consonants are generally transcribed the same way as the voiceless phonemes (so the distinction is completely neutralized in the transcription). E.g. the word "Rad" is transcribed /ʁaːt/... – brass tacks Apr 21 '16 at 4:26
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    Despite this, people have found that in the spoken language, neutralization may not be complete. There's an interesting paper on it here: bodowinter.com/papers/winter_rottger_IN_grazer.pdf There is also evidence that the American English merger of flapped /t/ and /d/ is (or at least can be) an incomplete neutralization: repository.upenn.edu/cgi/… – brass tacks Apr 21 '16 at 4:28
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    Similar words and roots are morphological evidence, so if you have to look at these to decide how to transcribe a word, I would think it would be more accurate to say that you are making morphophological transcriptions. – brass tacks Apr 21 '16 at 4:32

In standard US English intervocalic /t/ merges with intervocalic /d/. "Writer" is thus pronounced identically with "rider". From a strictly US-English point of view there is no justification in distinguishing between the two at a phonological level. The OED writes: "Brit. /ˈrʌɪtə/, U.S. /ˈraɪdər/". Please note the slashes: this is phonology not phonetics.

  • In standard US English, underlying t in the prosodically relevant context is realized as [ɾ] (which means "phonetically", and so is d. Underlying t is never realised as [d] except in voiced obstruent clusters. – user6726 Apr 20 '16 at 22:59
  • @user6726. I am not sure whether you are objecting to me or to the OED. I do not see any problem with identifying an underlying /d/ which is realised as [ɾ]. – fdb Apr 22 '16 at 11:41
  • My objection was your earlier incorrect claim that the outcome is phonetic [d], which you remedied. – user6726 Apr 22 '16 at 14:51

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