I understand the distinction between phonemes and allophones, but why are phonemes considered as mental objects and not psychological objects? Isn’t everything mental also, in a sense, necessarily psychological? I wondered if there is a point to splitting mental from psychological stuff.

  • 5
    "I wondered if there is a point to splitting mental from psychological stuff" I suspect you're the only one making such a distinction...
    – curiousdannii
    May 30, 2018 at 10:09
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    Where have you seen somebody making this distinction? It is possible it would make more sense with some context. #
    – Colin Fine
    May 30, 2018 at 14:49
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    If you could give some reliable test to distinguish a mental from a psychological 'object' (neither of which are actual objects), then you might be able to answer the question. Until then, maybe think about Occam's Razor and don't make distinctions you don't have to.
    – jlawler
    May 30, 2018 at 16:01
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    When does anyone ever refer to "psychological objects"?
    – user6726
    May 30, 2018 at 18:21
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    You might want to read link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10936-010-9149-8
    – Alex B.
    Jun 1, 2018 at 1:07

1 Answer 1


Phonemes are "mental objects" in the sense that they exist only in the mind: no matter how many recordings you make, and how many formants you analyze, you'll never find some distinctive label on a spectrogram that indicates "this is a phoneme, and this isn't".

You could equally well say that, since they only exist in the mind, they're "psychological objects". But just like with different phonemes, the difference between "mental objects" and "psychological objects" is only meaningful in context, and I've never seen an important distinction made between the two.

For your final question, "if there is a point to splitting mental from psychological stuff", I would say no. I've never seen such a distinction made in linguistics.

  • 1
    Whereas there could (perhaps) be a distinction between psychological and neurological phenomena, say May 30, 2018 at 22:51

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