I'm trying to become acquainted with the language (hah) of linguistics (specifically speech perception, from the perspective of auditory signal processing), so that I can write and converse about the subject in a precise way.

Would it be correct in linguistic terms to say that an accent defines the mapping between phones and phonemes? Just to clarify, I'm not asking whether that is a complete description of the term accent.

Edit: if "accent" is not the term for this, is there a linguistic term that roughly means "the allophonic rules that say how a phoneme is pronounced in a certain dialect?"

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    An accent can affect the relationship or the realization of phones but it's not what defines it Jul 15, 2018 at 21:09
  • @LukeSawczak Thanks for the comment. Do you mind elaborating on what you mean by "realization of phones"? My understanding is that a phone is defined at the acoustic level, and is language, accent, and speaker independent. Based on that, I would say that an accent affects the "realization in phones," but not the realization of the phones themselves.
    – Evan
    Jul 15, 2018 at 21:59
  • Right, I should have said "the phones realized". Accent/dialect can affect exactly which phone is the realization of a given phoneme; the connection between a given phoneme and its phones (e.g. slightly different contexts, slightly different rules); which phonological contexts trigger certain phenomena (e.g. the "r" in phrases like "I saw(r) 'im yesterday" in some British dialects); and more. But normally you don't say that a given accent is the reason a phoneme has realizations as X, Y, and Z. Instead those are viewed as part of an independent system, conditioned by context, etc. Jul 16, 2018 at 1:48
  • A good example is the word ['kʰæ:ɾɪ]. In American Englishes, it's a noun, spelled caddy, in phonemes /'kædi/. But in UK Englishes, it's a verb, spelled carry, in phonemes /'kæri/. The rules that produce the flap [ɾ] are different.
    – jlawler
    Jul 16, 2018 at 19:14

1 Answer 1


In linguistics, "accent" is a technical construct roughly equivalent to "restrictive tone system", for example "accent" in Serbo-Croatian, Kyungsang Korean, Lithuanian. It is also used to refer to typographic elements (grave accent, circumflex accent). Other uses of "accent" are popular uses, which might be used casually by linguists. The most comment usage refers to interference with a second language, for example "He talks with a Kikuyu accent" meaning that he pronounces things the way a Kikuyu speaker would. Related to that is using "accent" to refer to a dialect, for example "He has a southern accent", usually meaning that his dialect is identifiable from the South.

A "phone" is "just before" the physical realization of a language sound, that is, it is how something is pronounced, but using letters that can somewhat standardly be related to acoustics and articulation: basically, it is an analysis of what is actually pronounced, without regard for what the language in question is. "Phoneme" is another analytic construct, which groups phones together, attempting to capture the notion "the same sound in this language", when the physical sound is different. The classical example of that is that in American English, [t, tʰ, ɾ] are different phones but they represent a unified thing, the phoneme /t/. "Accent" has little to do with that relationship, except that the phonological rules of one dialect ("accent") may differ from the phonological rules of another. Some of those rules may be the allophonic rules that say how a phoneme is pronounced in a certain context.

  • Thanks for this. However, I'm having a little trouble deciding whether you're syaing that the answer to my question is 'yes' or 'no'. I feel that you're saying the 'no', but based on the last bit: "some of those rules may be the allophonic rules that say how a phoneme is pronounced in a certain context" it seems like it might be 'yes'. How is the quoted statement different from "the mapping between phones and phonemes?" Is the "pronunciation" of a word not the phones that it comprises?
    – Evan
    Jul 16, 2018 at 1:55
  • "No" generally, unless you mean (1) "accent" as in dialect and (2) you only care about allophonic rules distinguishing dialects. And these restrictions do not correspond to how linguists use the terms.
    – user6726
    Jul 16, 2018 at 5:06
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    (2) is definitely the case. I tried to phrase the question to that effect. (1) has me a bit perplexed. The term accent seems to be used in this "popular" way in speech perception literature, e.g. doi-org.libproxy.mit.edu/10.1080/03640210802035357. If not 'accent', is there a linguistic term that roughly means "the allophonic rules that say how a phoneme is pronounced in a certain dialect?"
    – Evan
    Jul 16, 2018 at 12:26

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