In our coursebook, introducing phonology by David Odden, one of the exercise questions asks us to decide if the obstruents of Thai are phonemes or allophones. My teacher says they are allophones but it is hard to predict what their underlying form is.

He gives the following rule to explain the distribution:

[-sonorant] becomes [-voiced] in the environment of (word-final position).

I am confused, how could they be allophones if there is a minimal pair(rap and rak)?

The picture below is the snap of the question: enter image description here

Are they actually allophones? or are they phonemes? The rule the teacher gives doesn't add up but I couldn't make up another one to convince him.

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    Is this a question about the Thai language? Or about the distinction between allophones and phonemes in English? Note that whether or not two sounds are allophones can depend on the speaker and/or dialect, as well as the language itself. So in my speech (UK "Estuary English"), the central consonant of whether is usually the same as in never, but for most learners it would be unhelpful to classify /v/ and /ð/ as allophones in English. On the other hand, I believe that /v/ and /b/ are allophones for Spanish speakers. Jan 31, 2020 at 13:47
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    You'll just have to wait it out here. Questions about the Thai language are 100% Off Topic on ELU. But if you could shift your focus a bit, you might be able to get the issue addressed on English Language Learners. Jan 31, 2020 at 14:22
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    I think you might be a bit confused on the question. It's not asking "are unreleased p and unreleased k allophones of each other, but rather "does it make sense to see the unreleased series of consonants as phonemes, or each of the three as allophones of 3 separate phonemes" Jan 31, 2020 at 14:50
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    "I am confused, how could they be allophones if there is a minimal pair(rap and rak)?" / Yes, you are confused. rap and rak are not a minimal pair for voicing. If there were a minimal pair for voicing, it would be something like rap/rab, or rak/rag. But there are no such minimal pairs among the forms you were given. (You are supposed to be asking yourself: Why not?)
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 31, 2020 at 15:56
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it contains no question (the OP's revision #9 seems to have defaced the entire post, rendering it unanswerable) Feb 9, 2020 at 3:03

2 Answers 2


You've almost got it!

The trick is, the professor isn't asking if [p̚ t̚ k̚] are allophones of a single phoneme. That is, they're not asking if there's a single underlying phoneme /C̚/ that surfaces as all three of those. Instead, they're asking if [p̚] might be an allophone of something else, and if [t̚] might be an allophone of something else, and if [k̚] might be an allophone of something else.

So the question now is—what might those three separate "something else"s be? Is there something generally similar to [p̚] that never appears in the same environment where [p̚] does? What is that something?


To restate the question, is it possible to derive every instance of [p̚, t̚, k̚] from some other consonant by applying a rule (what is that rule), and if so, what consonants underlie phonetic [p̚, t̚, k̚]. Pairs like [rap̚, rak̚] only show that [p̚] is not an allophone of [k̚], or vice versa. You have to look at all of the other possible things that [p̚] can come from (likewise [k̚, t̚]), if [p̚, t̚, k̚] are always derived from something else by applying a rule.

You should start by figuring out what the conditioning factor might be, assuming that the unreleased stops do derive from something else. Then ask whether all of the surface sounds of the language can appear in that environment, and if not, is it possible that some of the sounds which are not found in that context can be the source of the unreleased stops. The examples [rap̚, rak̚] show that the unreleased consonants cannot all be derived from one thing. So if [p̚] is not a phoneme, what could it derive from? What could [k̚] derive from, and what could [t̚] derive from?

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