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in My native language, Georgian there exist a set of phonemic aspirated consonants /pʰ tʰ kʰ/ which are said to be aspirated in all positions.

though recently I noticed that when the aspirated plosives follow a voiceless fricative for example /ʃ/ as in /ʃtʰɑntʰkʰmɑ/ ("to absorb"), they sound indistinguishable from voiced stops to my ears and it's difficult to perceive the difference between them.

is it possible that the /tʰ/ in /ʃtʰ/ is unaspirated and that's why it sounds like a /d/?

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    I predict the answer to all future "is it possible for an X phoneme to have a non-X allophone?" is going to be "yes". There's no phonetic property I know of that is always maintained across allophones.
    – Draconis
    Aug 2 at 2:33

3 Answers 3

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Georgian has a three-way laryngeal contrast in stops, which is often treated as /pʰ b p'/. If supposed /pʰ/ is realized phonetically as [p, pʰ] depending on context, then it is an open question whether that phoneme is phonemically /p/ or /pʰ/. English is thought to have underlying /p/ where [pʰ] is a (foot-initial) predictable variant, however it is equally plausible to say that English has underlying /pʰ/ where [p] is found in foot-medial position. So we would need to see what the actual distribution of aspirated and unaspirated stops in Georgian is, to see whether the /p/ hypothesis is the better analysis, or the /pʰ/ analysis.

It is possible that in Georgian aspiration is actually contrastive and supposed voiced stops like /b/ are unaspirated – re-phonemicization of English /p,b/ as /pʰ,p/ has been proposed. We therefore need to see the evidence that Georgian has the phonemic system /pʰ b p'/ rather than /pʰ p p'/. We also need to see the evidence for the analysis /ʃɑntʰkʰmɑ/ rather than /ʃdɑntʰkʰmɑ/. Grapheme-selection is not particularly compelling evidence for a specific phonological analysis.

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  • actually according to this study the so-called voiced stops are realized as voiceless in initial positions, in my opinion the voiced stops in Georgian should be analyzed as /b̥ d̥ ɡ̊/ with the explanation that they are realized as voiced in intervocalic positions and at the end of a word they might be devoiced to /pʰ tʰ kʰ. Aug 2 at 12:45
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Quoting a comment on one of your earlier questions:

Given that [ɾ] and [ʔ] are attested as allophones, or [s] and [k], I would think the answer to any "can X and Y potentially be allophones?" question would have to be "yes". Is there any reason you think it's not possible for a phoneme to have both ejective and non-ejective allophones?

Or in this case, aspirated and non-aspirated. I don't know of any phonetic property that is always maintained across allophones.

If you're looking for an example, English "voiceless" stops are usually aspirated, but unaspirated after /s/ in a syllable onset.

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In Korean, such allophonic variation in consonant aspiration is normal.

Korean has a three-way contrast in its stops and affricates: "plain/lenis", "tense/fortis", "aspirated". In the Hangeul script, they have different representations, e.g.

  • /k/ , in Revised Romanisation "g".
  • /k͈/ (frequently transcribed /k*/), in RR "kk".
  • /kʰ/ , in RR "k".

These are strongly distinguished in the word-initial/post-consonantal and intervocalic positions (기 gi "energy/spirit", 끼 kki "talent"/"classifier for meal", 키 ki "height"), with a combination of phonetic factors. Loudness, VOT, vowel F0 all contribute, and they do so differently in the different environments.

However, at the end of a syllable, especially in the pre-consonantal position (forming small consonant clusters), the difference in the stops is neutralised, as the stop is unreleased. E.g. 부엌 /puʌ̹k̚/ bueok "kitchen" ends in the aspirated morphophoneme |kʰ|, but the standard pronunciation when said alone is to pronounce the final plosive unreleased [k̚], just the same as if it were written 부억 - indeed, Korean monolingual dictionaries will frequently retranscribe words in this way.

Nonetheless, when these words gain final particles, e.g. with the direct object marker it becomes 부엌을 bueokeul, the environment becomes an intervocalic one and the aspiration distinction is retained (although there is growing evidence with 부엌에 bueoke "in the kitchen" to suggest that even this is eroding).

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