The Status of the Concept of 'Phoneme' in Psycholinguistics

University of Stavanger, 4036 Stavanger, Norway.
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research (Impact Factor: 0.59). 03/2010; 39(5):429-42. DOI: 10.1007/s10936-010-9149-8
Source: PubMed


The notion of the phoneme counts as a break-through of modern theoretical linguistics in the early twentieth century. It paved the way for descriptions of distinctive features at different levels in linguistics. Although it has since then had a turbulent existence across altering theoretical positions, it remains a powerful concept of a fundamental unit in spoken language. At the same time, its conceptual status remains highly unclear. The present article aims to clarify the status of the concept of 'phoneme' in psycholinguistics, based on the scientific concepts of description, understanding and explanation. Theoretical linguistics has provided mainly descriptions. The ideas underlying this article are, first, that these descriptions may not be directly relevant to psycholinguistics and, second, that psycholinguistics in this sense is not a sub-discipline of theoretical linguistics. Rather, these two disciplines operate with different sets of features and with different orientations when it comes to the scientific concepts of description, understanding and explanation.

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