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Encyclopedia > Complementary distribution

Complementary distribution in linguistics is the relationship between two different elements, where one element is found in a particular environment and the other element is found in the opposite environment. It often indicates that two superficially different elements are in fact the same linguistic unit at a deeper level. Comparing this concept to a coin, there is a "heads" side and a "tails" side. Although heads and tails differ from each other in appearance, and location, they are only two different faces of one and the same coin. Linguistics is the scientific study of language, which can be theoretical or applied. ...

In some instances, more than two elements can be in complementary distribution with one another. Instead of an analogy with the two faces of a coin, consider an analogy with the six faces of a die. Each face has a different appearance and location, but each is a part of one and the same cube. Dice (the plural of die, from Old French de, from Latin datum something given or played [1]) are small polyhedral objects, usually cubical, used for generating random numbers or other symbols. ...

In phonology

Main article: Allophone

Complementary distribution is commonly applied to phonology, where similar phones in complementary distribution are usually allophones of the same phoneme. For instance, in English, [p] and [pʰ] are allophones of the phoneme /p/ because they occur in complementary distribution. [pʰ] always occurs when it is the syllable onset and followed by a stressed vowel (as in the word pin). [p] occurs in all other situations (as in the word spin). In phonetics, an allophone is one of several similar phones that belong to the same phoneme. ... Phonology (Greek phonÄ“ = voice/sound and logos = word/speech), is a subfield of linguistics which studies the sound system of a specific language (or languages). ... Look up phone in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In phonetics, an allophone is one of several similar phones that belong to the same phoneme. ... In human language, a phoneme is the theoretical representation of a sound. ... In phonetics and phonology, a syllable onset is the part of a syllable that precedes the syllable nucleus. ... In linguistics, stress is the emphasis given to some syllables (often no more than one in each word, but in many languages, long words have a secondary stress a few syllables away from the primary stress, as in the words cóunterfòil or còunterintélligence. ... Note: This page contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. ...

There are cases where elements are in complementary distribution, but are not considered allophones. For example in English [h] and [ŋ] (engma, written as "ng" in English) are in complementary distribution, since [h] only occurs at the beginning of a syllable and [ŋ] only at the end. But because they have so little in common they are still considered separate phonemes. The velar nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ...

In morphology

Main article: Allomorph

The concept of complementary distribution is applied in the analysis of word forms (morphology). Two different word forms (allomorphs) can actually be different "faces" of one and the same word (morpheme). For example, consider the English indefinite articles a and an. The usages an aardvark and a bear are grammatical. But the usages *a aardvark and *an bear are ungrammatical (marked with "*" in linguistics). This article is about a lingustic term. ... For other uses, see Morphology. ... This article is about a lingustic term. ... In morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest lingual unit that carries a semantic interpretation. ...

The form an is used "in the environment" before a word beginning with a vowel sound.
This linguistic environment can be notated as "__ V".
The form a is used in the environment before a word beginning with a consonant sound.
This can be notated as "__ C".
The "distribution" (usage according to environments) of the forms an and a is "complementary" because of three factors ---
(1) an is used where a is not used;
(2) a is used where an is not used;
(3) when you take the environment where an is used, and the environment where a is used, the two environments together cover every legitimate potential environment for the word.

The forms an and a function to work together like a team, in order to take care of every instance (environment) where the English indefinite article is needed. They are like two halves of a whole, or two different faces of one and the same coin.

See also

  Results from FactBites:
What is complementary distribution? (177 words)
Complementary distribution is the mutually exclusive relationship between two phonetically similar segments.
The phones [p] and [pH] are in complementary distribution.
The phones [b] and [B] are in complementary distribution.
Ling 200 | Segmental phonology in OT (2197 words)
We modeled complementary distribution by identifying a basic form of the phoneme (the allophone with the "elsewhere" distribution) and proposing a phonological rule to derive the context-specific allophone.
The distribution of the elsewhere allophone [k] is enforced by a restriction on the lexicon, but the distribution of the specific allophone [c] is enforced by a phonological rule.
A general approach to complementary distribution in OT We can generalize the results of our analysis of Greek to a basic understanding of the kind of constraint ranking that will give rise to a language with complementary distribution between two allophones.
  More results at FactBites »



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