Free Variant

Free Variant

 

a sound that may be replaced by another in the same phonetic environment without a change in the strict denotation of the word. Free variants characterize a particular style of speech or a particular lexical stratum but do not represent a deviation from the norm (seeLINGUISTIC NORM). Examples are the interchangeability of the fricative [y] and the stop [g] in the Russian words blagodat’ (“abundance”) and ogo! (“aha!”) and the lengthening of the initial [z] in German to convey an emotional nuance, as in zo?! (“indeed?!”). Listeners may judge a free variant socially with respect to the norm. In French, for example, it is the norm to pronounce r as the uvular [R]; a front variant, although permissible, is considered unrefined.

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