Complementary distribution

Complementary Distribution

Complementary distribution

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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.In some instances, more than two elements can be in complementary distribution with one another.

In phonology

Complementary distribution is commonly applied to phonology, where similar phones in complementary distribution are usually allophones of the same phoneme. For instance, in English, and are allophones of the phoneme because they occur in complementary distribution. always occurs when it is the syllable onset and followed by a stress vowel (as in the word pin). occurs in all other situations (as in the word spin).

There are cases where elements are in complementary distribution, but are not considered allophones. For example in English and (engma, written with the digraph <-ng> in English) are in complementary distribution, since only occurs at the beginning of a syllable and only at the end. But because they have so little in common in phonetic terms they are still considered separate phonemes.An Introduction to Language by Victoria Fromkin

In morphology

The concept of complementary distribution is applied in the analysis of word forms (morphology). Two different word forms (allomorphs) can actually be...
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