I was given a task to define the types of the phoneme distribution in these words:

tea [tiː] – stay [steɪ] – try [traɪ] – twice [twaɪs] – little [ˈlɪtl]

But I have no idea how to do that. Could you give me a hint or advice?

Maybe it's about complementary and contrastive distribution and free-variants (that's what I've found in the internet). But I don't understand all that abstruse terms. Perhaps people who are familiar with this subject, can explain it in simple words?

  • Do you not have a book or syllabus you are working from? That would seem the logical place to start.
    – Rushyo
    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:39
  • Yes, I have. But there is nothing about phoneme distribution in it. Probably I'm supposed look for this information myself.
    – Lisa
    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:51
  • Recommended reading: ebooks.unibuc.ro/filologie/mateescu/pdf/52.pdf Apr 16, 2015 at 12:00
  • You should ask whoever gave you that task. Apr 17, 2015 at 9:31

1 Answer 1


It looks to me like the exercise may be about the vowel sounds. English vowels can generally be divided into two categories. One category of vowels, called "lax vowels", have restricted distribution in stressed syllables: they can only occur before a consonant, and not before another vowel or at the end of a word. In contrast, the "tense vowels" can occur without any following consonant. The vowel phonemes [iː] [eɪ] and [aɪ] are tense, and [ɪ] is lax. (Sometimes, the distinction is given in terms of syllabification: it is said that lax vowels can only occur in closed syllables (syllables that end in a consonant sound), while vowels of either type can occur in open syllables (syllables that end in the vowel sound).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.