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Free variation is a phenomenon where two different sounds can be used interchangeably in speech. Linguists define this phenomenon using the test of perceived authenticity by native speakers. In other words, if the two different sounds can both be used by native speakers, and are considered correct pronunciation, their dual use qualifies as free variation.

The sounds used in free variation can be either vowels or consonants. One common example in English is the word, “data.” Here, the short "a” sound, as in “apple,” can be used in the first vowel position, or, the speaker can instead use the long "a” sound as in the word, “day.” These are commonly accepted pronunciations in American English, and most other regional forms of the language.

Other examples include the use of consonant sounds. Some of these can be extremely technical and nuanced. For example, in American English, words, like “rope,” can be pronounced either with a glottal stop, where the listener doesn’t really hear the “p” sound, or with a full plosive, where the “p” at the end is prominent.
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Page last modified on Saturday April 13, 2013 14:16:24 GMT-0000 by anypursuit.