Learn English – Which does English “l” and “r” sound come under, an allophone or different phonemes


I was very much embarrassed when I was pointed out by ELU Senpai that I made a great mistake by misspelling ‘Mod election’ as ‘Mod erection’ during ELU chat.

We Japanese often make a silly mistake of mixing ‘l’ and ‘r’ characters and sound in writing and speaking, as we don’t have ‘r’ sound. We pronounce Lace and Race with the same sound “lehsu -レース.”

I understand Chinese have distinction of l and r sound. Particularly Beijin locals are well-known for frequent use of r sound, which is known for the word, "R化-R-lization" in speaking.

I’ve read that English l and r sound come under allophone (or phoneme.)

Kenyusha’s Readers English Japanese Dictionary provides definitions of both ‘allophone” and “phoneme,” but both in scanty two lines. It reads as if both ‘allophone” and “phoneme” are akin, which I’m doubtful of vaguely.

What is the difference of ‘allophone” from “phoneme,” and to which of them do English ‘l’ and ‘r’ sounds come under?


Also We do not have θ and ð sound AndrewC has referred to in his comment. We cannot tell the difference between θ and ð, and pronounce both with s sound, e.g. “think” and “sink,” “thick” and “sick” in the same way.

Until post WW II, most Japanese couldn’t pronounce v sound, though there was the letter ‘ヴ’ to express a 'foreign' v sound (only) in writing. We pronounce “Best” and “Vest” in the same B sound. But because of the influx of American culture and spread of English language, most Japanese come to distinguish b and v in speaking. We also pronounce “cofee” as “koh-hee.”

Best Answer

A phoneme is the smallest sound component of speech. A syllable will often consist of more than one phoneme. Speech synthesis software operates by playing a sequence of phonemes to produce intelligible sounds.

Allophones are phonemes with differing sounds. For example, the B in trouble and bitter are considered to be allophones as they both consist of the plosive phoneme for B but are enunciated slightly differently.

While in English, the letters L and R have different phonemes - they sound different, in languages such as Japanese and Korean there is often a single phoneme whose sound is part way between the L and R sounds of English. This can cause confusion to both eastern and western ears.