The first part of this paper provides a bird's eye view of the early stages of the story of the notion of 'phoneme' from Saussure and Baudouin de Courtenay, via Trubetzkoy, up to the American descriptivists. The second part discusses three major components of that notion: the idea that phonemes are indivisible primitive units of phonological representation, the concept of contrast, as well as segmental organisation in general, reviewing various portions of recent literature arguing against each component in turn. Specifically, it is pointed out that (1) in present-day phonology, the basic units of phonological representations are features, and phonemes are only used as shorthand for bundles of distinctive features; (2) the presence vs. absence of contrast is not a matter of all-or-nothing in a number of cases; there are cases in which two sequences are not phonologically identical but not distinct, either; consequently, phonological descriptions cannot be exclusively based on segmental transcriptions; and (3) phonetic transcription suggests that speech consists of speech sounds - a claim that is obviously false phonetically; but even a sizeable portion of the phonological literature claims that phonological analysis is to be conducted in a nonsegmental (and rule-free) fashion.
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