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free' varia'tion



Ling.
a relation between the members of a pair of phones, phonemes, morphs, or other linguistic entities such that either of the two may occur in the same position with no change in the meaning of the utterance: in the first syllable of “economics,” “e” and “ē” are in free variation. Cf. complementary distribution.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Copyright © 1997, by Random House, Inc., on Infoplease.

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