complementary distribution

complementary distribution

noun Linguistics.
a relation such that the members of a pair or set of phones, morphs, or other linguistic units have no environment in common, as aspirated “p” and unaspirated “p” in English, the first occurring only in positions where the second does not.
Also called complementation.
Compare free variation.


Origin:
1930–35

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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WordNet
complementary distribution

noun
(linguistics) a distribution of related speech sounds or forms in such a way that they only appear in different contexts 
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.
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