Jean-Paul G. POTET wrote:

>"I don't think one can meaningfully speak of "phonemes in English". It
>seems clear that the set of phonemes is accent-dependent. Also, it's
>my understanding that {shippin'} is really {shippen} -- that is, a
>remnant of a dialect that generalized a different form, so there is
>no {g} to be dropped." IK PEYLOUGH, SOUTH FLORIDA
>Do you make the difference between phone and phoneme?
>Phone = a linguistic sound uttered by a speaker.
>Phoneme = a set of phonetic traits the realisations of which depend on the phonotactic position it fills.

Even making such a distinction, different English dialects have
different sets of sounds. Some speakers have the same vowel in the
stressed syllables of 'caught', 'father' and 'bother'. Others have two
the same and one different, and there are two possibilities for this.
Others still (like myself) distinguish all three, but may not
distinguish between 'caught' and 'court'. My dialect has phonemic
length; others have a tense--lax distinction (some (/e/, /i/, /u/, /o/)
of the tense vowels in that are diphthongs (/&i/ &=ae-ligature, /@i/
@=schwa, /@u/, /6u/ 6=turned a) in my dialect, and some of my long
vowels (/e:/, /I:/; some /a:/, /o:/) are combinations (/Er/, /Ir/; /Ar/,
/Or/) or don't exist as separate phonemes (/O:/, /&:/) to those with
tense vowels).

If you tried to get the maximal set of phonemes for which there is a
disctinction in at least one dialect, you end up getting nonsense.
Southern-British derived englishes, Australian english (which I speak)
and New England english have all split up what is /&/, &=ae-lig or /a/
in some dialects. (Australia has a three-way split, one inherited from S
BrE, though not entirely compatible.) But these aren't compatible. So
we'd need at least five phonemes, when speakers of dialects who have
none of these splits would not have any native intuition or linguistic
sign that there's a split, and no dialect to my knowledge distinguishes
all five of them.

So basically, English has a grammar and a lexicon (both of which have
minor differences between the standard englishes), and it has a set of
phonologies, but it itself doesn't have any phonemes.