Subjects responded as soon as they heard a preset target in a sequence of nonsense syllables. The target was a complete syllable (e.g., "baeb" "saeb") or a phoneme from that syllable, the syllable-initial consonant phoneme for some objects (e.g., "b-" or "s-"), and the medial vowel phoneme for other subjects (e.g., "-ae-"). Subjects responded more slowly to phoneme targets than to syllable targets (by 40 msec for /s-/, 70 msec for /b-/ and 250 msec for medial /ae/). These results indicate that phoneme identification is subsequent to the perception of larger phonological units. The reality of the phoneme is demonstrated independently of speech perception and production by the natural presence of alphabets, rhymes, spoonerisms, and interphonemic contextual constraints.