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In automatic speech recognition, the acoustic signal is the only tangible connection between the talker and the machine. While the signal conveys linguistic information, this information is often encoded in such a complex manner that the signal exhibits a great deal of variability. In addition, variations in environment and speaker can introduce further distortions that are linguistically irrelevant. This paper has three aims: 1) to discuss the nature of variabilities; 2) to describe the kinds of speech knowledge that may help us understand variabilities; and 3) to advocate and suggest specific procedures for the increased utilization of speech knowledge in automatic speech recognition.