Minimal pair

From Academic Kids

In phonetics, minimal pairs are pairs of words or phrases in a particular language, which differ in only one phoneme, toneme or chroneme and have a distinct meaning. They are used to demonstrate that two phones constitute two separate phonemes in the language.

English "let" + "lit" proves that phones and do in fact represent distinct phonemes and . The phones do not have to be vowels, as the English minimal pair of "pat" + "bat" shows. In fact, this pair only differs in vocalization of the initial consonant as the configuration of the mouth is same for [p] and [b].

Phonemic differentiation may vary between different dialects of a language, so that a particular minimal pair in one accent is a pair of homophones in another. This does not necessarily mean that one of the phonemes is absent in the homonym accent; merely that it is not present in the same range of contexts.



Pairs Differentiating Phonemes

Following pairs prove existence of various distinct phonemes in English.

word 1 word 2 IPA 1 IPA 2
pin bin
rot lot
zeal seal
bin bean /
pen pan /
hat had

On the other hand, phones [p] in "spin" and [ph] in "pin" are both allophones of the phoneme /p/ and no minimal pair can be found to distinguish them. Languages like Cantonese, Mandarin and Thai distinguish between them and they represent distinct phonemes /p/ and /ph/.

Here is a minimal set in French:

word IPA meaning
cire wax
sre sure
soeur sister
sieur sir
sueur sweat

To an Anglophone, some or all of these sound alike, because the [] and [] sounds do not exist in English. A minimal triplet of consonants is

word IPA meaning
bte noire black beast, pet peeve
baie noire black berry (not blackberry, which is mre sauvage)
baignoire bathtub

[tn] is not a single phoneme in French, so this shows a minimal pair between the presence and absence of [t] next to [n], which shares its point of articulation. [n] and [] differ only in point of articulation.

There are three verbs in Hebrew which demonstrate the distinction, in some dialects, between a velar stop and an uvular stop on one hand, and a glottal stop with and without tightening of the throat on the other:

word transcription meaning
קרא qara' read, call
קרע qara` tear apart
כרע kara` kneel

In the following two Hebrew verbs, the only distinction is a velar stop, in the middle of the first word:

word transcription meaning
לראות lir'oth see
לירות liroth shoot

In Korean, phones [r] in Korea and [l] in Seoul are allophones of the phoneme /l/ and are perceived by native speakers of Korean as a single letter i.e. phoneme. The difference is that [r] is pronounced before vowels.

In Spanish, [z] and [s] are both allophones of /s/ and [z] appears only before voiced consonants as in mismo /mizmo/.

Pairs Differentiating Chronemes

Latin did have and Hungarian and Italian do have distinctive length of consonants. A differentiator for length is called a chroneme. E.g. in Italian (note that IPA allows to indicate length by doubling the symbol, which is commonly used for consonants, while with vowels mostly the special lengthening sign is used)

word IPA meaning
pina pine
pinna fin

Latin did have and Hungarian, German and Thai do have distinctive vowel length, e.g. in Thai (and compare this example also to the one on tone)

word transcription quality meaning
เขว khǎo short, rising tone he/she
ขาว khǎ:o long, rising tone white
เข้ว kho short, falling tone enter
ข้าว kh:o long, falling tone rice
เข่ว kho short, low tone knee
ข่าว kh:o long, low tone news

Pairs Differentiating Tonemes

Languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Thai, but also for instance Serbo-Croatian, Norwegian and Lithuanian have distinctive tone. (See: pitch accent and tonal language.) For example in Thai:

word transcription quality meaning
ขาว khǎ:o rising tone white
ข้าว kh:o falling tone rice
ข่าว kh:o low tone news

Pairs Differentiating Stress

Spanish and Italian have many minimal pairs differing only in stress. Dutch has several, e.g. (stress indicated by acute accent)

word meaning
voorkmen prevent
vrkomen occur

On the other hand, English record (noun) and record (verb) (and similar pairs) are not minimal pairs, since word stress affects the quality of both the stressed vowel and the reduced vowel. The case is similar in Russian, eg. мука ('torture, pain') and мука ('flour') do not constitute a minimal pair, because unstressed vowels become reduced.

External Links

Minimal pairs for English RP ( examples for all phoneme pairs in British Received Pronunciationde:Minimalpaar als:Minimalpaar fr:Paire minimale ko:최소 대립쌍


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