As an example for English vowels, the pair "let" + "lit" can be used to demonstrate that the phones [ɛ] (in let) and [ɪ] (in lit) do in fact represent distinct phonemes /ɛ/ and /ɪ/. An example for English consonants is the minimal pair of "pat" + "bat". In phonetics, this pair, like any other, differs in number of ways. In this case, the contrast appears largely to be conveyed with a difference in the voice onset time of the initial consonant as the configuration of the mouth is same for [p] and [b]; however, there is also a possible difference in duration, which visual analysis using high quality video supports.
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.
|word 1||word 2||IPA 1||IPA 2||note|
|English||Phones [p] as in "spin" and [pʰ] as in "pin" both occur, but are allophones of the phoneme /p/ and no minimal pair can be found to distinguish them, but the word "bin" shows that the phone [b] forms a phoneme /b/ separate from /p/.|
|Mandarin||Only phones (and phonemes) [p] and [pʰ] occur. In the Pinyin transcription /pʰ/ is written "p" and /p/ is written "b" (using the two available Latin letters for the two phonemes).|
|French/Portuguese||In romance languages and other European languages only phones (and phonemes) [p] and [b] occur.|
|Hindi/Urdu||All four phones are separate phonemes.|
|Thai|| Three phones occur and form three phonemes, as in these examples: |
|bête noire||/bɛtnwaʁ/||black beast, pet peeve|
|baie noire||/bɛnwaʁ/||black berry (not blackberry, which is mûre sauvage)|
Because [tn] is not a single phoneme in French, this shows a minimal pair between the presence and absence of [t] next to [n], which shares its point of articulation. [n] and [ɲ] 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:
In the following two Hebrew verbs, the only distinction is a glottal stop in the middle of the first word:
In Korean, phones [ɾ] in "Korea' and [l] in "Seoul" are allophones of one phoneme and are perceived by native speakers of Korean as a single phoneme. The difference is that [ɾ] is an allophone of this phoneme before vowels.
In Spanish, [z] and [s] are both allophones of /s/. [z] appears only before voiced consonants as in mismo /mizmo/.
|เขา||/kʰǎw/||khǎo||short, rising tone||he/she|
|ขาว||/kʰǎːw/||khǎo||long, rising tone||white|
|เข้า||/kʰâw/||khâo||short, falling tone||enter|
|ข้าว||/kʰâːw/||khâo||long, falling tone||rice|
|เข่า||/kʰàw/||khào||short, low tone||knee|
|ข่าว||/kʰàːw/||khào||long, low tone||news|
|Italian||becchino||/ˈbekkino/||let them peck|
|Spanish||limite||/li'mite/||he/she limits, you (formal) limit|
Minimal pairs may differ superficially in more than one place if one feature is dependent on the other. For example, English record (noun) and record (verb) (and similar pairs) appear superficially not to be minimal pairs for stress because they differ in vowel quality as well. However, since the differences in vowel quality are predictable consequences of the differences in stress, such pairs are considered minimal pairs. The case is similar in Russian, eg. мука ('torture, pain') and мука ('flour').
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