minimal pair

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A pair of words that differ in only one speech sound but have distinct meanings, thus establishing that the speech sounds in question are different phonemes. For example, the fact that cap and cab have different meanings establishes that /p/ and /b/ are different phonemes in English. In English, /r/ and /l/ give distinct meanings to minimal pairs (such as row and low) and are therefore distinct phonemes, whereas in Japanese they do not and are therefore allophones, which explains why they are often confused by native Japanese speakers of English. See also acoustic cue (1), acquired similarity, distinctive feature, neutralization.

Subjects: Psychology.

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