Phonologically speaking, two words or expressions form a minimal pair if they have the same number and sequence of sounds, have different meanings and only differ in one sound or in a phoneme . As further conditions for minimal pairs , the same word structure and the affiliation of the words involved to one and the same part of speech are occasionally determined. The prerequisite is that all of the considerations take place within one language or language family. The phonemes of a language can be determined by the systematic formation of minimal pairs. The set of all phonemes in a language is called the phoneme inventory of that language.
Phonological analysis (minimal pair analysis)
If two sounds alone make the difference between two words, one can conclude from this that they belong to two different phonemes. The words “betten” (in careful pronunciation: [ˈbɛtən]) and “bitten” ([ˈbɪtən]) only differ in the sound contrast (= opposition ) between [ɛ] and [ɪ]; they have the same number of sounds and different meanings; also the other conditions: same part of speech and same word structure are fulfilled. This means that in German [ɛ] and [ɪ] belong to different phonemes.
In order to determine the phoneme inventory of a language, a second step is necessary: You have to clarify which different sounds are not able to form a minimal pair. In German, for example, the so-called “ Ich-Laut ” (phonetic: [ç]) and the “ Ach-Laut ” ([χ]), which appear in the word pair “Ich” ([ɪç]) and “ach” ([aχ ]) occur, do not form a minimal pair, as their occurrence depends on the previous vowel. Since both sounds are phonetically very similar to each other (both are voiceless fricatives and differ only in their position on the hard ([ç]) or soft palate ([χ]), they are regarded as variants (= allophones ) of one and the same phoneme.
Examples of minimal pairs
Examples from the German language:
- Child and cattle - / k / and / r /
- quiet and travel - / l / and / r /
- love and live - / i: / and / e: /
- Time and sorrow - / ts / and / l /
- Wall and wind - / a / and / i /
- Wall and hand - / v / and / h /
- dare and gnaw - / v / and / n /
- haunt and spit - / u: / and / u /, see vowel quantity
There is also the distinction based on a missing phoneme ( null phoneme ), which, however, is usually not taken as an example of a minimal pair:
- Build and belly
- wrestle and bring
Examples from the English language :
- red and plumb - / r / and / l /
- zeal and seal - / z / and / s /
- feet and seat - / f / and / s /
- meal and meat - / l / and / t /
- dime and time - / d / and / t /
- rhyme and time - / r / and / t /
Examples from the Icelandic language :
- liða 'divide' and riða 'tremble' - / l / and / r /
- riða 'tremble' and ríða 'ride' - / ɪ / and / i / (historical: / i / and / ī /)
- ríða 'ride' and rífa 'tear up' - / θ ~ ð / and / f /
- kassa 'the boxes' and kjassa ' caress ' - / k / and / kj /
- kal ' Frostbeule ' and kál 'Kohl' - / a / and / au / (historically: / a / and / ā /)
Analogy in coding theory
- Karl-Heinz Best : Linguistics in a nutshell. With an outlook on quantitative linguistics (= script). 5th revised edition. RAM-Verlag, Lüdenscheid 2008, p. 5f. No ISBN.
- Lists of minimal pairs in German can be found in: Marthe Philipp: Phonologie des Deutschen. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1994, pp. 21-27, ISBN 3-17-001322-X (Kohlhammer-Urban-Taschenbücher; Vol. 192) (original edition: Phonologie de l'allemand, 1974).