5.10 Phonemes and phonology

English Notes
BSL Video

Phonemes and Phonology


Phonemes in spoken languages are the smallest units in the sound system of a spoken language. Sounds are members of the same phoneme if they are similar and if substituting one member for another does not cause a change in meaning. A sound is phonemic if its substitution does cause a change in meaning.

Because phonemes are defined by the contrast they make, they are especially identified by “ minimal pairs”. These are pairs of words that differ in only one phoneme. Mat differs from pat in only one sound /m/ versus /p/, so we can say that /m/ and /p/ are two different phonemes in English because they create two different words.


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