minimal pair

Tjahzi

Senior Member
Swedish (Göteborg)
In phonology, the term minimal pair is used to denote a pair of words which are separated by a single sound. These pairs are then used as "proof" for that the sounds in question are phonemic (are distinguishable and carry a meaning). As such, the English pair then and den shows that [d] and [ð] are different phonemes in English, which is not the case in all languages, I'm sure you have noticed. :) Additionally, ten can be added to show that [t], too, is a different sound (thus creating a "minimal trio").

Anyhow, as a minor hobby project, I've been investigating Swedish minimal pairs and come up with a VERY productive stem. Nearly every consonant can be added before the sequence -år [oːr] (meaning year on its own) to create a new word (Swedish has no diphthongs and hence vowels can't be added). This is helped a lot by the fact that -r is both the suffix indicating present tense for verbs (Swedish verbs are not inflected for person) as well as the plural suffix for the utrum (masculine+feminine) gender of nouns, but the list includes other words as well.

År - year (singular and plural).
Bår - stretcher (singular).
("C" is not a native phoneme and only appears in the -ck- cluster, names and loan words.)
Dår- - does not exist independently, but as a root in words such as dåraktig (mad), dåre (madman) and dårskap (madness).
Får - sheep (singular and plural) and also the present tense of - to get, receive.
Går - present tense of - to go.
Hår - hair.
Jår - *No match.*
Kår - corps (singular).
Lår - thigh (singular and plural).
Mår - present tense of - feel (in regards to health/well-being).
Når - present tense of nå - reach.
Pår - *No match.*
("Q" is not a native phoneme and only appears in names and loan words.)
Rår - present tense of råda - to advice.
Sår - wound/sore (singular and plural) and also present tense of - to sow.
Tår - plural of - toe.
Vår - our(s) and also spring (singular).
("W" is not a native phoneme and only appears in names and loan words.)
("X" is not a native phoneme and only appears in names and loan words.)
("Y" is a vowel.)
("Z" is not a native phoneme and only appears in names and loan words.)


(Swedish has two additional consonant phonemes that are written with various di- and trigraphs, but these have emerged through assimilation before front vowels (to which å/[o] does not belong).)
(Swedish nouns of the neutral gender do not take a plural suffix, hence some of the words in the list are indeed both the singular and plural forms of their English translations.)


I've attempted to make similar lists in English, but haven't got anywhere near a similar result. Which is the "biggest minimal pair" you can find? In English, or in some other language? Please share!
 
  • Rallino

    Moderatoúrkos
    Turkish
    In English the best I could come up with is:

    In -
    inside
    Chin -
    the protruding part of the face below the mouth
    Fin - a flattened appendage on the body of a fish or other aquatic animal
    Gin - a clear alcoholic spirit distilled from grain or malt and flavoured with juniper berries.
    Hin -
    a Hebrew unit of liquid capacity equal to approximately 5 litres
    Kin -
    one's family and relations.
    Pin -
    a thin piece of metal with a sharp point at one end and a round head at the other
    Sin - an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.
    Shin - the front of the leg below the knee.
    Tin - a silvery-white metal
    Thin - having little flesh or fat on the body.
    Win - To be victorious
    Yin - (in Chinese philosophy) the passive female principle of the universe
     

    Tjahzi

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Wow, not bad! You can add bin and din to that list as well. However, I'm not sure if hin and yin count. :p

    What about Turkish?
     

    Rallino

    Moderatoúrkos
    Turkish
    In Turkish it's really easy, I chose the word "an", and made a list. A similar even longer list can be made starting with other words.

    An -
    moment
    Can - life/health
    Çan -
    Bell
    Han -
    Dynasty
    Kan -
    Blood
    Lan -
    Colloquial vocative
    Nan -
    Bread
    San -
    Title (of a person)
    Şan -
    Fame
    Tan -
    Dawn
    Van -
    A city in Turkey
    Yan -
    Side
    Zan -
    Theory

    (We don't have diphtongues or digraphs in Turkish.)
     

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    Swedish, Finnish
    Anyhow, as a minor hobby project, I've been investigating Swedish minimal pairs and come up with a VERY productive stem. Nearly every consonant can be added before the sequence -år [oːr] (meaning year on its own) to create a new word (Swedish has no diphthongs and hence vowels can't be added). This is helped a lot by the fact that -r is both the suffix indicating present tense for verbs (Swedish verbs are not inflected for person) as well as the plural suffix for the utrum (masculine+feminine) gender of nouns, but the list includes other words as well.
    You can make almost as many words in Swedish with the minimal pair -al, and that without using the present tense of verbs.
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Czech (infinitives):

    bíti (to beat), býti (to be)
    číti (to sense, mostly to hear)
    díti (to say)
    jíti (to go)
    líti (to pour)
    míti (to have), mýti (to wash)
    nýti (poet. to languish by grief/sadness)
    píti (to drink)
    rýti (to spade)
    říti (to rut)
    síti (to sow)
    šíti (to sew)
    títi (to cut, to chop)
    týti (to get fat)
    víti (to plait), výti (to howl)
    žíti (to live)

    Note: nowadays the wovels i and y are pronounced mostly the same way (the orthography i/y is historical, a nightmare for the schoolchildren).
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I can't find one in Dutch where so many combinations are possible, but before going on: can you draw conclusions from that ? There are a lot of words ending in -ak in Dutch (aak, bak, dak, jak (...), kak, mak, pak, tak, wak, yak, zak), but... is that enough? Could it prove useful in some didactic way, do you think?
     

    TitTornade

    Senior Member
    In French, you can do this with several vowel sounds, but, in French, they are several mute letters or several letter combinations that are said in the same way, so it is not easy to recognize the similarities...

    Let's try with the sound o (pronunciation - words with this pronunciation (English translation)):
    o - eau (water), au (at the, singular), aux (at the, plural), haut (high)...
    bo - beau (beautiful, singular), beaux (plural), baux, Baux...
    sho (sh = English pronunciation) - chaud (hot), chaux (limestone), show...
    ko - Caux (French region)
    do - dos (back), do (musical note)
    fo - faux (false)...
    go - ?
    lo - lot (prize, jackpot)...
    mo - mot (word), maux (aches)
    no - No (japanese theater)
    po - pot (pot, jar), peau (skin), Pau (French city)...
    ro - rot (burp), rôt (roast)
    so - seau (bucket), sot (stupid), sceau (seal)...
    to - taux (ratio)...
    vo - veau (veal), vos (your)...
    zo - zoo (zoo)

    I can do the same with sounds a, i, u... and nasal sounds a~, e~ or o~.You can notice that there are many homophones in French ;) :p
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    There may well be larger minimal sequences, but just for fun here's the first one I thought of in Portuguese (13 words):

    cá - here
    dá - gives
    fá - F, the musical note
    iá - yeah (colloquial; the "i" stands for an approximant/semivowel here)
    já - already, now
    lá - there, over there
    má - bad (feminine adjective)
    pá - shovel
    Rá - Ra/Re, the Egyptian god
    Sá - a Portuguese family name
    tá - is (a colloquial contraction of "está")
    vá - go
    xá - shah / chá - tea (different words and spelling, but same pronunciation)

    In addition there are the words á, à and (all pronounced the same way), but since these do not start with a consonant (the "h" is silent), I didn't think I should include them.

    Then there are of course the names of the letters of the alphabet:

    bê, cê, dê, gê/guê, pê, quê, tê, vê, zê (9 words)

    (Though in some dialects "b" and "v" are pronounced the same, this is fairly restricted.) And some teachers also use the following, although they are not standard:

    be, de, fe, gue, je, le, me, ne, pe, que, re, te, ve, xe, ze (15. I'm not sure how they deal with the letters "c" and "s", since we pronounce them the same way before "e"...)
     
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    Maroseika

    Moderator
    Russian
    Russian:

    бок [bok] - side, flang
    ВОК [vok] - optical-fiber cable
    ГОК [gok] - ore-dressing plant
    док [dok] - dock
    жок [zhok] - jос (Moldavian dance)
    кок [kok] - cock
    МОК - [mok] - International Olympic Committee
    нок [nok] - nock (part of rigging)
    рок [rok] - fate
    сок [sok] - juice
    ток [tok] - flowing, current
    фок [fok] - foresail
    цок [tsok] - clank sound
    шок [shok] - shock
    чок [chok] - clink (glasses) sound
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Here are three minimal sequences for vowels in Portuguese: :)

    a - the (fem.); her; at; to
    à/há/á (all three pronounced the same way) - to the/ there is/ name of the letter "a"
    hã - huh (interrogative interjection)
    e/i (pronounced the same way) - and/ name of the letter "i"
    é - is; name of the letter "e"
    o - the (masc.); him
    ó - o (vocative); name of the letter "o"
    ou (some speakers pronounce this as a diphthong) - or
    u - name of the letter "u"
    um (nasal vowel) - a, one

    da - of the (fem.)
    dá - gives
    de - of, from
    dê - give; name of the letter "d"
    do - of the (masc.)
    dó - musical note C
    dou (a diphthong for some speakers) - I give
    dom (nasal vowel) - don; gift
    dum (nasal vowel) - of a, of one

    Sá - family name
    sã - sane
    se (homophonous with "se" in Brazil) - if; self
    sé - [episcopal] see
    sê - be
    si - himself, herself, itself
    sim (nasal vowel) - yes
    só - alone
    sou (a diphthong for some speakers) - I am
    som (nasal vowel) - sound

    P.S. More examples in French with audio.
     
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    TarisWerewolf

    Senior Member
    Canada (English)
    The one I think of in English is S-T:

    sat - past tense of "to sit"
    sate - to satisfy
    sought - past tense of "to seek"
    set - a collection (among other meanings)
    seat - a place to sit
    sit - to avail oneself of a "seat"
    sight/site - something seen or a location
    soot - ashes from a fire
    suit - fancy clothes
     
    The only one I could think of in Greek:

    «τε» (tĕ): In the ancient language, enclitic particle "and"
    «ἅτε» ('hātĕ): In the ancient language, accusative plural neuter of pronoun «ὅστε» ('hŏstĕ)--> just as, as if, so as
    «βάτε» ('vate, 'bātĕ): Ancient/Modern Greek, vocative sing. feminine of noun «βάτος» ('vatos, 'bātŏs)--> bramble
    «γάτε» ('ɣate): Modern Greek, vocative sing. masculine of noun «γάτος» ('ɣatos)--> tomcat
    «ὅτε» ('hŏtĕ): Ancient Greek, relative adverb of time--> when, at the time when
    «πότε» ('pote, 'pŏtĕ): Ancient/Modern Greek, interrogative adverb--> when? at what time?
    «ὁπότε» (o'pote, hŏ'pŏtĕ): Ancient/Modern Greek, correlative adverb--> whenever, when
    «τότε» ('tote, 'tŏtĕ): Ancient/Modern Greek, demonstrative adverb--> at times, now and then, at one time
    «ὥστε» ('oste, 'hōstĕ): Ancient/Modern Greek, demonstrative adverb--> so as, inasmuch, for to
     
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    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    You can add chat, shat and that.

    I didn't know about shat (e.g. after I got off of the roller coaster, I realized that I shat myself), it is usually not included in the list of the irregular (strong) English verbs. 
     
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    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    As far as I can see the original poster didn't request that the words should rhyme, just asked how many words could be made with the same minimal pair of letters.
    No, in phonology the term 'minimal pair' is a matter of pronuntiation, not orthography. Therefore you can add chat/shat/that.
     
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    Arath

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    In Bulgarian the biggest minimal pair of the six vowels is:

    тапа - stopper, cork
    тъпа - stupid (feminine of тъп)
    топа - the cannon (definite of топ)
    тупа- he/she/it beats (third person singular of тупам)
    тепа - he/she/it fulls (third person singular of тепам), here to full means to make cloth denserhttp://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/denser and firmerhttp://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/firmer by soakinghttp://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/soaking, beatinghttp://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/beating and pressinghttp://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pressing,
    типа - as in два типа (two typeshttp://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/waulk)
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Standard Arabic:

    I've found one that works with 26 of the 28 consonant phonemes. Pretty amazing!

    /ʔ/ أَنَّ /ʔanna/ = that
    /b/ بَنَّ /banna/ = he dwelled
    /t/
    /θ/ ثَنَّى /θanna/ = he doubled
    /ʒ/ جَنَّ /ʒanna/ = it became dark
    /ħ/ حَنَّ /ħanna/ = he pined
    /x/ خَنَّ /xanna/ = he snorted
    /d/ دَنَّ /danna/ = he murmured
    /ð/ دَنَّ /ðanna/ = it grew severe
    /r/ رَنَّ /ranna/ = he rang
    /z/ زَنَّ /zanna/ = it dried up
    /s/ سَنَّ /sanna/ = he passed (a law)
    /ʃ/ شَنَّ /ʃanna/ = he waged (an attack)
    /sˤ/ صَنَّ /sˤanna/ = it became foul-smelling
    /dˤ/ ضَنَّ /dˤanna/ = he was stingy
    /tˤ/ طَنَّ /tˤanna/ = he buzzed
    /ðˤ/ ظَنَّ /ðˤanna/ = he thought
    /ʕ/ عَنَّ /ʕanna/ = it seemed
    /ɣ/ غَنَّ /ɣanna/ = he spoke through his nose
    /f/ فَنَّ /fanna/ = he was artistic
    /q/ قَنَّ /qanna/ = he visually inspected
    /k/ كَنَّ /kanna/ = he quieted down
    /l/
    /m/ مَنَّ /manna/ = he was generous
    /n/ نَنَّ /nanna/ = thin hair (accusative, construct)
    /h/ هَنَّ /hanna/ = he cried
    /w/ وَنَّ /wanna/ = weakness (accusative, construct)
    /j/ يَنَّ /janna/ = yen (accusative, construct)
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Hungarian:

    bár /ba:r/ - although
    cár /t͡sa:r/ - czar
    gyár /ɟa:r/ - factory
    jár /ja:r/ - he/she goes
    kár /ka:r/ - damage
    már /ma:r/ - already
    nyár /ɲa:r/ - summer
    pár /pa:r/ - pair, couple
    sár /ʃa:r/ - mud
    szár /sa:r/ - stalk (of a plant)
    tár /ta:r/ - storehouse
    vár /va:r/ - castle
    zár /za:r/ - lock (noun or 3rd person singular verb)
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Cymraeg/Welsh

    1st attempt

    Da /da:/ 'good'
    De /de:/ 'South'
    Di /di:/ 'thy' (2nd pers. sing. echoing pronoun)
    Do /do:/ 'yes' (in the Preterite)
    Du /di:/ 'black'
    Dw /du:/ 'Am'
    Dy /də/ 'thy' (2nd pers. sing. pronoun)
    Dŷ /di:/ 'house' (+ Soft Mutation)
    Dai /dai/ 'David'
    Dau /dai/ '2 (masc.)'
    Daw /daʊ/ 'he will come' (3rd pers. sing. Present-Future)
    Dei /dəi/ 'David'
    Deu /dəi/ '2' (masc., older form, still seen in older forms of numbers such as
    deuddeg, '12' (2 + 10)
    Dew /dəʊ/ 'fat' (adj.) (+ Soft Mutation)
    Doe /dᴐi/ 'yesterday'
    Doi /dᴐi/ 'you will come' (2nd. pers. sing. Present-Future)
    Dôi /do:i/ 'she used to come' (3rd. pers. sing. Imperfect)

    Dou /dᴐi/ '2' (South Wales dialectical form of the masc. cardinal number)
    Dow /dʊ/ 'the action of towing'
    Duw /diʊ/ 'God, god'
    Dwy /dʊi/ '2' (fem.)


    Other definitions possible for some of the above.
     
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    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    You didn't actually include any minimal pairs for palatalized consonants (as you should have, because we're dealing with phonemes, not letters here), but did include abbreviations, which is a little bit unfair, I suppose. Without those (and with palatalized consonants), it would be only 15, it seems. /-or/ is definitely better.

    Russian:
    ор /or/ - shouting (derogatory)
    бор /bor/ - pine forest; boron
    вор /vor/ - thief
    гор /gor/ - of mountains
    жор /ʐor/ - eating frenzy (colloquial)
    лор /lor/ - lore (of some franchise; slangish)
    мор /mor/ - plague
    мёр /mʲor/ - was dying in numbers (imperf.pret.sg.masc.)
    нор /nor/ - of holes (in the earth)
    пор /por/ - of pores
    пёр /pʲor/ - moved stubbornly or without putting attention to anything (mostly derogatory)
    сор /sor/ - small rubbish
    тор /tor/ - torus
    тёр /tʲor/ - rubbed (imperf.pret.sg.masc.)
    фор /for/ - of head starts
    хор /xor/ - choir
    шор /ʂor/ - of blinkers

    (/-il/ could provide more pairs, but I consider it cheating, since the phonemic status of /i/ after hard consonants isn't precisely defined, and if we count /ɨ/ as a separate phoneme, the number of minimal pairs will be almost halved.)
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    Hungarian:

    bár /ba:r/ - although
    cár /t͡sa:r/ - czar
    gyár /ɟa:r/ - factory
    jár /ja:r/ - he/she goes
    kár /ka:r/ - damage
    már /ma:r/ - already
    nyár /ɲa:r/ - summer
    pár /pa:r/ - pair, couple
    sár /ʃa:r/ - mud
    szár /sa:r/ - stalk (of a plant)
    tár /ta:r/ - storehouse
    vár /va:r/ - castle
    zár /za:r/ - lock (noun or 3rd person singular verb)
    Let me try these with French:

    bar /baʁ/ - bass (fish), bar (place where you can buy and drink)
    car /kaʁ/ - coach/bus, because; also quart (quarter)
    char /ʃaʁ/ - cart, tank (military)
    dard /daʁ/ - sting (of a bee)
    far /faʁ/ - Breton cake; also fard (blusher), phare (lighthouse, headlight)
    gare /gaʁ/ - (railway) station
    jarre /ʒaʁ/ - jar
    lard /laʁ/ - fat, streaky bacon
    mare /maʁ/ - pond
    narre /naʁ/ - (I/he/she) narrate(s)
    part /paʁ/ - part, portion, (I/he/she) leave(s); also pare (I/he/she adorn(s))
    rare /ʁaʁ/ - rare
    sar /saʁ/ - sargo fish, white seabream
    tare /taʁ/ - tare weight, defect
    Var /vaʁ/ - French river & French department
    zar /zaʁ/ - demon or spirit assumed to possess individuals in Middle East cultures (borrowed from Arabic)
     
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    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Far be it from me to correct a Frenchman, but how about:

    Barre/barre, Gard, gars, marre, tsar*

    as well?

    :)

    (* Ok, I cheated here - but I'm sure you'd allow me to play it in French Scrabble™!)
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I don't think it's important to include homonyms/homophones. My Arabic list is far from exhaustive in that sense. I just chose one spelling and one meaning for each example.
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    Another one in French :

    pou (louse)
    bout (tip) boue (mud), bous / bout (forms of bouillir : to boil)
    tout (all), toux (cough)
    doux (soft)
    cou (neck)
    goût (taste)
    fou (crazy)
    vous (you), voue / voues / voient (forms of vouer : to vow)
    sou (penny), soue (pigsted)
    zoo (zoo) (in Canada only, the "good" pr. is [zoo])
    chou (cabbage)
    joue (cheek, play)
    mou (soft), moue (pout)
    nous (we), noue / noues / nouent (forms of nouer, to tie)
    gnou (gnu, wildebeast) (generally pronounced [gnu] but [ɲu] also exists)
    loue / loues / louent forms of louer (to rent) and of louer (to praise)
    roue (wheel), roux (red), roue / roues / rouent (forms of rouer : beat up)

    The seventeen consonants with the vowel
     
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