Word pairs whose sound structures are identical except one minimal difference, a single sound segment that occurs in the same place in the string
- The substitution of one for the other makes a different word, e.g. crick and creek (all the possible variations - crick, creek, crook, croak, crake, crack and crock constitute a minimal set).
-They are used to demonstrate that two phones constitute two separate phonemes in the language.
-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.
Two sounds occur in the same environment doesn�t change the meaning and they can�t be in minimal pairs because they are allophones not phoneme.
Free variation vs. complementary distribution:
- Complementary distribution: allophonic variation dependent on the phonetic environment the phoneme occurs in e.g. [ɫ] vs. [l] in English
�� - Free variation: allophonic variation independent of the phonetic environment the phoneme occurs in; random interchangeability.
- Example of free variation of a consonantal phoneme:
- Realization of word-initial th (as in then, this, there) as either [�] or [d] (possibly due to reasons of unawareness or indifference of choice)
- [�] and [d]: free variants (freely fluctuating allophones) of the phoneme; unconditioned by their phonetic environment.