Contrastive Phonemes


Contrastive phonemes refers to the different phonemes which will create a difference in word meaning if they are replaced with each other, providing evidence for minimal pairs (Zsiga, 2013, p. 204). For example, in English, the words “fan” and “van” differ by only one phoneme (sound), /f/ and /v/ respectively; this provides evidence that /f/ and /v/ are contrastive phonemes in English.

Sounds which are contrastive are said to be members of different phonemes, and their distribution is unpredictable (Zsiga, 2013, p. 204). Sounds which are contrastive in one language may not be contrastive in a different language.



The words /háy/ and /q’áy/ differ only by one sound: [h] and [q’] (Suttles, 2009, p. 10). This is evidence that [h] and [q’] are contrastive phonemes; they can appear in the same phonological environments but create different lexical meaning.