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  1. Gareth Gaskell,
  2. Jakke Tamminen

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0680

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Gaskell, G. and Tamminen, J. 2010. Phonemes. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–3.

Author Information

  1. University of York, United Kingdom

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Linguistic analyses have traditionally represented the form of speech in terms of phonemes. The word cat, for instance, can be represented by a sequence of three phonemes: /k/, /æ/, and /t/. Changes in the phonemic construction of a word result in different words or nonsense words. For example, reordering the phonemes in cat produces other words, such as act (/ækt/) and tack (/tæk/), whereas replacing the /k/ with a /p/ results in a new word, pat. Words like cat and pat that differ on the identity of a single phoneme are referred to as minimal pairs and provide a useful source of evidence for defining the phonemic inventory of a language. In an alphabetic language such as English, the phonemic nature of speech is made explicit by the close correspondence between letters and the phonemes they represent. Logographic languages (e.g., Chinese) do not share this correspondence; instead, characters are used to represent whole words.


  • psycholinguistics;
  • phonology;
  • speech recognition;
  • speech production