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A phoneme of a language can be determined by a minimally phonologically distinctive pair of words which establishes a minimal and distinctive linguistic sound - these two words, distinctive only that one feature, is known as a minimal pair. The selection of words is taken from among the acoustically distinguishable sounds in a language, known as the phones1 of the language. A phoneme is the minimal distinctive linguistic sound.found for all environments.

An example taken from English:
bat:pat is a minimal pair for the phonemes /b/:/p/
bat:bad is a minimal pair for the phonemes /d/ : /t/

In many cases the minimal pair is orthographically distinguishable, as in the examples above. However, in some cases, like the voiced and unvoiced occlusives, represented by the letters "th," the phonemic character can be distinguished only by a minimal pair.
thigh:thy (voiced:unvoiced)
either(Amer. pronunciation):ether (voiced:unvoiced)
___________
1 = a speech sound considered as a physical event without regard to its place in the sound system of a language

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