Differentiating consonants with same location and manner of articulation

In the articulation of bilabial plosives, 4 phones are defined by the characteristics voiced/unvoiced and aspirated/unaspirated: [p], [pʰ], [b] and [bʱ]. In different languages only some of these may occur and the number of phonemes formed may be different again.

Pattern Language(s) Explanation
English Phones [p] as in "spin" and [pʰ] as in "pin" both occur, but are allophones of the phoneme /p/ and no minimal pair can be found to distinguish them, but the word "bin" shows that the phone [b] forms a phoneme /b/ separate from /p/.
Mandarin Only phones (and phonemes) [p] and [pʰ] occur. In the Pinyin transcription /pʰ/ is written "p" and /p/ is written "b" (using the two available Latin letters for the two phonemes).
French/Portuguese In romance languages and other European languages only phones (and phonemes) [p] and [b] occur.


  1. III. Manner of noise production and the type of obstruction
  2. In both examples the sounds differ in articulations, but in the second case the sounds have functionally no significance.

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