Any of the perceptually distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another, for example p, b, d, and t in the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat.
- ‘They can distinguish between any two sounds which represent distinct phonemes in any of the world's languages.’
- ‘Whereas the five classic vowel letters match the five vowel phonemes of a language like Spanish, they are insufficient to distinguish the much larger number of vowel phonemes of English.’
- ‘He was able to complete items requiring deletion of syllables and initial phonemes but had difficulty with items requiring deletion of final phonemes or phonemes within a word.’
- ‘For example, a vowel phoneme cannot exist without a pitch, but pitch may exist as a dimension without any linguistic properties.’
- ‘The English language is an alphabetic system, meaning that our written symbols correspond to the separate sounds, or phonemes, in spoken language.’
Late 19th century from French phonème, from Greek phōnēma ‘sound, speech’, from phōnein ‘speak’.