I'm looking for a way to identify words (single or in a sequence) that are audibly confusable (but not the same). So I'm looking for what could be described as "near heterographs"?
If it helps, think of cases when words have to be spelt out using a phonetic alphabet to avoid confusion. Those are the types of words/sequences I'm trying to identify.

I thought of using the IPA symbols, but I have no idea which ones sound similar (and I think that accent/dialect may influence it to a degree as well).


Single words : (Mints / Mince)
* Several plants of a particular species (or several flavoured sweets)
* A term used to describe meat that has been ground (at least in the UK, "beef mince").

Single word and Sequence of words (or multi-word expression) :
(Example / Egg sample)
* An instance or display
* A portion of an egg for testing

Sequence of words (or multi-word expression) :
(Frog spawn / Frogs pawn / Frogs porn)
* Something that occurs after frogs have had intercourse
* A piece on the chess board when playing against a frog
* A type of film/photography showing frogs having intercourse

I've searched and read and seen minimal-pairs. But not all of them sound "similar". Words/phrases that rhyme seem to come up a fair bit, but not all rhyming words suit either. There seems to be some relation to puns and malapropisms as well.

I've seen this LSE Q&A, Which IPA sounds are similar?, and the linked to Confusion Matrices - but admit to not quite grasping it.
I have also found this, http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/wordscape/wordlist/minimal.html by John Higgins. But as with the confusion matrices, I'm not sure I'm quite grasping it (though if you click on numbers, it takes you to text files with lots of examples, and many seem to be what I'm after).

So, is there a sub-set of Minimal pairs, or a particular label for certain rhyming words that would help me?
Is there a list of phones/phonemes that indicates similarity?
Is there even a word/phrase that applies to such a description/concept?

Thank you for your time and any help you may give.

  • I assume you mean in British English -- for me, "frogs porn" is ungrammatical, and "porn" doesn't rhyme with "spawn". "Mince" and "mints" are identical. Words like "rate" and "rake" are often confusable, depending on room acoustics, likewise "knees" and "these" -- except context usually disambiguates which word was intended. What standard for confusability do you have in mind?
    – user6726
    Jan 16, 2016 at 20:03
  • To me, you’re describing ‘phonological neighbors’, though this is often used to describe single words only. Neighbors as a concept are similar to minimal pairs as a concept; the most basic neighbor definition is ‘differs from the other word by exactly one phoneme’. More gradient/nuanced definitions are possible. So, are you asking for the neighorhood of every possible 2-word unit in a language? That’s pretty big. Jan 16, 2016 at 20:37
  • You may look at this question on "Aguish Laguish" and its answers: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/14419/… Jan 16, 2016 at 21:13
  • @user6726 : No - just English in general (as I said, I am aware that Accent and Dialect will impact things). Non-plural of "mints" is "mint", and has a phon of /mInt/. The plural would be /mInts/. "mince" has a phone of /mIns/ (the difference is the "t" (according to Cambridge). Jan 16, 2016 at 21:35
  • 1
    @oftenfrustrated those are also known as oronyms*linguistlist.org/issues/6/6-1488.html But like I said above, the most common term is near-homophony.
    – Alex B.
    Jan 18, 2016 at 0:26


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.