Yep, you read that right. Maximal pairs. And no, I didn’t really mean to say minimal pairs, but they are very similar. For those who don’t know, minimal pairs are word pairs that differ by only one phoneme (sound). For example, “bee” and “beach” are a minimal pair because the only phonetic difference between the two words is the added “ch” sound in the word “beach.” SLPs use minimal pairs all the time when working with students with phonological and articulation disorders. Minimal pairs can be very affective in helping children hear their own errors, and can help them understand that sound errors affect the meaning of what they say.
So, what is a maximal pair? Maximal pairs are simply minimal pairs with a twist. Maximal pairs are word pairs that still differ only by one phoneme, but the phonemes in maximal pairs are maximally different (go figure). In other words, the phonemes are as different from each other as possible. Ideally, the phonemes will differ in place, manner, and voicing, and whether or not they are obstruents (stops, fricatives, and affricates) or sonorants (nasals, liquids, and glides). For example, “mall” and “call” are maximal pairs because the differing phonemes (m and k) are maximally different. /M/ is a bilabial voiced nasal, and /k/ is a velar voiceless stop.
So, why do we care about maximal vs. minimal pairs? Well, research done by Judith Gierut has shown that children with moderate to severe speech sound disorders make better and faster progress when using maximal pairs as opposed to minimal pairs. Further, her research suggests that rather than using pairs where one word is the child’s error word, and the other is the target word, both words should be error words and should be maximally different. Kinda feels a little backwards, doesn’t it? But her claim is backed up by some pretty extensive research, and it’s pretty intriguing stuff. If your interested in learning more, I recommend watching the “Rethinking Your Approach for Young Children with Phonological Disorders: Part 1 and 2” at SpeechPathology.com. Never heard of SpeechPathology.com? Check out my post about it here.
Have I convinced you yet? If so, check out Speech-Language-Therapy.com. It’s a great website full of tons of FREE resources, including several pages of minimal and maximal pairs for nearly every sound combination. Check it out, it’s awesome!
Until next time,