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Covert Contrast

A covert contrast occurs when a speaker differentiates two speech sounds in a way that is not perceptible to the average listener but is reliably discriminable by acoustic or articulatory analysis. This can be compared with an overt contrast, in which the difference between two speech sounds is sufficiently perceptible that the sounds can be used to signal two different words (e.g., in pat and bat, [p] and [b] contrast). Covert contrasts are often the result of the incomplete neutralization of an overt contrast; the overt contrast between two sounds is eliminated, but some trace of that contrast remains.

For example, a child learning English might neutralize the voicing contrast such that the words pat and bat are perceptually identical. However, the same child may produce ...

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