What is functional load?

 
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Definition
 

Functional load is the amount of work a phoneme does to distinguish one language utterance (usually a word) from another.

Discussion
 

If many common words are distinguished on the basis of a given phonological element (phoneme, stress, or tone), that element has a high functional load.

 

If only a few words or word pairs in a language contrast for the element in question, that element has a low functional load.

Example
 

In English, a small number of word pairs contrast for stress ('convert and con'vert), so stress has a low functional load.


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