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I want to say "it's different enough to make a difference," but I'm struggling a bit to get there. Partly because the two uses of "different" in this sentence are doing two different jobs. The first one refers to the relative difference between two things being compared, the second one refers to an absolute amount of difference that would be appreciated by anyone looking at the given situation.

So, for example, I might want to say "the pronunciation of bun and ban are different enough to make a difference." Here I'm saying that the relative difference between the way the two words are said is small, especially to Japanese who pronounce both as バン. However, the absolute difference is significant in that they mean completely different things.

The key concept is that there is a threshold of difference, "just enough", that has been achieved which causes the significance to just barely pass over from something that doesn't matter to something that does.

How would I say this in Japanese? Here are my (probably wrong) guesses:



(I'm not sure if there should be a in there after 発音{はつおん}, so I'm trying it both ways.)

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I'm a bit confused. The two uses of "different" compare different things. The first one compares the pronunciation of the two English words, the second one compares "differentiating the two words" and "not differentiating them". –  dainichi Feb 24 '12 at 5:58
In phonetics, what you're describing -- "the difference which makes a difference" -- is referred to as a phoneme. A pair of words which differ only in one phoneme (e.g. 'bun' and 'ban') are known as a minimal pair. I know it may seem counterproductive to explain the concept by invoking a more technical concept, but the Japanese wp page on 'phoneme' may give you hints on how to express it: ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%9F%B3%E7%B4%A0 –  jogloran Feb 24 '12 at 6:14
Why not saying it the other way around ? ブンとバンの発音が似てても同じだとは言えない –  oldergod Feb 24 '12 at 6:22
@dainichi: Fair question. Yes, in one sense they point to two different things, pronunciation and meaning. However, from the point of view of casual conversation, the the difference in meaning comes from the difference in pronunciation, so they are conceptually linked. –  Dave M G Feb 24 '12 at 7:00
@jogloran: Thanks for that explanation, but the question is not about how to explain the difference in pronunciation, it's about how to express "different enough to make a difference." –  Dave M G Feb 24 '12 at 7:11

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted
"The pronunciation of bun and ban are different enough to make a difference."

If you said this to me, I would say "make a difference in what?". Maybe you are trying to say:

"The pronunciation of bun and ban are different enough that I can hear the difference."

I'll make two example sentences:


The first (①) expresses the "relative difference" and I think it what you are looking for. However, I think it still would be strange because you are implying that "everyone should be able to hear the difference", whereas I think you want to say that "I can hear the difference" which would be sentence ②.

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This may not directly answer your question. But there exists this concept of least perceptible difference which is the smallest detectable difference between two "levels" of a particular sensory stimulus. The corresponding term in Japanese is 最小可知差異.

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If I could try to reword that into layman's terms "It's the smallest difference that is different enough to actually be considered 'different'". It sounds kind of silly to say but I think it conveys the meaning you were trying to describe :) –  silvermaple Mar 8 '12 at 1:59
upvoted for extreme agglutinative technical terminology, one of the best features of Japanese :) –  Trevor Alexander Jan 3 at 22:15

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