Comparison of Similar Classes in Various Consonants

Margo's Magical Letter Page

copyright 1998
by Margaret Magnus
all rights reserved

One part of the experiment to test whether sound affects meaning in words is to show that all the words containing a given consonant have some fairly narrow element of meaning in common. The other side of that test is to show that other words not containing that consonant do not share in that element of meaning. You can do this by trying to fit words that contain a given consonant (for example, D) into the classes created for another consonant (for example, B). If words containing D do not fit nearly as well into the classes designed for B, then you have evidence that sound affects meaning. On this page, I'm going to compare some similar phonesthemes (sound-meaning classes) in /b/ and /d/ to see if the distinction between them becomes apparent. Let me begin by pointing out some major classes in which such a comparison is impossible, because one of the consonants is contained in few or no words having meanings which are very common for words containing the other consonant:

Major /b/ Classes Barely Represented in /d/
Semantic Class  Word Count Percentage All Similar /d/ Words
talk  131  23%  drawl, drill, drivel, drone
block  76 13%   dam, deck, dike
big   53 9%   deep, double, dough($), droves
containers 44 8% dish, drawer
bump   32  6%  dome, dune
bulging   30  5%  dome
bright  29  5%  
 carry  26  4%  donkey
explode   18  3%  

Major /d/ Classes Barely Represented in /b/
Semantic Class  Word Count Percentage All Similar /b/ Words
down (literal only)  59  20%  bilge, boot, bottom, burden, burrow, bury
diminish  31 10%   bland, blasé, blind, blunt, blur, brook
dawdle   14 5%   bum (around)
drive 13 5% boost
drag   10  3%  

You can see some patterns in the exceptions as well. The few talking verbs that there are in /d/ begin with /dr/. /r/ is a very rambunctious phoneme. Of the few downward words that exist in /b/, half begin with /bur/. /b/ and /d/ are very similar phonemes, differing only in their feature table by where the voiced stop is pronounced in the mouth. From the classes just mentioned, it seems that what differences you do find are consistent with their differences in pronunciation. The classes where /b/ has many words and /d/ few involve bulging, containers, exploding, etc. Conversely, the classes where /d/ has many and /b/ few involve the closure of the mouth - downwardness, diminishing, etc. You can see also that the two phonemes have different approaches to various uncomfortable situations. For example, where /d/ diminishes or delays, /b/ blocks. Where /d/ drives or drags, /b/ hits.

Let me now compare words in a few classes for which /b/ and /d/ do have similarities:


The interference in /b/ and /d/ is different. In /b/ it tends to be a blockage out in front, and in /d/ a dampening or diminishing of an ongoing process. The exceptional /b/ words which dampen or diminish rather than block are in bold as are the exceptional /d/ words which block rather than diminish:

badger, baffle, balk, bamboozle, ban, band, bank, bar, barricade, barrier, basset, bastion, belt, bend, bib, bilk, bind, bit, blind, block, blot, bluff, blunt, blur, boggle, bolt, bombast, border, boss, bother, bottle, bounce, bound, boycott, brake, breach, break, bridle, brook, buck, buffalo, buffer, buffet, bug, bull, bully, bulwark, bump, bumper, bundle, bung, butt, buttress

dam, damp, dark, darkle, darn, daunt, dazzle, dead(en), deaf, deck, delta, dense, diet, dike, dim, dingy, dolce, doubt, douse, down, drab, draft, drag, drain, draw, drown, dub, dud, dull, dumb, dusk, dwarf, dwindle


The negotiations in /b/ involve argument, but in /d/ they involve divvying up:

· bandy, bargain, barter, battle, bet, bicker, bludgeon, bout, bribe, budget
· deal, deed, deem, deign, dibs, dicker, dish(out), divvy, dole, dose, dowry, draw


Where /b/ has some 'types' beginning in /br/, /d/ has dosages:

· brace, bracket, branch, brand, breed
· dash, deal, dish, dose, draft, dram, draw, drench, drop


Where /b/ has a biassed two, /d/ has a duplication in which both parts are equal:

· back, better, bi-, bias, bis, bonus, both, but, by, bye
· deuce, ditto, double, draw, duel, duet, dukes, dummy, duo, duple


The women are usually but not always more refined in /d/ then /b/:

· babe, baby, bag, bat, bawd, beauty, beldam, belle, bird, bitch, blimp, blonde, bride, broad, brunette, bunny, butch
· dame, damsel, daughter, dike, dish, diva, dog, doll, dona, donna, dove, dowager, doxy, drab

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