/b/ vs. an Arbitrary Set of Words

Margo's Magical Letter Page

In this experiment, I took Every 10th English monosyllable sorted alphabetically and compared them with the English monosyllables beginning with /b/. First I devised a classification for the words chosen at random. Then I separated off the Concrete Noun classes. Then I looked for similarities in the remaining classes, breaking larger classes down into smaller ones if necessary. Finally, I compared that classification scheme to the classification scheme I devised for words beginning with /b/.

I find that whenever words chosen at random are classified, they fall into a natural classification scheme that holds for English as a whole and which is not dependent on the sound. Among these natural classes there will be the concrete nouns, but also others, many of which are represented in this data: water, fire and light; sound and language; big, medium, small; beginning, middle, end; strong, weak; good, bad; crime and deception; quantities and emptiness; long, round, flat; bumps and indentations; strong, weak; smooth, fuzzy, bumpy; dirt and washing; verbs of motion (vehicular, non-vehicular), verbs of contact, verbs of destruction, verbs of creation; verbs of wiggling and turning; happy, sad, angry, irritated; give, get; boundaries, containers, groups, impediments; etc..

If the words being classifyied also have some phonological trait in common, then they will still fit into these same classes, but the classification will differ in (among others) these two ways:

1. Words that sound similar will fit into a narrower class of meanings than the meanings covered by all of English. For example, the language as a whole will have many words for people, and /b/ also has many words for people. But the people which begin with /b/ are confined to a subset of people. There are no priests or prudes in /b/, though there are many in /p/. /b/ people are outrageous, sexy, bad and beautiful. There are also many children and many groups of people in /b/. People in /p/ go into the priesthood, are prudish or work in professions which give them authority and control over others. In this classification scheme, I have tried to indicate in one or two words what semantic trait distinguishes the words in that class beginning with /b/.

2. The sound-meaning makes words that have some sound or sounds in common distribute unevenly among the basic English classes. In the table below, some classes were marked to indicate which sounds appeared there most frequently. For example, a disproportionately large number of the verbs of physical contact start with /b/. One can get an approximate picture of how the semantics of words containing /b/ is biassed by looking at the variations in distribution between the words in the classification scheme. In many cases, very few or no words beginning with /b/ appear in certain classes which are quite common in the language otherwise. Instead, words beginning with /b/ fall in other classes which are similar. Examples are slowness (from the randomly selected words) vs. interference and blockage (in words starting with /b/), ability and possibility (random) vs. the future (/b/), middles and endings (random) vs. beginnings (/b/), negativity and loss (random) vs. emptiness and blindness (/b/), weak (random) vs. blocked (/b/), touch (random) vs. beat (/b/), cut or chafe (random) vs. break (/b/), frills and froth (random) vs. brushy (/br/), take and receive (random) vs. bind and fasten (/b/), areas (random) vs. boundaries (/b/), etc..

In addition to these disproportions in the natural classes, each sound will deliver to the word within a given natural class a specific element of meaning. For example, of the /b/ words of physical contact, essentially all are violent (bat, beat, bash, bonk,...). And unlike their counterparts starting with /p/ (prick, pike, pin, poke,...), they rarely pierce the surface.

Non-Concrete Classes
Random : - [+liquid], /s/: drip, drown, floe, froth, hoar, ice, moor, plunge, rinse, souse, sprite, sump
B-Words : bail, bath, bathe, bay, beck, bed, bleed, bloat, blood, blot, blotch, blue, bob, bog, boil, branch, breach, break, brew, brine, brook, broth
Random : - /l/: clear, glow, light, pale, spark
B-Words - /l/, /r/ (Bright): bask, beam, blanch, blank, blaze, bleach, blink, blip, blitz, blond, blush, bold, bolt, brand, braze, bright, bulb, burn
Random : - /k/: bake, spark
B-Words - /r/ (Hot): bake, blaze, boil, bolt, braise, brand, brew, broil, broth, burn

Random : - /b/, /g/, V/t/: bank, bill, bit, bourse, dime, gelt, gift, thrift
B-Words : bail, bank, bar, bear, bet, bill, bit, bleed, blow, bob, bond, bourse, brass, bread, bribe, buck, bull, bunch, buy
Random : bloc, brood, caste, copse, group, list, race, squad, tribe, zoo
B-Words : bale, band, bank, bar, batch, bed, bench, bloc, block, blood, board, bond, book, brace, branch, brand, breed, brood, bunch, bund
Random - /t/: bit, dot, much, thick, ton
B-Words (Large): bank, beaut, best, big, bis, blow, boon, boot, both, brisk, broad, bulk
Random - V/l/: realm, weal
B-Words : bank, bar, beach, belt, blank, bluff, bound, break, breath, brim, brink, brow, brunt
Random - /t/: girt, lest, neat, terse, vise
B-Words : balk, ban, band, bank, bar, barb, bate, bay, bib, bit, bitch, blind, block, bluff, bog, boom, boot, brake, brig, bund, bung
B-Words : bag, ban, bar, bate, bench, bend, bilk, bind, blank, blind, block, blot, bluff, blunt, blur, bog, bolt, boss, bounce, bout, brake, breach, break, brook, brush, buck, buff, bug, bump, butt
B-Words : bait, balk, bate, bear, bend, bide, bilk, brace, brake, break, brew, brook, buck

Random : ask, beg, pry, pump
B-Words : beck, beg, bend, bid, bill, boon, boss, bribe, bum
Random : chow, snack
Random - [+labial]: bet, bill, nab, pinch, rake, tax, theft, thrift, trap
B-Words : band, bar, baste, belt, bind, blend, bolt, bond, bound, bow, brace, braid, braze, bridge, bunch, bund

Random - [+labial]: bulge, dune, heap, lobe, nub, paunch, rough
B-Words : bag, bale, ball, bay, bead, belch, bell, bilge, blimp, blip, bloat, blob, blouse, blow, boil, boll, boob, breast, bud, bug(eye), bulb, bulge, bum, bump, bunch, bun/s, burl, burst, bust, butt, butte
Random : cline, cock, prone, sheer, step, stoop, swoon
B-Words : ball, bank, bath, bathe, beach, bilge, birl, blimp, bloat, boat, bob, boil, bounce, bound, breach, breeze, buck, bulge, bump
Random : flue, knife, oar, peg, pole, rake, saw, screw, shot, strand, thorn, trunk
B-Words (Sticks, Building Materials): balk, bar, bat, bead, beam, birch, birl, blade, bloom, board, bone, boom, bough, brace, branch
Foamy, Frilly

Random - [+fricative]: frill, froth, shag
B-Words (Brushy): bang, barb, beard, bosk, braid, brake, branch, broom, brow, browse, brush, bur, burr, bush

Random - /b/, /p/, /k/: bash, beat, bonk, bop, dab, kiss, pinch, pry, pump, screw, shot, smite, sock, zonk
B-Words (Violent): barge, bash, baste, bat, bate, bean, beat, belt, biff, bite, blitz, blow, bob, bolt, bomb, bonk, boot, bop, bounce, bout, box, brain, brawl, broil, bruise, brush, buck, budge, buff, bump, bung, bunt, bust, butt
Random - V/r/: char, knife, lathe, pare, saw, scar
B-Words : barge, bark, bite, blot, blow, bob, bore, brain, brake, branch, breach, break, bruise, bum, burn, bust
Random - /p/: file, pitch, pour, send, shot, slough, spit, spout
B-Words : barf, bam, bang, bash, belch, blast, blow, blurt, boil, bolt, bomb, boom, burp, burst, bust
B-Words : belch, blast, bloat, blow, breath, breathe, breeze, burp, burst, bust
Random - /s/, /t/: bet, rent, spend, splurge, swap, tithe
Random - /f/, /r/, /w/: braid, fan, flail, flex, stoop, swerve, swoon, torque, twirl, wag, wrench
B-Words (Bend): bend, bight, bow
Random [+liquid]: go, haul, plod, plunge, race, romp, schlep, scull, slip, step
B-Words : back(off), bail(out), beat(it), blast(off), blow, board, bolt, book, boot, bounce, bow(out), break, brief, brush(off), buck, bus, butt(out), bye

Random - [+sonorant]: crud, gaum, murk, scrag, slough, snot, soot, sump
B-Words : blot, blotch
Random : glitch, goof, jam, slip
B-Words : balk, bilge, blot, blotch, blow, botch, bounce, bug, bull, bum, bunk, burn
B-Words : bad, bale, bane, base, black, bode
Random - /w/: bawl, drawn, fray, lorn, wan, weep
B-Words (Sad): bawl, bear, blah, bleak, blear, blue, bum, bust
Random - /r/: irk, rough
B-Words : ban, barb, barge, bile, bitch, bite, black, blame, blast, blaze, blight, blitz, blot, blow, boil, bore, brand, brew, broil, bug, burn, bust, butt
Random : ape, bluff, con, feint, hex, screw, shark, sleight, sly
B-Words : bait, bilk, bluff, breach, bribe
Random - /w/: who, why
Random - /l/: glitch, haul, lag, lapse, list, long, plod, schlep
Random : shirk, shy, strand
Random - /n/: nix, nope
B-Words : back, bail, bald, bare, bilge, blab, black, blah, blanch, bland, blank, bleach, bleak, blear, blind, blink, blip, blob, block, blot, bluff, blur, bore, bosh, bounce, break, broke, bull, bum, bunk, bush, bust, bye

Random - /b/, /p/: bawl, beg, bill, bode, mot, pitch, preach, squib, weep, yawp
B-Words (Loud, Effusive): bah, barb, bark, bash, baste, bat, beard, beck, beef, beg, bend, bet, bid, bilge, bill, bis, bitch, blab, blame, bless, blot, blow, bluff, blunt, blurb, blurt, boast, bode, bolt, book, bore, bosh, boost, boss, bounce, bout, brag, brand, bull, bunk, butt, buzz
B-Words : bad, bah, bam, bang, bash, blah, blast, blaze/s, boo, boom, bosh, boy, bud, bull, bye
Random - [+liquid]: bawl, blare, clang, cluck, grunt, hark, horn, peal, roar, taps, ti, tune, tweet
B-Words (Loud, Sudden): baa, bam, bang, bark, bawl, bay, beep, belch, bell, birr, blare, blast, bleat, bleep, blow, bomb, bong, boo, boom, brawl, bray, burp, burr, buzz

Beginning, Preparation
Random - [+labial], /r/: babe, brim, dawn, draft, prime, prone, spark, verge
B-Words (Beginning): babe, bairn, bang, base, bear, birth, bloom, blow(peach), board, boost, boot, boy, break, breed, bride, bring, brink, broach, brood, bud, bulb, bur, burst
Random - V/nd/: breech, found, fund, hind
B-Words (Base, Carries Weight): back, bank, base, bed, bench, block, boost, brunt, bulk
B-Words : back, bag, barge, bear, bike, boost, box, bra, brace, bridge, bring, brook, brunt, bulk, bus
Random - /p/, /l/: ledge, plaque, porch, slate, step
Random : gap, half, midst
Random : close, old, taps
Future (see Departure above)
B-Words : bait, bank, bate, beck, bent, bet, bid, bide, bill, bode, bond, bound, brace, brew, bribe, bring, brink, brood

Random V[d,t]: could, craft, sleight, would
Random : luck, may, ought
Strong, Courageous
Random - /r/: brave, brusque, cheek, deed, firm, flex, lead, prime, race, screw, shot, staid, starch, strict, strong, torque, vise, win, wrench
B-Words (Outgoing): bad, ball/s, bawd, beef, bold, brash, brass, brave, brawn, breast, brute
Random - [+fricative]: lush, rife, sheer, teem, thick
B-Words : bake, bask, baste, bathe, beam, binge, bliss, brew, brim, buff
B-Words : beef, best, blast, bloat, bloom, blow, boom, boost, breed, bud, build, bulge, bulk, bull, bush
Random - [+labial]: crave, fad, flaunt, rash, suave, urge, whim, wish, woo

Random : air, mend, quark, sky, snide, stint, toy, troth, west, yep, yon, yum

Concrete Nouns

Random : babe, bloc, brave, brood, butch, chief, dude, fan, faun, foe, fop, hunk, jerk, jock, Jove, kid, kook, mime, pet, shark, sire, snot, sprite, squad, tribe
B-Words (Big, Loud, Beautiful, Sexy): babe, bach, back, bag, bail, bairn, band, bar, bard, bass, bat, batch, bawd, bean, bear, beast, beau, belle, bench, bird, bitch, blab, black, blade, blight, blimp, bloc, block, bloke, blonde, blood, blue, bluff, bond, bone/s, boob, boor, bore, boss, both, boy, brag, brain, brat, brave, brick, bride, broad, brood, bruise/r, brute, bub, buck, bud, bug, bull, bum, bunch, bund, butch, butt
Body Parts
Random : cheek, heel, heme, hind, horn, paunch, pus, sac, snot, trunk
B-Words (Bulging, Supportive): ball/s, back, bang, beak, bean, beard, bill, blood, boob, bone, braid, brain, breast, breech, brow, bum, bun, bust, butt
Random : breech/es, cape, fez, sock
B-Words (Baggy, Underwear): blouse, breech/es, bib, boot, bra, brief
Ornaments: badge, bag, bead, bell, belt, boa, bob, boss, bow, braid, branch, brass, bronze, brooch, burl
: ape, cock, dog, eel, kid, mite, pet, shark, thrush, whelp
B-Words (Large): barb, bass, bat, beast, bear, bee, beef, bird, bitch, boa, boar, boss, bruin, brute, buck, bug, bull
Random : kale, sedge
B-Words (Brushy): balm, bay, bean, beet, bosk, brake, briar, brush, bush
Plant Parts
Random : bur, thorn, trunk
B-Words (Bulbs, Protective): barb, bark, boll, bough, branch, bud, bulb, bur, burl, burr
Random : crepe, curd, dish, grits, jam, kale, malt, pie, quiche, rum, scone, snack, starch, steak, wurst
B-Words (Grain, Liquid): bass, bay, bean, beef, beer, blintz, booze, borscht, bran, bread, broth, brut, bun
Random : cage, crock, crypt, desk, dish, glass, gulch, sac, sock, trap, trunk, vase
B-Words : bag, bilge, bin, boot, bowl, box
Random : gym, home, mart, shrine
B-Words (Protection, Storage): bank, bar, barn, bin, bode, booth, burg
Random : skiff
B-Words (Large): barge, bike, blimp, boat, brig, bus
Random: desk
B-Words (Crude): bank, bar, bed, bench, berth, bier, board, bunk, bus
: mace, salve, silk, starch, talc
B-Words (Hard): bead, bone, brass, bronze
Random : gray, hue, pale
B-Words (Dark or White (/l/)): bark, bay, beech, beige, black, blanch, blank, blaze, bleach, blond, blue, bole, bronze, brown, bruise, buff
Random : eon, next, pace, step, time, was
Random : blight, chafe, gag, mold, rash, scar
B-Words (Abrasion, Stomach): barf, bend/s, bleed, blight, boil, bruise, burn
Random : dyne, gram, ton
B-Words (Computer): baud, bit, byte