Babbling B

Published 28th March 2011
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Working our way through the English alphabet, you may notice that B sounds very different to A. Whilst A requires almost no oral acrobatics, B demands the speaker to engage the vocal cords, meet the lips and stop the airflow through their nose. Despite all this movement, B is relatively easy to say and is one of the first letters spoken by infants (thus the onomatopoeic word babbling). However, some languages have additional sounds to English or other Western languages, which must be formed using other methods. Our linguists have expert knowledge of both of their working languages, and as such provide superior translation and, especially important in this case, interpreting services.

So what’s the difference between consonants and vowels? Consonant, derived from the Latin consonans, means ‘sounding along with’. Unlike vowels, which can be pronounced on their own, consonants need a vowel sound before or after to be sounded. Not all consonants in the English alphabet fit this rule (such as J or F) but it holds as a general rule. In other languages, sounds are used in different ways. In Korean, for example, the English consonant sound /θ/, as in the, thirty and clothes does not exist. Knowledge like this is essential for linguists, especially when providing interpreting services.

B and M:
B and M are both voiced bilabials, in that they are produced with both lips and a vibration of the vocal cords. The distinction between them is that to produce M you must create an airflow through the nose, but for B this airflow must be blocked. Next time you have the flu, try saying “my mummy misses me” – with your nasal passage blocked, you will actually be saying “by bubby bisses be”.

B and P
B and P are both bilabial stops, meaning they are produced with both lips and by a small pocket of air being momentarily held in my mouth and then released. The only difference between these two sounds is that P is unvoiced (no vibration of the vocal cords).

B and V
In many Indo-European languages, such as Greek or Spanish, B is pronounced as a V. Many Latin words containing B saw a change to V during the vernacularisation of Romance languages to French, Spanish, Portuguese etc (such as tabernatavern, caballus chivalry). These differences in pronunciation between languages of words with identical spelling is just one of the myriad of linguistic aspects that linguists, interpreters in particular, must be familiar with in order to produce top quality translation of interpreting services.

Do you have anything to add to our profile on beguiling B? Let us know!

For more information about how the alphabet shapes our everyday language, please visit our interpreting services page.

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