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#207712 - 10/20/12 12:43 AM reinerD  
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Reiner Offline
Reiner  Offline

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Consider the many monosyllabic words in the American English language. Such a word is short, consisting of a beginning, usually a hard consonant, and ending with a suffix. Thus the list of words beginnings starts alphabetically with b, bl, br, … k, kn, … and ends with wh, wr, y, and z. A more or less complete list might have 54 such letters and letter combinations. This list includes the absence of any hard consonant since some suffixes are words standing alone. Examples are: ale, oil, owl, use, among many others. The list of suffixes that make words with the consonants is very long. One might design a spread sheet to list the possibilities. One attempt yields over 350 suffixes that can be made into at least two words. The resulting matrix has about 18,500 cells of which about 3300 have legitimate words. Thus about 18% of the possible combinations are legitimate English words. About one third of the suffixes are valid words without any consonant. The words counted in the matrix do not include words that may be regarded as legal for tile letter/word games when they are rarely in use or lack a definition.
The list of suffixes might start with ab, able, ache, and goes on to y and ye after about 350 entries. This list, as the list of consonants, is subject to some argument but some interesting conclusions may be reached about the way we invent and use words. The first look is for the word beginnings most often used. They are b (158), p (141), h, l, m, r (about 130 each), and d, s, t (118). The numbers in parentheses reflect the number of times the words come up within the list of 354. Multiple letters starting words are less common than these nine word starters. It is quite astounding that the letter b is used for almost half of the possibilities. b’s harder cousin p is also a favorite. Least common are word starts shr, squ, spl, spr, tw, wr with which fewer than 20 words are made using the 354 suffixes. For the complete list of words starts, the average number of words is 61, consistent with the 18% cited earlier.
A look at the suffixes is also interesting. The number of letters in the suffix varies from one to as many as five as in aunch, eight and ought. Suffixes with common pronunciation are separated by their spelling so that suffixes such as ail and ale are unique. A suffix is used in the list if the number of words that can be found is at least 2, the average number is just under 10. The most common suffixes are: ack, ad, ag, ain, ake, am, ank, ank, ap, ash, at, ay, ear, ew, ick, ill, in, ip, it, ock, ot, and ow. These suffixes join more than 20 of the 54 consonant possibilities into real English words. The clear winner in its heaviest use is ay at 31 times. Thus it would appear that the most probable monosyllabic word to be guessed by someone who knows no English might be bay! What is not so clear because the suffixes are laid out alphabetically (rather than phonetically) is that we have so many ways to make the same sound. The linguistic might differentiate between the sounds for oal, ole, and oul. Your whoal gole is to enjoy a nice filet of soul, perhaps? A little more apparent is that we pronounce words in so many ways: consider shall and gall, or squash and cash, or bread and bead or is it bred and bed? Lastly, we note that the words banned from the public airways and polite society do show up as they must by their short nature.
Over the time this matrix was developed, additions always came up as newspapers and books were read. Within reason, this table seems pretty much complete and any conclusions reached are likely valid. So, what use was this exercise? Just that it may be interesting for someone who loves language. Someone should try this in French, Spanish, or German to see if any parallels are worth noting. My hunch is that English wins any comparison of its monosyllabic words.

#207713 - 10/20/12 04:46 AM Re: reinerD [Re: Reiner]  
Joined: Jun 2000
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Avy Offline
old hand
Avy  Offline
old hand

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** nice post and welcome.

Last edited by Avy; 10/20/12 07:36 AM.
#207716 - 10/20/12 08:49 AM Re: reinerD [Re: Avy]  
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Candy Offline
Candy  Offline

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down under
Yes...I worked my way through it to Avy.

#207720 - 10/20/12 12:02 PM Re: reinerD [Re: Reiner]  
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zmjezhd Offline
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zmjezhd  Offline
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First, welcome, Reiner.

A couple of observations:

Consider the many monosyllabic words in the American English language.

This should hold true for British English as well as the Australian, etc. varieties.

I'd say that any comparison would leave out English's idiosyncratic spelling system and use a phonemic transcription.

A look at the suffixes is also interesting.

This is not what I think of when I read the word suffix. A suffix is an affix (i.e., prefix, infix, circumfix, or suffix) that when added to the end of a (root) word, changes its meaning. For example, -s (plural morpheme), -s third person singular present), -ly (change an adjective into an adverb), etc. In linguistics, one can use the terms onset, nucleus, and coda for (roughly) the consonantal beginning, middle, and end of a syllable (see link). An example: of the two possible and meaningful English monosyllabic words clasp /klæsp/ and clasped /klæspt/, only the -ed /t/ is what most would call a suffix.

The linguistic might differentiate between the sounds for oal, ole, and oul.

A linguist (or phonologist) would say that most syllables ending in -oal (goal, foal), -ole (vole), and -oul (soul), as well as -oll (toll) are rhymes and end in the same sound, i.e., /ol/.

Someone should try this in French, Spanish, or German to see if any parallels are worth noting. My hunch is that English wins any comparison of its monosyllabic words.

The phonotactics (link) of Spanish, pretty much disallow most of the combinations of phonemes in this manner. You might have a better time with German (or Germanic languages), Russian, Mandarin, etc. My hunch is that English and German would be quite similar. Russian allows some interesting onsets that English phonotactics disallow: e.g., кто /kto/ 'who', что /ʃto/ 'what'. The Caucasian languages (e.g., Georgian, Abkhazian, Chechen) might also be a good place to look.

As you point out, not all syllables which are combinations of the English phonemic inventory and which are allowed by English phonotactics are actual words in English: i.e., while fash and glang are possible English monosyllabic words, tlaszp is not a possible English word.

Ceci n'est pas un seing.
#207725 - 10/20/12 03:33 PM Re: reinerD [Re: zmjezhd]  
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LukeJavan8 Offline
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LukeJavan8  Offline
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Land of the Flat Water
Yes, I add my welcome Reiner.
and good response Zm.

----please, draw me a sheep----

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