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Writing cursive forms of B

B or b (pronounced /ˈb/, bee)[1][2] is the 2nd letter in the ISO basic Latin alphabet. It represents the voiced bilabial stop in many languages, including English. In some other languages, it is used to represent other bilabial consonants.

History[edit | edit source]

Modern Roman
Egyptian hieroglyphic house Phoenician beth Greek beta Etruscan B Roman B Runic B Uncial B Insular b Blackletter b Antiqua B Roman B & b

Old English was originally written in runes, whose equivalent letter was beorc⟩, meaning "birch". Beorc dates to at least the 2nd-century Elder Futhark, which is now thought to have derived from the Old Italic alphabets' ⟨ 𐌁 ⟩ either directly or via LatinB⟩.

The uncialB⟩ and half-uncialb⟩ introduced by the Gregorian and Irish missions gradually developed into the Insular scripts' ⟨b⟩. These Old English Latin alphabets supplanted the earlier runes, whose use was fully banned under King Canute in the early 11th century. The Norman Conquest popularized the Carolingian half-uncial forms which latter developed into blackletter ⟨ b ⟩. Around 1300, letter case was increasingly distinguished, with upper- and lower-case B taking separate meanings. Following the advent of printing in the 15th century, Germany and Scandinavia continued to use forms of blackletter (particularly Fraktur), while England eventually adopted the humanist and antiqua scripts developed in Renaissance Italy from a combination of Roman inscriptions and Carolingian texts. The present forms of the English cursive B were developed by the 17th century.

The Roman ⟨B⟩ derived from the Greek capital betaΒ⟩ via its Etruscan and Cumaean variants. The Greek letter was an adaptation of the Phoenician letter bēt𐤁⟩.[3] The Egyptian hieroglyph for the consonant /b/ had been an image of a foot and calf ⟨ B ⟩,[4] but bēt (Phoenician for "house") was a modified form of a Proto-Sinaitic glyph ⟨ Bet ⟩ probably adapted from the separate hieroglyph Pr Per meaning "house".[5][n 1] The Hebrew letter bethב⟩ is a separate development of the Phoenician letter.[3]

By Byzantine times, the Greek letter ⟨Β⟩ came to be pronounced /v/,[3] so that it is known in modern Greek as víta (still written βήτα). The Cyrillic letter veВ⟩ represents the same sound, so a modified form known as beБ⟩ was developed to represent the Slavic languages' /b/.[3] (Modern Greek continues to lack a letter for the voiced bilabial plosive and transliterates such sounds from other languages using the digraph/consonant clusterμπ⟩, mp.)

Use in writing systems[edit | edit source]

English[edit | edit source]

In English, ⟨b⟩ denotes the voiced bilabial stop /b/, as in bib. In English, it is sometimes silent. This occurs particularly in words ending in Template:Vr, such as lamb and bomb, some of which originally had a /b/ sound, while some had the letter Template:Vr added by analogy (see Phonological history of English consonant clusters). The Template:Vr in debt, doubt, subtle and related words was added in the 16th century as an etymological spelling, intended to make the words more like their Latin originals (debitum, dubito, subtilis).

As /b/ is one of the sounds subject to Grimm's Law, words which have Template:Vr in English and other Germanic languages may find their cognates in other Indo-European languages appearing with ⟨bh⟩, ⟨p⟩, ⟨f⟩ or ⟨φ⟩ instead.[3] For example, compare the various cognates of the word brother.

Other languages[edit | edit source]

Many other languages besides English use ⟨b⟩ to represent a voiced bilabial stop.

In Estonian, Icelandic, and Chinese Pinyin, ⟨b⟩ does not denote a voiced consonant. Instead, it represents a voiceless /p/ that contrasts with either a geminated /p:/ (in Estonian) or an aspirated /pʰ/ (in Pinyin, Danish and Icelandic) represented by Template:Vrl. In Fijian ⟨b⟩ represents a prenasalized /mb/, whereas in Zulu and Xhosa it represents an implosive /ɓ/, in contrast to the digraph ⟨bh⟩ which represents /b/. Finnish uses ⟨b⟩ only in loanwords.

Phonetic transcription[edit | edit source]

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, [b] is used to represent the voiced bilabial stop phone. In phonological transcription systems for specific languages, /b/ may be used to represent a lenis phoneme, not necessarily voiced, that contrasts with fortis /p/ (which may have greater aspiration, tenseness or duration).

Other uses[edit | edit source]

B is also a musical note. In English-speaking countries, it represents Si, the 12th note of a chromatic scale built on C. In Central Europe and Scandinavia, "B" is used to denote B-flat and the 12th note of the chromatic scale is denoted "H". Archaic forms of 'b', the b quadratum (square b, ) and b rotundum (round b, ) are used in musical notation as the symbols for natural and flat, respectively.

In Contracted (grade 2) English braille, 'b' stands for "but" when in isolation.

Related characters[edit | edit source]

Ancestors, descendants and siblings[edit | edit source]

  • 𐤁 : Semitic letter Bet, from which the following symbols originally derive
  • Β β : Greek letter Beta, from which B derives
  • Ⲃ ⲃ Coptic letter Bēta, which derives from Greek Beta
  • В в : Cyrillic letter Ve, which also derives from Beta
  • Б б : Cyrillic letter Be, which also derives from Beta
  • 𐌁 : Old Italic B, which derives from Greek Beta
  • ᛒ : Runic letter Berkanan, which probably derives from Old Italic B
  • 𐌱 : Gothic letter bercna, which derives from Greek Beta
  • IPA-specific symbols related to B: ɓ ʙ β
  • B with diacritics: Ƀ ƀ Ḃ ḃ Ḅ ḅ Ḇ ḇ Ɓ ɓ

Derived ligatures, abbreviations, signs and symbols[edit | edit source]

  • ␢ : U+2422 BLANK SYMBOL
  • ฿ : Thai baht
  • ♭: The flat in music, mentioned above, still closely resembles lowercase b.

Computing codes[edit | edit source]


1 Template:Midsize

Other representations[edit | edit source]

Template:Letter other reps

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. It also resembles the hieroglyph for /h/ ⟨ H ⟩ meaning "manor" or "reed shelter".

References[edit | edit source]

Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. "B", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989 .
  2. "B", Merriam-Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1993 .
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 EB (1878).
  4. Schumann-Antelme, Ruth; et al. (1998), Illustrated Hieroglyphics Handbook, English translation by Sterling Publishing (2002), pp. 22–23, ISBN 1-4027-0025-3 .
  5. Goldwasser, Orly (Mar–Apr 2010), "How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs", Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 36 (No. 1), Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society, ISSN 0098-9444, retrieved 6 Nov 2011 .

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Media related to B at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of B at Wiktionary
  • The dictionary definition of b at Wiktionary