B or b (pronounced //, bee) is the 2nd letter in the ISO basic Latin alphabet. In English, it represents the voiced bilabial stop, although it sometimes represents other bilabial sounds when used in other languages.
Old English was originally written in runes, whose equivalent letter was beorc ⟨ᛒ⟩, 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 Latin ⟨⟩.
The uncial ⟨⟩ and half-uncial ⟨⟩ introduced by the Gregorian and Irish missions gradually developed into the Insular scripts' ⟨⟩. 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 ⟨ ⟩. 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 beta ⟨Β⟩ via its Etruscan and Cumaean variants. The Greek letter was an adaptation of the Phoenician letter bēt ⟨𐤁⟩. The Egyptian hieroglyph for the consonant /b/ had been an image of a foot and calf ⟨ ⟩, but bēt (Phoenician for "house") was a modified form of a Proto-Sinaitic glyph ⟨ ⟩ probably adapted from the separate hieroglyph Pr ⟨ ⟩ meaning "house".[n 1] The Hebrew letter beth ⟨ב⟩ is a separate development of the Phoenician letter.
By Byzantine times, the Greek letter ⟨Β⟩ came to be pronounced /v/, so that it is known in modern Greek as víta (still written βήτα). The Cyrillic letter ve ⟨В⟩ represents the same sound, so a modified form known as be ⟨Б⟩ was developed to represent the Slavic languages' /b/. (Modern Greek continues to lack a letter for the voiced bilabial plosive and transliterates such sounds from other languages using the consonant cluster ⟨μπ⟩, mp.)
Use in writing systems
In English, most other languages that use the Latin alphabet, and the International Phonetic Alphabet, ⟨b⟩ denotes the voiced bilabial stop /b/, as in bib. In English, it is sometimes silent. This occurs particularly in words ending ⟨mb⟩, such as lamb and bomb, some of which originally had a /b/ sound, while some had the letter ⟨b⟩ added by analogy (see reduction of /mb/). The ⟨b⟩ 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).
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), which are all represented by ⟨p⟩. 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.
As /b/ is one of the sounds subject to Grimm's Law, words which have ⟨b⟩ in English and other Germanic languages may find their cognates in other Indo-European languages appearing with ⟨bh⟩, ⟨p⟩, ⟨f⟩ or ⟨φ⟩ instead. For example, compare the various cognates of the word brother.
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.
Ancestors, descendants and siblings
- 𐤁 : Semitic letter Bet, from which the following symbols originally derive
- Β β : Greek letter Beta, from which B derives
- В в : Cyrillic letter Ve, which also derives from Beta
- Б б : Cyrillic letter Be
- ♭: The flat in music, mentioned above, still closely resembles lowercase b.
- IPA-specific symbols related to B: ɓ ʙ β
- B with diacritics: Ƀ ƀ Ḃ ḃ Ḅ ḅ Ḇ ḇ Ɓ ɓ
Ligatures and abbreviations
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER B||LATIN SMALL LETTER B|
|Numeric character reference||B||B||b||b|
- 1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
- It also resembles the hieroglyph for /h/ ⟨ ⟩ meaning "manor" or "reed shelter".
- "B", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
- "B", Merriam-Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1993.
- EB (1878).
- Schumann-Antelme, Ruth; et al. (1998), Illustrated Hieroglyphics Handbook, English translation by Sterling Publishing (2002), pp. 22–23, ISBN 1-4027-0025-3.
- 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.
- "B", Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. III, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878, p. 173.
- "B", Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed., Vol. III, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911, p. 87.
- Media related to B at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of B at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of b at Wiktionary