Wordnik Tagging: Stage 2

I’m trying to figure out what I can do with my life that will benefit the world. Take as a given that I’m good for something, I just have to find or invent it. Two years ago, I started tagging words on Wordnik.com. I wanted to understand the unexpected spelling similarities between words that do not sound like each other. I used C and V to stand in for consonants and vowels in terms of  alphabet graphemes, not IPA phonemes. Some linguists got mad. I understand why,  but tagging convowels was an important outlet for me at the time, and I don’t regret that I’ve left a mark on wordnik.

The word started me thinking was apple, and I’d like to revisit that VCCCV word pattern tonight. I find that my interest cycle involves writing lists and then abandoning them when completed. Right now I’m going to try to do something with a list, I’m not sure how successful it will be. The words I found that have the same pattern are: alpha, amble, ample, amply, angle, ankle, apple, apply, empty, extra, oddly, oxfly, uncle. In my GenAm accent, this is their broad transcription. ‘-‘ means syllable boundary here, for legibility’s sake.

Alpha       æl-fə
Amble      æm-bəl
Ample      æm-pəl
Amply      æm-pli
Angle       eŋ-gəl
Ankle       eŋ-kəl
Apple       æ-pəl
Apply       ə-plɑɪ
Empty      ɛm-ti
Extra        ɛk-stɹə
Oddly       ɒ-dli
Oxfly        ɒks-flɑɪ
Uncle       ʌŋ-kəl

So nothing brilliant, but a few things:

  • All of these words are stressed on the first syllable except for apply.
  • 3 words are just a vowel in the first syllable: apple, apply, and oddly. Another accent may put odd & ly together, but for me the [d] is influenced by the [l] and has a lateral release, I don’t think I can separate them.
  • 8 of the 13 words start with a, but only 5 start with [æ] like in cat.
  • There are minimal pairs: amble/ample, ankle/angle, ankle/uncle.
  • Alpha comes from Greek, apple, empty, ankle, and ox are from O.E., odd is from O.N., the rest originate in Latin.
  • I’ve written about uncle before.
Apple was my starting word for two reasons. One: When Erin McKean gave her 2007 TED talk about the ham-butt problem with online dictionaries at the time, I started brainstorming about features that I would include if I had an online dictionary of my own. My sample word was apple, because it was a common word that could have many ideas branching off of it. I pictured a visualthesaurus.com-style word mapping system. Apple had pictures associated with it, religious meaning, idiomatic uses, category of fruit, category of apple parts, there are many varieties of apple, the word could be shown in many languages, and in French, potato is pom de terre, apple of the earth. Cool.
Two: Apple is a weird spelling pattern. It is a basic kindergarten word that’s on the classroom wall all year, but it’s an extremely strange looking word. All words start to look odd if you read them over and over. Apple is so common that its oddity is overlooked, perhaps because apple and orange are both fruit and often found near each other, so the vowel-front-and-ended spelling looks normal for basic fruit. Of the many patterns I tagged on wordnik.com, the ones that fascinate me the most begin with vowels. Like VCCCVCC. So… think about it?
December 11, 2011

in Autobiographical,websites,wordnik,Words & Origins

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben December 12, 2011 at 4:44 AM

I’m wondering about ‘y’ in your system. so would ‘your’ be CVVC and ‘system’ be CVCCVC ? What about ‘day’ ?


Tank Hughes December 13, 2011 at 10:41 AM

I struggled with words like ‘key’ in my first go-round. My short answer is: in most of the words I was trying to learn about, this wasn’t an issue. It’s fairly clear if it’s functioning as a vowel or a consonant in the word. in Day, the ‘y’ makes the ‘a’ a long vowel. day instead of dam. It’s not a perfect system. I mean, rhythm, historically, counts m as a vowel, but on wordnik i wrote that word as CCVCCC. It’s a pretty cool list: http://www.wordnik.com/words/ccvccc.


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