Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What's the Frequency Pat Sajak?

The reason that Wheel of Fortune producers selected the particular letters they did to give as freebies to the winning contestant for the bonus round should come as no surprise. The five consonants and one vowel were the letters that contestants chose most frequently before the 1988 institution of the free letter bonus round scenario.

It should also come as no surprise that people
would routinely choose these letters.

Based on the relative frequency of letters in English, "e" is the top ranked letter and vowel. The top consonants, in their ranked order, are "t", "n", "s", "r", "h"* and "l".

Makes me wonder why the letters appear in the order they do on Wheel of Fortune? They are not listed alphabetically or in order of frequency. Hmmm?

*Note to future contestants: Choose an "h" as one of your three consonants for the bonus round, and for the other two consonants, you may want to consider "d" and "c" which follow "l" in rank. Also, the vowel "a" is second to "e".

Here is an awesome visual reference to letter frequency that I spotted at 22 Words.

Interestingly, when comparing
the relative frequency of the top seven consonant letters in English to the relative frequency of occurrence of the top seven consonant phonemes in English, there is quite a correlation.

The top seven consonant phonemes by relative frequency of occurrence are: /t/, /n/, /r/, /l/, /s/, /d/ and /z/.

The /z/ is of note because it is the phonetic realization of the plural letter "s" in many words, specifically words that end in voiced consonants and vowel phonemes, for example
the words "dogs" and "goes" are phonetically transcribed as /dɔgz/ and /goz/. Additionally, words that end in the phonemes /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, // and // are pluralized by inserting a schwa / and then the /z/, for example the words "kisses" and "beaches" are phonetically transcribed as /kɪsəz / and /biəz /.

Letter and phoneme frequency data from "Applied Phonetics: The Sounds of American English" by Harold T. Edwards.

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