Syllables
Most of us have an intuitive feeling
about syllables
 No doubt about the number of
syllables in the majority of words.
 However, there is no agreed upon
definition for the term syllable.
 Difficult to state an objective
phonetic procedure for locating the
number of syllables in a word or a
phrase.

Syllables
 So
what can we agree on?
 We can agree that a syllable is
made up of three parts:
 One: The Nucleus, which is the
“core” of the syllable.
 It’s the vowel if there is one.
Otherwise, the nucleus is made
up of a syllabic consonant.
Syllables
 All
syllables have a nucleus, but
may or may not have other
constituents.
 Two: The Onset, which is made
up of all of the consonants
before the nucleus.
 Three: The Coda, which is
everything after the nucleus.
Syllables
 Another
thing that we can
agree on is the difference
between open vs. closed
syllables.
 Closed syllables end in a
consonant.
 Open syllables end in vowel.
Syllables
 Currently,
the most popular
approach to defining the
syllable is in terms of the
Phonological Approach,
which appeals to the notion
of Phonotactic
Constraints.
Syllables
 In
every language, there are
restrictions on the kinds of
sounds and sound sequences
possible in different positions
in words (particularly at the
beginning and the end of
words).
Syllables
 These
restrictions can be
formulated in terms of rules
stating which sound sequences
are possible in a language and
which are not.
 Languages generally prefer CV,
but some languages allow a
syllable to begin with more than
one consonant.
Syllables
 English
has a wide variety of
syllable types:
 V
oh
 VC
at
 VCC
ask
 VCCC
asked
Syllables
 CV
 CVC
 CVCC
 CVCCC
no
not
ramp
ramps
Syllables
 CCV
flew
 CCVC
flute
 CCVCC
flutes
 CCVCCC crafts
Syllables
 CCCV
spree
 CCCVC
spleen
 CCCVCC strength
 CCCVCCC
strengths
Syllables
 Other
languages don’t have
such a large number of
syllable structures.
Syllables
 Hebrew
 CV
 CVC
 CVCC
(only at end of word)
Syllables
 Japanese
V
 CV
 CVC
Syllables
 Hawaiian
V
 CV
Syllables
 Indonesian
V
 VC
 CV
 CVC
Syllables
English allows any consonant to
occur word-initial, except for []
and [ŋ] (except in borrowed words,
such as ‘Jacques’ or ‘Nguyen’; no
native English word begins with
them).
 A large number of two consonant
combinations occur, with a stop or a
fricative being followed by a liquid or
glide:

Syllables
 [br]
bring
 [gl] glean
 [my] music
 [kw] quick
Syllables
 [r]
three
 [fl]
fly
 [hy] humor
 [sw] sweet
Syllables
In addition, [s] can also be followed
by voiceless and nasal stops (stay,
small) and by [f] and [v] in a small
number of borrowed words (sphere,
svelte).
 [] (esh) can be followed by a nasal
stop or a liquid, but only [r] (esh r)
is a cluster native to English
(shrink).

Suprasegmental Features
 So
far we have studied the
characteristics of the
segments of speech
 But speech sounds may also
have suprasegmental
features
 “Riding on the top of other
segmental features”
Suprasegmental Features
 Are
different from segmental
features.
 Not only may they belong to
a single phonetic segment,
 They may instead extent
across numerous segments
in an utterance.
Suprasegmental Features
 Intonation
 Pattern
of rises and falls in
pitch across a stretch of
speech such as a sentence.
 Meaning can depend in part
on the sentence’s intonation
contour.
Suprasegmental Features
 For
example:
“You
 You
got an A on the test”
can make this sentence
sound like a statement  Or a question.
Suprasegmental Features
 Intonation
also helps mark
the boundaries of a syntactic
unit.
 For example:
“You
got an A on the test, a C
on the homework, and a B on
the quiz”
Suprasegmental Features
 Tone
 In
many languages, the pitch
at which the syllables in a
word are pronounced can
make a difference in the
word’s meaning.
 Such languages are called
tone languages.
Suprasegmental Features
 Languages
include: Thai,
Chinese dialects, Vietnamese,
the Bantu languages of Africa
such as Zulu, Luganda, and
Shona, other African languages
like Yoruba and Igbo, and North
and South American Indian
languages like Apache, Navajo,
Kiowa, and Mazotec.
Suprasegmental Features
 So:
 mā
 má
 mă
 mà
(high level)
(low rising)
(low falling rising)
(high falling)
‘mother’
‘hemp’
‘horse’
‘scold’
Suprasegmental Features
 Two
types of tonal languages:
 Register tone languages
 Contain only register, or level,
tones such as high, mid, low.
 Contour tone languages
 Contain gliding tones as well as
register tones.
Suprasegmental Features
 Stress
 Property
of syllables, not
individual segments.
 Stressed syllable more
prominent than an
unstressed syllable.
 But this is relative.
Suprasegmental Features
 What
is important is that the
stressed syllable is perceived
to be produced with greater
effort.
 English uses several stress
levels, as illustrated by the
word photography.
Suprasegmental Features
 In
this word, the second
syllable is most prominent –
primary stress.
 The final syllable is next
most prominent – secondary
stress.
 The other syllables are
unstressed – tertiary stress.
Suprasegmental Features
 Suprasegmental
features are
difficult to transcribe because
they are ‘superimposed’ on
the other features.
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Syllables - California State University, Bakersfield