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Theories of Syllable Formation and Syllable Division

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  3. Word Formation

There are different points of view on syllable formation which are
briefly the following.

1. The most ancient theory states that there are as many syllables in a word as there are vowels. This theory is primitive and insufficient since it does not take into consideration consonants which also can form syllables in some languages, neither does it explain the boundary of syllables.

2. The expiratory theory states that there are as many syllables in a word as there are expiration pulses. The borderline between the syllables is according to this theory, the moment of the weakest expiration. This theory is inconsistent because it is quite possible to pronounce several syllables in one articulatory effort or expiration, e.g. seeing /'si:ıŋ/.

3. The sonority theory states that there are as many syllables in a word as there are peaks of prominence or sonority.

Speechsounds pronounced with uniform force, length and pitch, differ in inherent prominence or sonority. For example, when the Russian vowels /а, о, э, у, и/ are pronounced on one and the same level, their acoustic intensity, or sonority is different: the strongest is /a/, then go /о, э, у, и/.

О. Jespersen established the scale of sonority of sounds, that is, the scale of their inherent prominence. According to this scale the most so­norous are back vowels (low, mid, high), then go semi-vowels and sono-rants, then — voiced and voiceless consonants.

Scale of Sonority

1. low vowels /а:, o:, υ, æ/

2. mid vowels /e, з:, ə, Λ/

3. high vowels /i:, ı, u:, u/

4. semi-vowels /w, j/

5. sonorants /1, r, m, n, n/

6. voiced constrictive consonants /v, z, 3, ð/

7. voiced plosive consonants /b, d, g/

8. voiceless constrictive consonants and affricates /f, tς, d3, f, s, h, θ/

9. voiceless plosive consonants /p, t, k/

Sounds are grouped around the most sonorous ones, which form the peaks of sonority in a syllable. Two points of lower sonority constitute the beginning and the end of one syllable.

Compare melt and metal, in the first word /e/ is the most sonorous sound, the only peak of sonority, it is a one-syllable word. In the word metal there are two peaks of sonority /e/ and /l/, it is a two-syllable word.

In the word sudden the most sonorous is the vowel /Λ/, then goes the nasal sonorant /n/ which forms the second peak of prominence, /s/ and /d/ are sounds of low sonority, they cannot be considered as syllable forming sounds.

In the Russian word пятница there are three peaks of sonority and accordingly three syllables.

The sonority theory helps to establish the number of syllables in a word, but fails to explain the mechanism of syllable division because it does not state to which syllable the weak sound at the boundary of two syllables belongs.

4. The "arc of loudness" or "arc of articulatory tension" theory is based on L.V. Shcherba's statement that the centre of a syllable is the syllable forming phoneme. Sounds which precede or follow it constitute a chain, or an arc, which is weak in the beginning and in the end and strong in the middle.

If a syllable consists of a vowel, its strength increases in the begin-
nlng, reaches the maximum of loudness and then, gradually decreases.

Graphically it can be represented by an arc of

loudness or an arc of articulatory tension.

Consonants within a sillable are char­acterized by different distribution of muscular tension. Shcherba distinguishes the following types of consonants;

finally strong (initially weak), they occur at the beginning of the syllable;

finally weak (initially strong), they occur at the end of a closed syllable,

double peaked (combination of two similar sounds): in their articulation the beginning and the end are energetic and the middle is weak. Acoustically they produce an impression of two consonants: /'pen 'naıf/, /'gud 'deı/.

For example, in the words cab, за the consonants /k/ and /з/, that begin thesyllables, are "finally strong", that is their articulatory strength uses to the end of /k/ and /з/ (they are also called initially weak). These consonants begin "the arc of loudness".

In lhe words cab, воз the final consonants /b/ and /з/, that end the llnlile, are "finally weak", that is their articulatory strength decreases to the end of /b/ and /з/. These consonants, terminate the "arc of loudness" Di ihc arc of muscular tension.

In terms of the "arc of loudness" theory there are as many syllables in
n| as there are "arcs of loudness" and the point of syllable division corresponds to the moment, when the arc of loudness begins or ends, that is: initially weak consonants begin a syllable, finally weak end it. (Finally strong consonants begin a syllable, initially strong end it.) For example, the word mistake consists of two arcs of loudness in which /m/ and /t/ are finally strong consonants and /s/ and /k/ are finally weak. /s/ constitutes the end of "the arc of loudness", /t/ constitutes the beginning.

m st к

In the word misspell the double peaked /ss/ occurs at the junction of two syllables. The sound /s/ is strong at both ends and weak in the mid­dle, phonologically it consists of two successive allophones of the same phoneme in:

A syllable can be defined as a phonetic unit, which is pronounced by one articulatory effort accompanied by one muscular contraction, which results acoustically and auditorily in one uninterrupted arc of loudness.

The experiment carried out by N. Zhinkin showed that it is the phar­ynx, which is responsible for the variations in the loudness of the syllable. Perceptually the peak, or the crest of the syllable, is louder and higher in pitch than the slopes.

On the acoustic level it is characterized by a higher intensity than the slopes, and in many cases by a higher fundamental frequency.

None of the theories mentioned above are reliable in the definition of the syllabic boundary. To define the syllabic boundary it is necessary to analyse the syllable on two levels: articulatory-auditory (phonetic-pho­nological), to take into consideration the structural pattern of the sylla­ble.

Different languages are characterized by different types of their syl­labic structure in orthography and speech.

In the Russian language syllables of СГ-СГ type have their boundary after the vowel: мо-ло-ко, о-ко-ло.

There are similar cases in English: wor-ker, ar-my, par-ty but /'wз:k-ə/, /'a:m-i/, /'pa:t-i/.

In the Russian words with ГССГ structural type, the place of the syl­labic boundary depends on the character of CC cluster. If it occurs ini­tially, it may begin a syllable: мрак о-мрачать, but Ал-тай, since лт does not occur initially.

Similar distributional dependence of the syllabic boundary on the nature of the CC cluster exists in English. E.g.

great — agree /ə-'grı/, break — abrupt /ə-'brΛpt/

speak /spi:k/ — despite /dı-'spaıt/

sky /skaı/ — escape /ı-'skeıp/

but: twice /twaıs/ — saltwort /'so:lt-wз:t/

There is a tendency in Russian to begin non-initial syllables with the sound of minimal sonority: до-жди, ко-тлы, but тан-ки, кол-хоз.

It is possible to formulate the following rules of syllable division in English: 1.2 — orthography, 3.4 — phonetics.

1. In affixal words the syllabic boundary coincides with the morpho­logical boundary: dis-place, be-come, un-able, count-less.

2. In words with CVCV structure the syllabic boundary is after the accented vowel: farmer, city, table.

3. In words of CVC structure the syllabic boundary is after the intervocal consonant, which terminates accented syllable: /'fa:m-ə/, /'sıt-ı/, /teıb-əl/

4. In words of CVS, VS structure the syllabic boundary is after the
intervocal sonorant: inner /ın-ə/, cinema /sin-əm-ə/, enemy /en-em-i/.

5. Compared with the Russian СГ acoustic connection, English CVC1
cluster is close, Russian СГc syllabic cluster is loose, compare: city /'sıtı/,
Illy /'lılı/, money /'mΛnı/ and си-то, ли-ли, ма-ни.

6. English diphthongs are unisyllabic, they consist of one vowel phoneme, English triphthongs are disyllabic, because they consist of two vowel phonemes: science /saı-əns/, flower /'flau-ə/.


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