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Syllable division

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  1. The Principle Theories on Syllable.

Description and classification

The kinaesthetic factor is responsible for one’s finding definite movements and positions of the organs of speech necessary to produce a sound.

The kinetic factor is responsible for one’s ability to coordinate the differentiated articulatory movements necessary to produce a chain of sounds. The importance of a detailed articulatory description can scarcely be exaggerated.

It’s essential to clarify the difference between classification and description. While describing sound we try to set down as many as possible of the features which are present in them. In reality complete description is beyond our powers, since it would mean mentioning an infinite number of features. So classification and description are bound to be partial and we mention those features which seem to contribute substantially to the sound in question.

The description of [d] in the word ‘do’ in articulatory terms may sound like this: the lips are somewhat rounded ready for the following vowel. The teeth are close together. The soft palate is raised. The tip of the tongue is firmly in contact with the top of the alveolar ridge sides of the tonge

Traditional English articulation: the back of the tongue is raised to approximately (почти) the close vowel position (again ready for a vowel)

[ea] – under pressure from the lungs is compressed within the completely stopped mouth cavity (практически заблокированная ротовая полость). The tongue tip (but not the sides of the back) then lowers suddenly allowing the compressed air to escape with a slight explosion. Just before the explosion the vocal cords stop to vibrate in normal voice and continue to do so into the vowel.

Though it may sound as a comprehensive description it is actually very incomplete.

What is the exact lip aperture?

How far apart are the teeth?

What is the front part of the tongue doing?

How much pressure are the lungs exerting?

What is the exact duration of voicing before the explosion?

But however much we add the description would never be totally exhausted, every time for a particular purpose we need to specify an extra feature.

In classifying sounds on the other hand all we need to do is to mention those features by which they differ from others. In classifying sound [s] and [d] we need only mention one feature, that [s] is fricative and [d] is not (it is plosive), articulatory [s] is a constrictive and [d] is occlusive, [s] has no voice in it and [d] has.

Lecture 8.

Syllable (Kenyon) – one or more speech sounds forming a single uninterrupted unit or utterance, which may be a whole word.

The matter of syllabification is concerned with the constituency of a syllable. Its boundaries and the mechanism of syllable division. (три критерии определения валидности теории).

It is often been said that vowels are typically central in the syllable and consonants are typically marginal. If we split a word like “consignment” into syllables we no doubt arrive at [kәn – /sain - mәn]. Where indeed the vowels/// and the consonants surround them. The peak of the syllable formed by a vowel or a sonorant is called the crest. And the consonants preceding the peak and following it are called slopes (non-syllabic).

The most ancient theory of syllable division states that there are as many syllables in a word as there are vowels. The theory does not define the boundary of the syllable and does not show the mechanism of syllable division even if it gives the constituency of a syllable it does not consider sonorants as syllable-forming phonemes. ////The word final [m] also forms a syllable by itself as the vowels do, e.g. “rhythm”.

Question 7

There are powerful constrains operating in all languages as to the way in which phonemes combine together in a particular language. In Russian the syllable can be generalized as (cccc)v(cccc) “вздремнуть”. (ccc)v(cccc) structure of the English syllable is the most general statement of the possibilities of sequence. The vowel of the syllable may be preceded by up to 3 consonants and may be followed by up to 4 consonants. The vowel may occur alone (as in the word “I”) it may have 1,2,3 consonants before it (‘pie’, ‘spy’, ‘straw’) and 1,2,3,4 consonants after it (“tech”, “text”, “texts”). Within the framework we need to know which of the consonants can occur singly or in clusters both before and after the vowel which is the syllable’s center. E.g. all consonants occur singly before the vowel except [ŋ]. Clusters of 2 consonants before the vowel have one of two forms [s]+c, e.g. “swim”, “slim” or c+[w,j,r,l] “twin”, “beauty”, but [tl, hr,sb] and others are not found in English. All together there are 289 initial consonant clusters in Russian as compared with 50 initial consonant clusters in English. On the other hand Russian has 142 final clusters and English has 130 final clusters. So the syllable is useful as the largest unit we need to consider in explaining how phonemes are permitted to combine together in a language.

The structure of a syllable varies in accordance with a number and the arrangement of consonants. The English language has developed the closed type of syllable as the fundamental one. A syllable which begins with a vowel sound and ends in a consonant sound is called closed. In Russian it is the open type that forms the basis of syllable formation. English syllables can also be classified as covered (cvc - note) and uncovered (vc - oak).

A syllable could also be defined as an articulatory unit by counting picks of the activity of the breathing muscles. The expiratory theory (chest-pulse, pressure theory) considers that there are as many syllables in a word as there are expiration pulses made during the utterance. The boundary of a syllable in this case is the moment of the weakest explanation. The theory is experimentally based but it is possible to pronounce several syllables within one articulatory effort or expiration pulse, e.g.’seeing’ and a monosyllabic word may have several expiration pulses, e.g. “star”.

Question 35

A syllable could be defined auditory by counting picks of audibility. That is arcs of loudness theory by Zhinkin: there are as many syllables in a word as there are arcs of loudness. It is actually based on the theory of articulatory effort. The boundary lies between the initially strong consonant finally weak consonant and the initially weak consonant finally strong consonant. The center of a syllable is a syllable – forming phoneme.

Nein (надо нарисовать дугу приподнятую над е)

Consonants which preceded or follow a vowel constitute an arc, which is weak in the beginning and in the en and strong in the middle. So all consonants are viewed as initially weak but finally strong, and initially strong but finally weak.

There is a sonority theory according to which there are as many syllables in a word as there are picks of prominent in terms of the scale of sonority. The boundary lies where sounds of low sonority are usually found.

Scale of sonority - The degree of the perceptibility of speech sounds:

1. Low vowels [æ, a, ɒ, ʌ]

2. Mid vowels [e, ɜ, ә]

3. High vowels [i:, i, u, υ]

4. Semi-vowels [w, j]

5. Sonorants [l, r, m, n]

6. Voiced-constricted consonants [v,z, ð, Ʒ]

7. Voiced – plosive consonants [b,d,g]

8. Voiceless – constricted consonants and affricats [s, f, h, Ɵ, ò, tò, dƷ]

9. Voiceless – plosive consonants [p,t,k]

The most sonorants are the vowels, the low vowels are more sonorants than the high vowels, The back vowels are more sonorants than the front vowels.

4. Sonorants are speech sounds intermediate between noise-consonants and vowels because they have articulatory features in common with both. In their production an obstruction is formed but in the case of oral sonorants [w, j, l, r] it is not narrow enough to produce much noise and prevent the mouth cavity altogether from functioning as a resonator, while in the case of the occlusive sonorants [m, n, ŋ] the nasal resonator is brought into action. Muscular tension is concentrated in the place of obstruction, but the exhaling force is weak.

Syllable division according to F. de Saussure.

According to articulatory-kinetic approach there is a theory of syllable division put forward by Fds.

From the very start Fds startes that in a language there are not only separate sounds, but also there is a stream of sounds. He mentions the fact that sounds are often treated in isolation, while a syllable is given to us in all the immediately of speech. The study of sounds in isolation is mostly confined to the description of kinaesthetic movements. When we have to do with sound combinations we treat speech sounds almost in terms of algebraic equations as a sound combinations involves a certain number of mutually interdependent mechanical and acoustic elements strongly associated with kinetic movements. Let’s consider the following. In isolation the sound [p] is characterized by a pressure of the lips and a complete closure of the mouth cavity and its opening, but in the sound combination one of its potential characteristics is realized.

всегда необходимо какое-то приспособительное движение органов речи с тем, чтобы они приняли положение необходимое для артикуляции следующей фонемы.

It happens to every phoneme, constituted a word


Fds calls this kind of closing implosion and the opening is called explosion. The boundary lies between every implosion and explosion.

В языке имеются не только звуки, но и поток произносимых звуков.

Ценность науки о звуках это когда мы наталкиваемся на факт внутренней взаимозависимости двух или большего числа элементов, когда вариации одного элемента определяются вариациями другого.

При изучении изолированных звуков достаточно определить положение органов артикуляции. При произнесении сочетания двух звуков свобода связывать между собой фонологические типы ограничена возможностью связывать артикулятивные движения, чтобы понимать, что происходит внутри звукосочетаний. Звукосочетания должны рассматриваться как алгебраические уравнения.

From the articulatory point of view most phoneticians treat a speech sound in isolation. Fds considers that a speech sound should be treated in a stream of sounds constituting a word. In a sound chain it is possible to consider the various mutually interrelated sound features, which allow a phonetician to decombine the sound chain if and when necessary. Thus he believes that in isolation a speech sound is capable of closing and opening from the articulatory point of view consonants as different from vowels are characterized more by closing rather than by opening because of an obstruction. Vowels as different from consonants are characterized more by opening rather than closing because of the absence of obstruction. Among consonants occlusive consonants have more closing than constrictive consonants and so on. Let’s consider [p] in isolation. For its production closing and opening are necessary, but in the sound chain one of its potential characteristics is realized. It is the same thing with all the other speech sounds constituting the sound chain.


o-has no obstruction

l – has an obstruction

I – closes for t


s – closes for t, because s

*…adjoing sound in the sound chain shows how speech sounds are combined in a word and how they could be decombined if need be. That is Fds is the only phonetician who offers the mechanism of syllable division.


Question 38

In RP [r] – sonorants, lingual, forelingual, cacuminal, post-alveolar; constrictive, oral

The tip of the tongue curled behind the back slope of teeth ridge. If it is curled further the position will be retroflex.

In initial clusters, after fortis stops, [r] is partly devoiced ‘pressed’

According to the [r] distribution the dialects of English can be divided into two groups: rhotic and non-rhotic. In rhotic dialects (GA, Scottish and Irish) [r] is pronounced in all contexts.

In RP and Welsh dialects [r] is not pronounce before a consonant or pause. But [r] is pronounced in word boundaries ‘mother-in-law’. This [r] is called linking ‘r’

In non-rhotic English [r] may be heard in places when there is no ‘r’ in spelling (the idea [r] of it). It is called intrusive [r] and considered by English native speakers as ‘lazy’ or ‘uneducated’

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