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 Definition Unit of organisation in phonology that divides speech sounds or sign language movements into groups to which phonological rules may apply. [d] [e]
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 Workgroup category Linguistics [Categories OK]
 Subgroup category:  Phonology
 Talk Archive none  English language variant British English

Syllable breakdown for example words needed, and other miscellaneous comments

Nice article; I enjoyed reading it.

Hello; I'll add my comments between the paragraphs you've written. John Stephenson 04:25, 16 April 2007 (CDT)

Would someone please supply the breakdown into syllables of the words "corruption" and "computer" so it can be displayed in the article? Without that information, the following sentence under "Onset and rhyme" can't be meaningfully followed: "In English, for example, the medial syllables in corruption and computer both carry main stress, even though one contains only a vowel, and the other a vowel and a consonant. " I tried two dictionaries but they didn't give syllable breakdowns.

I disagree with the following statement under "Branching": "As branching occurs in the aforementioned corruption and computer, stressing is triggered." I believe the stress pattern of "computer" for example can be fully explained by rules that have little or nothing to do with numbers of consonants. The second-syllable stress of "compute" is because it's a verb (compare "REcord" and "reCORD") and/or because "com" is a prefix. The stress pattern of "computer" follows naturally from that. Besides, without the syllable breakdown given, the argument can't even be understood.

There is an oversimplified 'rule' of English which says that verb stress is on the 'second' or 'last' syllable, as in 'reBEL against'. This leaves out a lot of counterexamples, suggesting a more complex set of rules at work (Edit, PRACtice, eLIcit, asTOnish, SWAllow...). Also, 'com' is not a prefix but part of the word 'compute'. However, this paragraph is problematic as there's a lot more to it than branching. To be honest the whole English stress thing is a minefield with whole books written on it; oh for Finnish, where you stress the first syllable and that's it, or even French, where most of the time it's at the end! John Stephenson 04:25, 16 April 2007 (CDT)

Re this sentence, earlier in the paragraph under "Branching": "Branching constituents are highly marked in languages, in that single constituents must also exist as a prerequisite, and branching ones are never obligatory. " I'm not sure that the word "marked" is being used correctly here. In any case, I think a definition of "marked" has to be given -- or perhaps the bit about being marked could simply be deleted: "When there are ranching constituents in a language, single constituents must also exist as a prerequisite. Branching ones are never obligatory."

Maybe add: (see markedness (linguistics)). John Stephenson 04:25, 16 April 2007 (CDT)

Actually, what does this mean: "Branching ones are never obligatory." If I want to use the word "train", I'm obliged to use a branching onset, right? Does "never obligatory" mean that for each type of constituent, there exist languages in which these are never branched? Or what does it mean? I think it means that if there are branching constituents in a language, then there are also words in that language in which those consituents do not branch; in other words, it's simply a repeat of what was already said earlier in the sentence. I think this sentence is ambiguous. If it's a repeat of what was already said, then a phrase such as "in other words" would help the reader not to go off thinking up other meanings. If it means something else, it needs to be clarified. Also, I think the word "highly" is probably unnnecessary.

Should be changed to indicate that branching onsets are never obligatory cross-linguistically; i.e. there are languages without branching onsets and/or rhymes. You're right, it is misleading. John Stephenson 04:25, 16 April 2007 (CDT)

Re the following under "Evidence for the syllable": "*Speech errors and wordplay seem to keep syllables intact; e.g. town drain is a possible spoonerism for down train, but *nown traid is not;" I love seeing these sorts of linguistic examples comparing what is and is not possible in speech. (If I may digress, my favourite ones are *"Who did you wonder which present will give?" (from Haegeman, L.) and *"There's the sight of the bell!" (from Lakoff, G.) However, in this particular case, while this is an interesting example, it is not an example which illustrates what it is purported to illustrate. Syllables are not kept intact in either the possible or the impossible spoonerism. "down" is a syllable, for example (I believe -- if not, that needs to be explained!) and is changed in both cases. --Catherine Woodgold 18:50, 15 April 2007 (CDT)

Actually, the phrase involving 'intact' is misleading because both 'nown' and 'traid' would be possible words of English; the point is that we don't see spoonerisms swopping an onset for a nucleus, etc. Should be modified. John Stephenson 04:25, 16 April 2007 (CDT)
Thanks so much for modifying the explanation of the spoonerism example. I understand it now! Based on my better understanding, I changed the words "significant units" at the beginning of the section to "significant structures", but feel free to change it back if you like; either word is OK. You're right that speech production in the brain didn't sound very good, but thanks for leaving in "significant units," which I think gets across the point I was trying to make. --Catherine Woodgold 17:42, 18 April 2007 (CDT)


I've partially reverted some of Catherine Woodgold's edits. I mention the 'left edge' of the syllable as the place where onsets are located because this is more precise than the 'beginning', which is defined in terms of the middle and end (where does the beginning stop?) Also, which way languages are written has nothing to do with it; all languages place onsets at the left, regardless of the script. Also, speech refers to phonetic production so it can't be said to be produced in the brain. John Stephenson 04:33, 16 April 2007 (CDT)

I don't understand what you mean by the "left edge". Maybe this is in relation to sonograms? Arabic is written right-to-left, so the onset would be written at the right-hand side of the syllable. If you mean on a sonogram, I think many readers would not know that that was what was meant. It took me a while to even think of the possibility. --Catherine Woodgold 17:44, 18 April 2007 (CDT)
The syllable is a unit of spoken and signed language: writing systems such as Arabic of course would write the onset consonants on the right of the word, but they're not actually on the right; this is just how the language is rendered on paper. So in an Arabic word like ketaab كتاب 'book' the [k] is the onset of the first syllable, even though it's written on the right in the Arabic script. John Stephenson 04:02, 19 April 2007 (CDT)
OK, if one is talking about spoken or signed language, the onset is not actually at the right; it's only at the right when the language is in written form. Couldn't the same be said of "left", i.e. that it's not actually at the left when spoken, either?
In the example with "corruption" and "computer": I think the syllabic breakdowns have been put next to the wrong words. Also, I don't understand at all the example that's being given about main stress: what is being claimed, and what principle is it intended to illustrate? I do understand that each of these words has main stress on the middle syllable. I would appreciate it if you (or someone) could clarify the example, as you did very nicely with the spoonerism example. --Catherine Woodgold 20:07, 21 April 2007 (CDT)
John Stephenson has fixed the matching of the syllabic breakdowns to the correct words -- thanks. I'm still wondering what "left edge" means, though. --Catherine Woodgold 17:57, 28 April 2007 (CDT)
It just means the beginning of the syllable, whether that be the onset, as in Sit, or the nucleus, as in Ate. Left-right: in a language written right to left, the onset would be rightmost on paper, and in a language written left to right, it's rendered leftmost in writing. But in all cases this is just the way the writing system works. In speech, onsets are always placed left of the nucleus. There is no phonetic reason for this; there's no reason why you couldn't have a rightmost constituent that didn't affect the nucleus, but this doesn't really happen. The onset and rhyme seem separate, and the nucleus and coda share the same rhymal constituent. John Stephenson 00:36, 4 May 2007 (CDT)
I'm sorry, "left edge" in the article still doesn't make sense to me, and I don't understand when you say "In speech, onsets are always placed left of the nucleus." I don't understand what "left" could mean when speech is being talked about. In writing, "left" is a certain direction on the page. When speech is being described, "left" must mean something else if it means anything at all. It hasn't been explained what it means. It still seems to me that what it means is where the element would be written on paper -- but then it retains its bias as representing only languages written in a certain way. --Catherine Woodgold 07:18, 5 May 2007 (CDT)
Don't apologise. :-) Maybe it confuses speech with the model of the syllable. 'Left edge' is referring to the abstract model of the syllable, not some sort of edge in speech. In the model, the onset occurs at the left, and this is reflected in spoken language. John Stephenson 05:26, 7 May 2007 (CDT)

(<<<outdent) I think it would be easier to use a different phrase, possibly "the point at which the syllable begins", instead of "left edge" than to explain to the reader what is meant by "left edge". I'm not sure whether I've ever heard of the abstract model you're talking about. An alternative would be to append an explanation, possibly something like "(with time going from left to right)" but I think a lot of readers would find this distracting: they wouldn't understand why it was thought to be needed, since they would just assume that a left-to-right writing system was being alluded to. --Catherine Woodgold 07:38, 7 May 2007 (CDT)


  • Add a mention of alliteration (onset important), rhyming (rhyme important) - D&H p.74; spoonerisms (D&H 74-5). John Stephenson 22:16, 10 October 2007 (CDT)