Syllables

February 19, 2001
   
There is not a definitive phonological definition of a syllable, but there is enough information about the structure of a syllable for a computer to make good decisions about how and where words should be divided. Cynthia divides words into syllables by assuming that syllables have the following structure:

The head constituent is called the rhyme because two words are said to rhyme if they have the same nucleus and coda. Two words that have the same onset are said to aliterate. [consonants] represents a string of consonants with certain restrictions and vowel represents a single vowel. This description of a syllable only applies to words that have been transcribed phonetically. See the ARPAbet for an index of vowels and consonants.

The onset and coda can each be empty. A syllable with an empty coda is called an open syllable. Otherwise it is called a closed syllable. The coda can contain up to four consonants, as in the word glimpsed [g l ih m p s d].

The onset can have up to three consonants. If there are three consonants in the onset, then the first consonant must be /s/, the second consonant must be a voiceless stop /p, t, k/, and the third consonant must be an approximant /w, l, r, y/.

As a rule, the English language tends to prefer open syllables. Therefore a combination like VCV is likely to be divided as V CV, where V represents a vowel and each C represents a consonant. This is part of what is known as the onset principle and is described further in Katamba (1989).