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Functions of the syllable.

Theories of Syllable Formation


#1 Expiratory Theory (Pressure Theory)

It was introduced by R.H. Stetson. The theory is based on the fact that expiration in speech is a pulsating process. So, according to Stetsons point of view there are as many syllables in a word as there are expiration pulses. The border line between two syllables is at the point of the weakest expiration.

The theory proved to be inconsistent and was criticized by a number of linguists. It was pointed out that it is possible to pronounce several syllables, even a number of words or phrase with a single aspiration.


#2 SonorityTheory (Prominent Theory)


It was introduced by O. Jespersen and further developed by a number of western linguists. According to this theory there are as many syllables in a word as there are peaks of prominence according to the scale of sonority. By sonority we understand the acoustic property of speech sounds to carry power that determines the degree of their perceptibility.

The most sonorous sounds are vowels, then sonorants, and consonants. Among vowels the most sonorous are open vowels. Among consonants voiced consonants are most sonorous. The most sonorous sounds tend to form the centre of the syllable.


The word branch - there the sequence passes from the least sonorous [b] through sonorant [r] to the maximum [ɑː], then sonority gradually decreases through [n] to [ʧ].


The Theory of Muscular Tension


The theory was introduced by and then adopted by other linguists. According to it the syllable is like an arch of muscular tension with weak phonemes in the beginning and in the end, and a strong phoneme in the middle. So, the energy increases within the range of pre-vocalic consonants and gradually decreases within the range of post-vocalic consonants.


The theory was modified by , who stated that any syllable can be characterized by 3 features: 1. pitch, 2. intensity, 3. lengh. Within the syllables these features change from minimum to maximum and then to minimum again.


Loudness Theory


It was introduced by and seems to combine s and s points of view. According to this theory a syllable can be seen as the arc of loudness and the arc of articulatory effort due to the fact that the increase in muscular tension actually reinforces the loudness of the vowels.



The variety of theories proves that the syllable is a complicated phenomenon. We can approach the syllable from 2 points of view. We can regard it as a purely articulatory unit that doesnt have any functional value; or we can see it as the minimal unit that reveals some linguistic functions.

Most linguists support the second point of view that can be proved by the following facts:

1) A syllable can be seen as a number of phonemes.

2) The syllable is based from the contrast between vowels and consonants.

3) The functions of the nuclear of the syllable is performed by vowels.

Minimally a syllable consists of a vowel or a sonorant, which is the nuclear or centre of the syllable. Sometimes a syllable may consist of a consonant (Mm , Shh). So, vowels are syllabic while consonants are not with the exception of consonants [m], [n], [l] which become syllabic if they occur in an unstressed final position before a noise consonant (people - [pipl]).


Traditionally 4 basic types of syllable are singled out:


1. Open syllable. There are syllables that have one or more consonants preceding the nuclear. They make up the syllable onset (play, me).


2. Closed syllable. These are syllables that have one or more consonants following the nuclear. They make up coda. (am)


3. Covered syllable. These are syllables that have both onset and coda. (hunt)


4. Uncovered syllable consists only of a nuclear. (I, oh)


For English closed type of syllables is a fundamental one, while in Russian this is the open type. It should also be mentioned that in spite of the fact that a vowel is usually the nuclear of the syllable, there is an exception to this rule. As David Krystal points out, in some accents there are syllable consonant lire [r] in the words. (Bird [bɔːd], [brd])


Syllable Division


Its one thing to count the number of syllables in the word and quite another to decide, where the boundaries between syllables should go. Its quite clear that sounds of language can be grouped according to certain rules. The part of phonetics that deals with this problem is called phonotactics. In syllable division the following rules are important:


1) In the words of (C)V CV type the syllable division is naturally before the intervocalic consonant if the first vowel is a long one or a diphthong ([ti:|ʧə], [ɑː|mi]). If the vowel is a short monophthong in a stressed position, it must be checked. Such a vowel may occur only in a closed syllable. It means that in this syllabic structure the syllabic division can go either within the consonant or after it. Most phoneticians consider the syllable division in those words to go within the intervocalic consonant: [letə].


2) Another problematic case of syllable division is connected with the words agree, abrupt, admire. The question is: where should the syllable boundary go, up to the first vowel or between the consonant? The phonological criteria is applied in these cases. In the words agree and abrupt the syllable boundary after the first vowel, because such initial clasters gr, br are possible in English words (grow). In admire the boundary goes after d because there are no English words which begin with dm.


3) There are cases when the suggested criteria may fail. Thats the case with the word extra. There are 3 possible variants of division: [ek | s | t | ra]. All of them are possible because initial cluster str exist in English. As D. Krystal points out there is no obvious way to solve this problem, so we should rely on the speakers intuition.


Functions of the syllable.


#1. Constitutive function. It demonstrate the ability of the syllable to form larger units such as words, morphemes and sentences.


#2. Distinctive function. It shows that a syllable is capable of differentiating words.

an aim [ən | eim] a name [ə | neim]

Ice-cream [ais | kri:m] I scream [ai | skri:m]


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 1689

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