Syllable Division

Topics: Vowel, Syllable, Phonology Pages: 8 (2726 words) Published: November 12, 2006

Abstract: This article will present some considerations on syllable division in order to help EFL learners. Some theories will be presented so that it is possible to check the various studies on such important topic. A scheme about separating the syllables will be shown and a topic on ambisyllabicity as well. Key-Words: Syllable Division. Theories. Syllable Structure

The syllable is a basic unit of speech studied on both the phonetic and phonological levels of analysis. For learners of English as a foreign language it is such a hard task to define and identify what a syllable is, even because there are no universally agreed upon phonetic definitions of what it is. So the main objective of this work is to present some theories about syllable definition, what syllable structure is, how syllable division works and lastly to conclude how it might be useful for any EFL learners. The Theories

Phonetic Definition
According to Roach (2000, p. 70) syllables "are usually described as consisting of a centre which has little or no obstruction to airflow and which sounds comparatively loud; before and after that centre (…) there will be greater obstruction to airflow and/or less loud sound". In the monosyllable (one-syllable word) cat /kæt/, the vowel /æ/ is the "centre" at which little obstruction takes place, whereas we have complete obstruction to the airflow for the surrounding plosives /k/ and /t/. Phonological Definition

Laver (1994, p. 114) defines the phonological syllable as "a complex unit made up of nuclear and marginal elements". Nuclear elements are the vowels or syllabic segments; marginal elements are the consonants or non-syllabic segments. In the syllable paint /peɪnt/, the diphthong /eɪ/ is the nuclear element, while initial consonant /p/ and the final cluster /nt/ are marginal elements. Prominence Theory

Attempts have been made to provide physiological, acoustic or auditory explanations and definitions of the syllable. According to the prominence theory, for example, which is based mainly on auditory judgments, the number of syllables in a word is determined by the number of peaks of prominence. In the word entertaining /ˌentəˈteɪnɪŋ/ the peaks of prominence are represented by the vowels /e ə eɪ ɪ/. However, this theory does not help much in discussions of syllable division. Chest Pulse Theory

The chest pulse theory discusses the syllable in the context of muscular activities and lung movements in the process of speech. Experiments have shown that the number of chest pulses, accompanied by increase of air pressure can determine the number of syllables produced (Gimson, 1980, p. 56), so allowing to associate the number of syllables with the number of chest pulses. This approach, however, cannot be used for cases when two vowels occur one after the other – for example in words like being /ˈbi:ɪŋ/ or playing /ˈpleɪɪŋ/ the second chest pulse might be almost irrelevant and thus lead erroneously to the conclusion that such English words consist of one syllable only. Sonority Scale

Another approach is presented by sonority theory according to which the pulses of lung air stream in speech "correspond to peaks in sonority" (Giegerich, 1992, p. 132). The sonority of a speech sound is discussed as "its relative loudness compared to other sounds" (Giegerich, 1992, p.132) and each syllable corresponds to a peak in the flow rate of lung air. Then nuclear elements or syllabic segments can be described as intrinsically more sonorous than marginal or non-syllabic elements. Speech sounds can be ranked in terms of their intrinsic sonority according to a sonority scale. The sonority scale for English is given below (although in principle it is also valid for other languages). Voiced segments are more sonorous than...

References: • Giegerich, H. J. English Phonology. An Introduction. CUP, 1992.
• Gimson, A. C. An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. Third edition. Edward Arnold, 1980.
• Jones, D. Edited and revised by P. Roach and J. Hartman. English Pronouncing Dictionary. 15th edition. CUP, 1997.
• Lass, R. Phonology. An Introduction to Basic Concepts. CUP, 1984.
• Laver, J. Principles of Phonetics. CUP, 1994.
• Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. A Practical Course. 3rd edition. CUP, 2000.
• Wells, J. C. Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. 2nd edition. Pearson Education Limited, 2000.
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