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SYLLABIC STRUCTURE OF ENGLISH WORDS
The syllable /ðə ˈsɪləbl/ is a phonetic unit consisting of a sound or a sound sequence pronounced by one articulatory effort which results auditorily in one uninterrupted unit of perception.
In English, syllables are formed on the basis of the phonological opposition “vowel-consonant”. Vowels are usually syllabic /sɪˈlæbɪk/ while consonants are not, with the exception of sonorants /1/, /m/, /n/ which become syllabic in an unstressed final position preceded by a noise consonant, for example little /ˈlɪ-tl/, blossom /ˈblɒ-sm/, garden /ˈɡɑ:-dn/. The English sonorants /w/ and /j/ are never syllabic as they are always syllable-initial. Every word has as many syllables as it has syllabic elements.
The structure of the syllable /ðə ˈstrʌkʧər əv ðə ˈsɪləbl/ depends on the number and the arrangement of consonants. In English there are four phonetic types of syllables:
1) V – uncovered open which consists of one vowel sound, e.g.: I /aɪ/, or /ɔ:/;
2) VC – uncovered closed which consists of a vowel followed by one or more consonants, e.g.: odd /ɒd/;
3) CV – covered open which consists of a vowel preceded by one or more consonants, e.g.: no /nәʊ/;
4) CVC – covered closed which consists of a vowel preceded and followed by one or more consonants, e.g.: cat /kæt/.
The “covered” type of syllable is more characteristic of English than the “uncovered” type.
1) V – I; VC – eat; VCC – act; VCCC – asks.
2) CV – no; CVC – cat; CVCC – fact; CVCCC – linked; CCVC – plan; CCCVC – spleen; CCVCC – twiddle; CCVCCC – stamps; CCCVCC – spleens; CVCCCC– texts.
The commonest types of the syllable in English are VC and CVC.
As to the number of syllables in the English word it can vary from one to eight, for example: one – come /kʌm/,two – city /ˈsɪ-tɪ/, three – family /ˈfæ-mɪ-lɪ/, four – simplicity /sɪm-ˈplɪ-sɪ-tɪ/, five – unnaturally /ʌn-ˈnæ-t∫ə-rə-lɪ/,six – compatibility /kəm-ˌpæ-tɪ-ˈbɪ-lɪ-tɪ/,seven – incompatibility /ɪn-kəm-ˌpæ-tɪ-ˈbɪ-lɪ-tɪ/,eight–unintelligibility /ʌn-ɪn-te-lɪ- ʤɪ-ˈbɪ-lɪ-tɪ/.
Nevertheless, the characteristic feature of English is monosyllabism: it contains between four and five thousand monosyllabic words. Most of the words of the Old English origin are of one syllable.
Syllables can also be classified according to
1) the position in the word:
(a) initial /ɪˈnɪʃəl/,
(b) medial /ˈmi:djəl/,
2) the relation to stress:
(a) pretonic /prɪˈtɒnɪk/,
(b) tonic /ˈtɒnɪk/,
(c) postonic /pəʊstˈtɒnɪk/,
(d) atonic /əˈtɒnɪk/.
Questions for self-control:
1. What is the syllable?
2. How is the syllable formed in English?
3. Why are the English sonorants /w/ and /j/ never syllabic?
4. How is it possible to establish the number of syllables according to the syllable-forming elements?
5. Name and characterize structural types of syllables.
6. What are the commonest types of the syllable in English structurally?
7. What is the characteristic feature of English according to the number of syllables in the word?
8. What is the limit for the number of syllables in a word in English?
9. How can syllables be classified according to the position in the word and the relation to stress?