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Functional characteristics of the syllable

The syllable as a phonological unit performs three functions: constitutive, distinctive, identificatory. They are closely connected.

1. Constitutive Function

Syllables constitute words, phrases and sentences through the com­bination of their prosodic features: loudness — stress, pitch — tone, duration — length and tempo. Syllables may be stressed, unstressed,, high, mid, low, rising, falling, long, short. All these prosodic fea­tures constitute the stress pattern of words, tonal and rhythmic struc­ture of an utterance, help to perform distinctive variations on the syllabic level.

2. Distinctive and Differentiator^ Function

If we compare the words: lightening освещение and lightning молния, we may observe that their syllabicity is the only min­imal, distinctive feature: /Uaitfltn vs. Uaitnm/.

It is an example of the word-distinctive function of the syllab­icity of /n/.

There are rather many combinations in English distinguished from each other by means of the difference in the place ol the syllabic boundary: a name—an aim, ice cream —/ scream, we loanwe'll own: /ataeim/—/an leim/, /iais'kri: m/—/ai iskrhm/, /wi- Uaun/—, /wil isun/.

The distinctive, differentiator function of the syllabic boundary makes it possible to introduce the term " juncture". Close juncture or conjuncture occurs between sounds within one syllable, e.g. a name, I scream: in the first example the close juncture is between In! and /ei/, in the second — between /s/ and /k/. Open juncture, disjuncture, or internal open juncture occurs between two syllables. If we mark open juncture with /-f / then in our examples it will occur between a +mme, I + scream. American scientists H. A. Gleason, L. S. Har-

ris and K. Pike consider the open juncture a separate segmental phoneme. They include /+/ into the inventory of phonemes as a separate differentiatory unit.

3. Identificatory Function

This function is conditioned by the pronunciation of the speaker. The listener can understand the exact meaning of the utterance only if he perceives the correct syllabic boundary — " syllabodisjuncture", e.g. pea stalks стеблу горохаpeace talks мирные переговоры; my train мой поезд — might rain возможен дождь.

The existence of such pairs demands special attention to teaching not only the correct pronunciation of sounds but also the observation of the correct place for syllabodisjuncture.


The auditory image of a syllable can be shown in transcription: unknown /1лп-1пзип/, liner /Uai-пэ/, maker /imet-кэ/. Parts of ortho­graphic and phonetic syllables do not always coincide. E. g.

Word Phonetic syllables Orthographic syllables



table /Itei-bl/ ta-ble
laden /Uei-dn/ la-den
Spanish /fspga-nij/ Span-ish

It is very important to observe correct syllable division when necessity arises to divide a word in writing. Division of words into syllables in writing (syllabographs) is based on morphological prin­ciples. The morphological principle of word division in orthography demands that the part of a word, which is separated, should be either a prefix, or a suffix, or a root (morphograph): un-divided, utter-ance, pun-ishs be-fore.

However, if there are two or three consonants before -ing, these consonants may be separated in writing, e. g. gras-ping, puz-zling.

Words can be divided in writing according to their syllabic struc­ture, e. g. un-kind'U-ness. They can also be divided according to their meaning, e.g. spot-light.

There are six rules to help with dividing a word in writing:

1) Never divide a word within a syllable.

2) Never divide an ending (a suffix) of two syllables such as -able,
-ably, -fully.

3) With the exception of -ly, never divide a word so that an end­
ing of two letters such as -ed, -er, -ic begins the next line.

4) Never divide a word so that one of the parts is a single letter.

5) Never divide a word of one syllable.

6) Never divide a word of less than five letters.1

If we compare the system of syllable division and syllable forma-

1 Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary ofi Current English by A. S. Hornby — Moscow, 1982, — P. XIV.

tion in Russian and in English, we can draw the following conclu­sions:

1) Similar syllabic structural types can be found in both languages.

2) In both languages the single intervocal consonant between two
phonetic syllables belongs to the next vowel:

morning /lfflo: -mn/—мо-ре

cozy /'кэи-zi/—во-ля

occasi on /э-'ке1-зп/—вб-ло-ком

The checked vowels constitute an exception, e.g. city, pity.

There is a tendency in the Russian language to accomplish syllable division before a sound of minimal sonority, e. g. тол-па, мор'Ской^. конь-ки, боч-ка, etc.

3) All consonants may begin a syllable in English, the only ex­
ception is the sound /rj/. In the system of the Russian language all
consonants may begin a syllable.

4) The structure of the Russian syllable is characterized by more
complex initial clusters. The structure of the English syllable is char­
acterized by more complex final clusters.

5) Initial CCCC type clusters constitute syllables only in Russian.

6) Russian words of foreign origin with the suffixes -ция, -ия,
corresponding to English words with the suffixes -tion, -y, have one
extra syllable: революцияrevolution, тенденцияtendency.

7) English diphthortgsjDelong to one syllable, triphthongs may be
divided into two parts.


1. What is a syllable? 2, What are the lines along which a syllable can be analysed? 3. What is the structure of the syllable? 4. Define the peak and the slopes of the syllable. 5. " What is the role of sonorants-in syllable formation? 6. What do you know about different structur­al types of the syllable? 7. What do you know about structural dif­ferences of English and Russian syllables? 8. Speak on the theories-of syllable formation. 9. What do you know about syllable division? ' 10. How does the syllable perform constitutive and distinctive func­tions? 11. What is " disjuncture" (" internal open juncture"), " close-juncture" (" conjuncture")? 12. Give examples to prove the importance-of the ident'iflcatory function ö f the disjuncture. 13. What are the* principal differences of syllable formation and syllable division in; English and in Russian?


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