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English syllable structure

From:Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Date:Tuesday, December 4, 2001, 17:23
At 9:56 PM -0500 12/03/01, Muke Tever wrote:
>From: "Andreas Johansson" <and_yo@...> >> Syllables? Assuming twenty possible onsets, ten >> possible centers (vowels) and twenty possible codas (all underestimates of >> the English inventories), we land on 4000 possible syllables. > >Well... A [Gen-Am] English syllable can start with: > >(zero) >p b t d tS dZ k g m n r f v T s z S h w j l > [and, probably not productively, D Z x] >gl gr kl kr Sr dr Tr fr fl br bl >tw dw Tw > [hw for some people too, > and gw, generally only in names] >kw kr skw skr tr str pr pl spr spl >sk st sl sn sf sp sm sw >[also: hj kj gj fj vj pj bj mj before u] > >which is... 54 that can occur freely. > >Vowels can be, I think, > > i I u U e E o A { V > >which is... ten. > >Codas can be, heek... >p b t d tS dZ k g m n r f v T s z S Z N l r > [again with the D Z x, also w j restrictedly] >lb lm lf lp lk lt ld ls mp sk st sp nk nt nks nts nd ns >ltS ldZ ntS ndZ >kT ksT nT tT dT lT nT fT pT mT mpf >[with the plural/present morpheme s/z, the past morpheme t/d, and the archaic >st/zd addable to most of these] > >I know there's more (offhand I can think of: lS ('welsh') nS ('mensch') Nst >('angst') N). > >About 54, 55... (This is not counting most /r/..) > >But as it stands that's at least 30,000 possible English syllables, >from "uh" to >"straurmphst". >(Ack! I didn't even count diphthongs!)
No matter. You also failed to factor in phonotactic patterns. That is, not all logically possible combinations of syllable peak and coda are attested (there may also be onset-rime restrictions as well). Some of these gaps are accidental, but most are principled. For example, tense vowels and diphthongs don't occur with non-alveolar consonant clusters. (I can only think of [OINk] as a potential exception, but that only gets us 'oink' and 'boink'; these forms are onomatopoetic and arguably not part of core grammar.) So the monstrosity you cite can't be a possible syllable. Taking account of phonotactic patterns will trim the 30,000 figure quite a bit. Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga "Speech is human, silence is divine, yet also brutish and dead; therefore we must learn both arts." - Thomas Carlyle


Muke Tever <alrivera@...>
John Cowan <jcowan@...>