Sunday, 8 December 2013

Syllable in English Language


1. A syllable is a sound, or a group of sounds, produced by a single chest pulse and containing a vowel. e.g. ne-ver-the-less. In other words it is a unit of human speech that is interpreted by the listener as a single sound, although syllables usually consist of one or more sounds.

2. A unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word; e.g., there are two syllables in ‘water’ and three in ‘inferno’.

3. A unit of spoken language larger than a phoneme.

Syllables are often considered the phonological "building blocks" of words. They can influence the rhythm of a language, its prosody, its poetic meter and its stress patterns.


Syllabification is the term which refers to the division of a word into syllables. A word containing a single syllable is called monosyllabic (cat), if it contains more than one, the term polysyllabic (contain) is used.

It is not very difficult to identify the syllables in English words

1.    Rat, / r æ t /, (1) (monosyllabic)
2.    Redeem, / r ɪ - d ɪ: m /, (2) (disyllabic)
3.    Humanist, / h j u: - m ə - n ɪ s t /, (3) (trisyllabic)
4.    Degenerate, / d ɪ - dʒ e - n ə - r eɪ t /, (4)
5.    Electricity, / ɪ - l e k - t r ɪ - s ɪ - t ɪ /, (5)  
6.    Characterization, / k æ - r ɪ k - t ə - r aɪ - z eɪʃ ə n /, (6)

Syllable Structure (Onset + Nucleus + Coda)

It will be clear from the words above that the number of syllables in each corresponds to the number of vowel sounds it contains. This rough and ready rule of dividing words into syllables will apply to most words in English.

Each syllable can have one or more consonants before the vowel and one or more after the vowel. In an English syllable, maximum number of consonant cluster before a vowel (initial consonant cluster) is three; while after a vowel (final consonant cluster) is four. Sometimes a syllable is defined as ”a vowel preceded by from zero to three consonants, and followed by from zero to four consonants”. Sometimes a single vowel can serve as a syllable. e.g. a-gain / ə - g eɪ n /

The vowel is essential to the structure of a syllable and is called the nucleus of the syllable. The consonant, on the other hand, is optional.

Consonants before the vowel (nucleus) form the ‘onset’ of the syllable (e.g. / m /, / s /, / pl / in me, so, play); it may be simple onset containing one segment and complex onset containing more than one segment. Consonants after the vowel form ‘coda’ (e.g. / mp /, / nt / in jump and account).

We can analyze the structure of different kinds of syllable.

V = I                               VC = an                           CV = no
CVC = can                        CCV = play                       CCCV = straw
CCCVC = stream                CCCVCC = strange             CVCCC = texts
CCVCCC = stands              CCVCC = spans                 VCC = and, ask

Syllables can be of two types, open and closed. This classification is made on the basis of their ending. Syllables ending in a vowel or diphthong are known as open such as do / d u: / with a CV structure. Those that end in consonants are called closed or checked syllables, such as 'sit' / s i t / with a CVC structure.

Syllable Stress

In a word with two or more syllables, one syllable is stressed (meaning they have a stronger and longer sound) and the other syllables are unstressed or weak (meaning they are not said or pronounced as strong or as long as stressed syllables). Pronounce the words below and note the stressed syllables. The stressed syllable is in bold.

pre-pare        sig-ni-fi-cance         com-pu-ter       in-con-spic-u-ous

An extra prominence is given to these bold syllables. In other words, stress is the degree of force that is used to pronounce a syllable. Some languages like English are stress-timed. In such languages, stress carries meaning. For example, in disyllabic (having two syllables) words like ‘permit’ if we stress the first syllable / 'pəmit /, it is a noun and if we stress the second syllable / pə'mit /, it becomes a verb.