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The syllabic structure of English

1. Syllable as a phonetic and phonological unit.

2. Functions of the syllable.

3. Types of syllables.

4. The structure of the English syllable.

5. The main rules of syllable division in modern English.

6. Theories of syllable formation and syllable division.

1.Phonems are the smallest segments into which the speech is divided for purposes of analysis. But in real speech sounds are not pronounced separately. And sometimes it’s practically impossible to drop boundaries between them. If we slow down our speech and try to articulate sounds distinctly we shall see that the smallest units into which speech is divided are syllables.

J. Kenyon. According to him the syllable – is one or more speech sounds forming a single an interrupted unit of alterance, which may be a whole word or a commonly recognized and separable subdivision of a word (Eng-lish) or a word form. (Late – later). The syllable can be considered as both a phonetic and a phonological unit.

As a phonetic unit the syllable can be characterized in articulatory, auditory and acoustic terms with the universal application for all languages. Acoustically and auditory the syllable is characterized by the force of utterance (stress). It also can be characterized by pitch of the voice, by length and others. Auditory the syllable is the smallest unit of perception, which means that the listener first identify the syllable and only after that its sound structure. The articulatory energy constitutes in the syllable results from the combination of actions of the vibrator, resonator and obstructer.

As a phonological unit the syllable can be described only with reference to the particular language. Because each language has its own rules combining phonemes into syllables.

Some combinations are permissible others are not. That’s why one and the same word can be interpreted differently in terms of its syllabic structure. Ex: kna-be - consists of two syllables (the German point of view), [ke-na-be] – English.

The ancient Greece noticed that vowels and consonants fulfill different functions in speech. The function of a vowel is to occupy the central position in sound combinations, while consonants serve as margins of the sound combinations. The very term consonant means sounding with something. It all means that vowels are always syllabic, and consonants are incapable of forming syllables without vowels. In some languages some sonorous consonants can by syllabic.



3. Types of syllables

According to the length syllables may be short and long. The unit of syllable length is called the mora. It is equal to the duration of a short vowel sound or a short syllable. The duration of long syllable is equal to 2 moras. In some languages as Latin for example the position of word stress is determined by counting the number of moras, but not syllables from the end of the word. English and Russian are syllable countable languages.

Syllables may be classified according to the exentual wit. That is according to the variation in the force of utterance. From this point of view syllables can be stressed and unstressed. The stressed syllables can be with primary stress and the second stress.

In ma monophonemic syllable one phoneme is the vowel and it forms the hole of the syllable. Ex: or – owe. In a polyphonemec syllable the vowel form the crest of the syllable. The consonants presiding or following the crest form syllable slows. Vowels are always syllabic occupying the central position of the syllable. Consonants are not syllabic and marginable. According to the presents number and arrangements of consonants of the syllable there are 23 syllable patterns in the English. They can be: V, CV, VC, CC… In a syllable there can be up to 3 consonants before vowel and up to 4 consonants up to it. Ex: texts.

Syllable patterns

· The most frequent and fundamental is CVC – doll, cat.

· Syllables with to consonants at the beginning constitute ore then 50 combinations. 246 combinations in Russian. Ex – speak.

· Syllable with 3 consonants at the beginning constitute 14 combination in English and 97 in Russian.

· Maximum at the beginning can be 3 consonants in English.


There are certain restrictions on the possible consonants clusters in English. At the initial position the restriction is:

· Before the vowel they can be any vowel except the consonant ng.

· No consonant combinations are possible with the consonants [th], [z], [tsh], [dzh].

· The following consonant clusters are impossible initially: kn, gn, mh, sr, ssh, spw, fs, hr,

In Russian language the combinations are quite possible.

Speaking about the final consonants final clusters are much more complex then the initial ones. And they are more complex than in the Russian language. This is due to the fact that final clusters in English express grammatical meanings. Ex: plurality, tens, ordinal number and so on. While in Russian most grammatical meanings are expressed by prefixes. Ex: Вскрикнуть.

5. The main rules of syllable division in modern English.

The boundaries between syllables in English are predetermine by the restrictions on the possible combinations of phonemes.

1. English historically short stressed vowels occur only in a closed syllable. It means that the syllabic boundary never occurs after the vowel, but after the following consonant. Ex: lovely. Sometime

Sometimes the boundary can be within the consonants and this is the only consonant between the short vowel and the succeeding vowel. Ex: letter, bigger. The consonants split into tool. If a short stressed vowel is separated by one consonant from a syllabic sonant the boundary between the syllables is also within the consonants. Ex: little.

2. When a long monothongs a diphthong or an unstressed short vowel is separated by a succeeding vowel by one consonant the syllable in which the vowel occurs is always open. Ex: i-dea.

3. When there is a cluster of consonants between 2 vowels the place of the syllabic bounder is a conditioned by whether the … possible or impossible.

a) if a cluster can occur in the initial position the syllabic boundary is before it. Ex: a-gree.

b) if a cluster does not occur initially the boundary is between the consonants. Ex: to ad-mit.

c) when 2 vowel are separated by more than 2 consonants the boundary can be in different positions depending on whether the clusters are possible or impossible in the beginning of the word.

4. The so called triphthongs in English are by syllabic combinations. They contain 2 vowels and the boundary is between those vowels. Ex: flow-er.


There exist different theories expressing different points of view on syllable formation and syllable division.

1. The most ancient theory states that there are as many syllables as there are vowel. The theory is primitive and insufficient, because it does not take into the consideration the consonants which in some languages can be syllabic. The theory does not explain the boundaries between syllables.

2. Among the oldest theories is the so called expiratory theory. A syllable is a sound or a group of sounds that are pronounced in one puls. There are as many syllables in a word as there are chulstpulses may during the utterance of the word. Each vowel sound is pronounced with increased inspiration. Boundaries between syllables occur in the places where there are changes in the air pressure. The theory does not explain all the cases of syllable division. For example: it is doubtful that just opposed vowels are pronounced with a double chalstpuls, though linguistically they are divided into 2 … If the pronunciation of the word star there are 2 expiratory pulses.



Varieties of English language

1.general notes on dialects.

2. Pronunciation types of British eng.

3. National pronunciations types of eng.

4. American pronunciation. Principal differences between received pronunciation and general American.

5. Styles of speech.


1. there exist numerous variants of pronunciation in eng language. The pronunciation of almost every locality in the British isles has some peculiarities. The varieties of all language spoken by social limited number of people and used in certain localities are called dialects. There are:

1) Social dialects – cockney – the most famous social dialect. Spoken by the less educated part of the Londoners.

2) Local dialects – Cornish dialect, Geordie.

Dialect speakers are less educated. Educated people speak use more standard English comprising modern pronunciation of vocabulary units and most frequent prosodic patterns. This type is called the orthopedic norm. The orthopedic norm of the language is the standard pronunciation adopted as the majority of the native speakers as the right and proper way of speaking. It is used by the most educated part of the population.

There well established pronunciation variant are fixed in the dictionaries as the first variants. While less common variants as the secondary ones. But the orthopedic norm is not fixed ones and forever. It’s changing under the influence of non-standard eng. If secondary variants become more frequent in the speech of educated people they are given as the first variants in the pronunciation dictionaries. Ex: Denial Jones “ English pronounced in dictionary”. Again – 1937 [agein], [agen]. Some time later 1946 [agen], [agein]. Those orthopedic norm of British eng is called received pronunciation.


2. Many educated people do not speak orthopedic norm, they speak standard eng with the regional accent. There are 3 types of cultivated eng in Britain nowadays:

· Southern eng pronunciation – it is the most standard. It also called Received Pronunciation (RP). Public school pronunciation. BBC eng. For reasons of politics and the presents of the court the pronunciation of the south-east of England and London in particular began to acquire an exceptional social prestige in the 16 century. In the course of time this variant lost some local characteristics. The southern type has been finely fixed in the speech of the educated people through the influence of the public schools of the 19 century. Such as Eaton. that’s why this pronunciation it is called as public school pronunciation. This pronunciation is not taught in this schools but adopted by the pupils automatically because the children get there at the age of 11 when pronunciation is most flexible. Being isolated from parents and communicating only with their classmates and teachers pupils acquire so called public school accent. Later on most public school pupils enter Oxford and Cambridge universities preserving their pronunciation and than most of them take the leading positions in poetics, in the army and so on. That’s why the southern pronunciation is suppose to be a prestige accent. This variant has become even more widely known because of it’s being accepted as the standard by the British broadcasting corporation (BBC), because it’s the most widely understood type of pronunciation. Denial Jones made the term received pronunciation.

· Northern eng pronunciation – this is the speech of the people born and brought up between Burmingen and the border of Scotland. It is containing some features of the letter modified by the local habits. The most marked differences are the following:


[e] [a] [men,bad]

[a] [e] [glass – gless]

[a] [u] [Cap – cup]

[ei] [e] [Teik – tek]

[ou] [o:] [gou – go:]

Tone sin NE are drawed and speech is slower than in Southern eng. The low rising tone is used much more often than in Received Pronunciation. All that gives a sing song quality to speech.

· Standard eng of Scotland - This type represents the earlier type of London eng of the 16-18 centuries. This type was carried to America and that’s why there are a lot of features I common between American and NE accents. It considerably modified by Southern Eng, but some of its features go back to North Sangrian dialect of the Anglo-Saxon tongue.


[r] [r – like Russian] [mor, born]

[l] [ dark l] – in all positions.

[h] [h – like in Russian]

Beck lingual fricative phoneme similar to the Russian h is used in words like Loch, caught [koht].

[hw] – with the initial diagraph wh – which [hvitch]

[e] [a] – bed, man.

[a] [e] – [glass – gles]

Scottish intonation is very little described.


3. English is the mother tongue of a few nations, that’s why it has the national variants. These variants has very much in common, but they also have some peculiarities of pronunciation.

-British Isles: Southern, Northern, Scottish.

-USA – Eastern American, Western American, Southern American.

- Canada


New zeland

South Africa


4. American pronunciation.

In the US there are 3 types of the cultivated speech:

1. The eastern type:

2. The southern type.

3. The western type (general American) – is referred to the standard pronunciation.

Though many linguist doubt that there is a standard English in the US, general American pronunciation has the greatest acceptability and prestige in the US.

T – it becomes more voiced.

Sh – becomes zh.

English vowels have the characteristic of length.

The sound o – becomes less violosed.

Ex received pronunciation – secretary. In America is pronounced with 2 stresses. Communicative – nu is stressed, in general American ca is stressed.


The main difference in the accentual system of general American is that in polysintactic words with the primary stress on the 4 syllable from the end there is a weak secondary stress on the suffix (ory, nory, ative). In received pronunciation the vowel in the suffixes is usually redused to the nutral e or dropped out.

Reading rules.



Ate[et] [eit]

Tomato[temateu] [temeiteu]

Schedule[shedjul] [skedu:l]

The pronunciation of words in GA follows the analogical principal. Its in closer accordance with general reading rules.

Spelling: theatre (BE). Theater (GA).

Behaviour (BE), behavior (GA)


On the whole linguists suppose that the most important different between British and American pronunciations is intonation. British intonation has wider melodic curse and more rapid changes. That’s why the speech of an Englishmen sounds explosive and manaristic to the Americans. While American speech sounds unemotional, dry, hesitating and monotones to the Englishmen. The most important differences are the following:

· Statements – the situation is in to lerable. The general idea is that the tune begins low, rises to a high level with the nuclear and that steadily falls down.

· General questions: they have arising tone in GA if a polite form is necessary. Ex: will u have /tea with me?

· Special questions: in both pronunciations they have a falling tone. Ex: When is he /co\ming?(GA)

· Polite requests: Ex: Hurry /up! In RP usually a fall rise is used in polite requests. Fall raised is used only for children.


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