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The syllable formation theories.

a) expiratory (chest pulse or pressure) theory by R.H. Stetson. This theory is based on the assumption that expiration in speech is a pulsating process and each syllable should correspond to a single expiration. So the number of syllables in an utterance is determined by the number of expirations made in the production of the utterance.

b) the sonority theory. According to O. Jespersen, each sound is characterized by a certain degree of sonority which is understood us acoustic property of a sound that determines its perceptibility. According to this sound property a ranking of speech sounds could be established: <the least sonorous> voiceless plosives à voiced fricatives àvoiced plosives à voiced fricatives à sonorants à close vowels àopen vowels <the most sonorous>. In the word plant for example we may use the following wave of sonority: [pla:nt].

c) the theory of syllable by LV Shcherba. It is called the theory of muscular tension. In most languages there is the syllabic phoneme in the centre of the syllable which is usually a vowel phoneme or, in some languages, a sonorant. The phonemes preceding or following the syllabic peak are called marginal. The tense of articulation increases within the range of prevocalic consonants and then decreases within the range of postvocalic consonants.

d) N.I. Zhinkin has suggested the so-called loudness theory which seems to combine both production and perception levels. The experiments carried out by N.I. Zhinkin showed that the arc of loudness of perception level is formed due to variations of the volume pharyngeal passage which is modified by contractions of its walls. The narrowing of the passage and the increase in muscular tension which results from it reinforce the actual loudness of a vowel thus forming the peak of the syllabic. So the syllable is the arc оf loudness which correlates with the arc of articulatory effort on the speed production level since variations in loudness are due to the work of all speech mechanisms.

It is perfectly obvious that no phonetician has succeeded so far in giving an adequate explanation of what the syllable is. The difficulties seem to arise from the various possibilities of approach to the unit. There exist two points of view:

1. Sоme linguists consider the syllable to be a purely articulatory unit which lacks any functional value. This point of view is defended on the ground that the boundaries of syllables do not always coincide with those of morphemes.

2. However the majority of linguists treat the syllable as the smallest pronounceable unit which can reveal some linguistic function.


A syllable is a speech unit consisting of a sound or a sound sequence one of which is heard to be more prominent than the others.

The most prominent sound is the peak or the nucleus of a syllable is called syllabic.

Syllabic sounds are generally vowels (monophthongs, diphthongoids and diphthongs) and sonorants ([ m,n, ŋ, l, w, j, r]).

A word consisting of only one vowel sound represents a separate syllable, e.g. I [ai], are[a:], or[o:], awe [o:].

Syllabic sonorants – apple [ǽpl], trouble [trΛbl], puzzle [pΛzl],middle [midl].

Many words in English such as parcel [pa:səl], level [levəl], person [pə:sən], ruffle [rΛfəl], blossom [blosəm] could be pronounced with the neutral vowel [ ə] before the sonorant thus making it non-syllabic, so the word has got 2 syllables. It is possible to pronounce some of them without any vowel- letter before the final sonorant - parcel [pa:sl], ruffle [rΛfl], blossom [blosm] so the have got 1 syllable.

Syllable Division

1. Sometimes the beginning of a syllable is marked by a stress.

2. The transition from one vowel sound to another indicates the separation of syllables. e.g. seeing [si:iŋ].

3. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the word into syllables because you may do it in 2or 3 ways – extra[ekstrə] or [ek-strə] or [eks-trə].

Remember and follow the syllable division rules!

§ When a consonant is preceded by a long vowel or a diphthong this consonant belongs to the following syllabic sound, e.g. about [ə- baut], writing [rai-tiŋ].

§ When a short stressed vowel followed by a consonant there are 3 viewpoints concerning the syllable boundary:

1. t he consonant belongs to the short vowel preceding it – pity [pit-i], coffee [kof-i], better [bet-ə].

2. t he consonant belongs to the vowel following it - pity [pi-ti], coffee [ko-fi], better [be-tə].

3. the syllabic boundary goes through the consonant - pity [piti], coffee [kofi], better [betə].

§ The combinations of consonants belong to the following syllabic sounds. e.g. naturally [nǽt -rə-li].


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