A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel) with optional initial and final margins (typically, consonants). Syllables are often considered the phonological "building blocks" of words.[1] They can influence the rhythm of a language, its prosody, its poetic metre and its stress patterns. Speech can usually be divided up into a whole number of syllables: for example, the word ignite is composed of two syllables: ig and nite.

Syllabic writing began several hundred years before the first letters. The earliest recorded syllables are on tablets written around 2800 BC in the Sumerian city of Ur. This shift from pictograms to syllables has been called "the most important advance in the history of writing".[2]

A word that consists of a single syllable (like English dog) is called a monosyllable (and is said to be monosyllabic). Similar terms include disyllable (and disyllabic; also bisyllable and bisyllabic) for a word of two syllables; trisyllable (and trisyllabic) for a word of three syllables; and polysyllable (and polysyllabic), which may refer either to a word of more than three syllables or to any word of more than one syllable.


Syllable is an Anglo-Norman variation of Old French sillabe, from Latin syllaba, from Koine Greek συλλαβή syllabḗ (Greek pronunciation: [sylːabɛ̌ː]). συλλαβή means "what is taken together", referring to letters that are taken together to make a single sound.[3]

συλλαβή is a verbal noun from the verb συλλαμβάνω syllambánō, a compound of the preposition σύν sýn "with" and the verb λαμβάνω lambánō "take".[4] The noun uses the root λαβ-, which appears in the aorist tense; the present tense stem λαμβάν- is formed by adding a nasal infixμ⟨m⟩ before the β b and a suffix -αν -an at the end.[5]


In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the period ⟨.⟩ marks syllable breaks, such as in the word "astronomical" ⟨/ˌæs.trəˈnɒm.ɪk.əl/⟩.

In practice, however, IPA transcription is typically divided into words by spaces, and often these spaces are also understood to be syllable breaks. In addition, the stress mark ⟨ˈ⟩ is placed immediately before a stressed syllable, and when the stressed syllable is in the middle of a word, the stress mark also marks a syllable break, for example in the word "understood" ⟨/ʌndərˈstʊd/⟩.

When a word space comes in the middle of a syllable (that is, when a syllable spans words), a tie bar ⟨⟩ can be used for liaison, as in the French combination les amis/le.z‿a.mi/⟩. The liaison tie is also used to join lexical words into phonological words, for example hot dog/ˈhɒt‿dɒɡ/⟩.


Syllable components as a directed graph
Syllable illustration 1
Segmental model for cat and sing

Typical model

In the typical theory of syllable structure, the general structure of a syllable (σ) consists of three segments. These segments are grouped into two components:

Onset (ω)
a consonant or consonant cluster, obligatory in some languages, optional or even restricted in others
Rime (ρ)
right branch, contrasts with onset, splits into nucleus and coda
Nucleus (ν)
a vowel or syllabic consonant, obligatory in most languages
Coda (κ)
consonant, optional in some languages, highly restricted or prohibited in others

The syllable is usually considered right-branching, i.e. nucleus and coda are grouped together as a "rime" and are only distinguished at the second level.

The nucleus is usually the vowel in the middle of a syllable. The onset is the sound or sounds occurring before the nucleus, and the coda (literally 'tail') is the sound or sounds that follow the nucleus. They are sometimes collectively known as the shell. The term rime covers the nucleus plus coda. In the one-syllable English word cat, the nucleus is a (the sound that can be shouted or sung on its own), the onset c, the coda t, and the rime at. This syllable can be abstracted as a consonant-vowel-consonant syllable, abbreviated CVC. Languages vary greatly in the restrictions on the sounds making up the onset, nucleus and coda of a syllable, according to what is termed a language's phonotactics.

Although every syllable has supra-segmental features, these are usually ignored if not semantically relevant, e.g. in tonal languages.

Tone (τ)
may be carried by the syllable as a whole or by the rime

Chinese model

Chinese syllable tree
Traditional Chinese syllable structure

In Chinese syllable structure, the onset is replaced with an initial, and a semivowel or liquid forms another segment, called the medial. These four segments are grouped into two slightly different components:

Initial (ι)
optional onset, excluding sonorants
Final (φ)
medial, nucleus, and final consonant
Medial (μ)
optional semivowel or liquid
Nucleus (ν)
a vowel or syllabic consonant
Coda (κ)
optional final consonant

In many languages of the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area, such as Chinese, the syllable structure is expanded to include an additional, optional segment known as a medial, which is located between the onset (often termed the initial in this context) and the rime. The medial is normally a semivowel, but reconstructions of Old Chinese generally include liquid medials (/r/ in modern reconstructions, /l/ in older versions), and many reconstructions of Middle Chinese include a medial contrast between /i/ and /j/, where the /i/ functions phonologically as a glide rather than as part of the nucleus. In addition, many reconstructions of both Old and Middle Chinese include complex medials such as /rj/, /ji/, /jw/ and /jwi/. The medial groups phonologically with the rime rather than the onset, and the combination of medial and rime is collectively known as the final.

Some linguists, especially when discussing the modern Chinese varieties, use the terms "final" and "rime/rhyme" interchangeably. In historical Chinese phonology, however, the distinction between "final" (including the medial) and "rime" (not including the medial) is important in understanding the rime dictionaries and rime tables that form the primary sources for Middle Chinese, and as a result most authors distinguish the two according to the above definition.

Grouping of components

Syllable onset rhyme

Syllable onset rhyme
Syllable illustration 2
Hierarchical model for cat and sing
Syllable body coda

In some theories of phonology, syllable structures are displayed as tree diagrams (similar to the trees found in some types of syntax). Not all phonologists agree that syllables have internal structure; in fact, some phonologists doubt the existence of the syllable as a theoretical entity.[6]

There are many arguments for a hierarchical relationship, rather than a linear one, between the syllable constituents. One hierarchical model groups the syllable nucleus and coda into an intermediate level, the rime. The hierarchical model accounts for the role that the nucleus+coda constituent plays in verse (i.e., rhyming words such as cat and bat are formed by matching both the nucleus and coda, or the entire rime), and for the distinction between heavy and light syllables, which plays a role in phonological processes such as, for example, sound change in Old English scipu and wordu.[7]


In some traditional descriptions of certain languages such as Cree and Ojibwe, the syllable is considered left-branching, i.e. onset and nucleus group below a higher-level unit, called a "body" or "core". This contrasts with the coda.


The rime or rhyme of a syllable consists of a nucleus and an optional coda. It is the part of the syllable used in most poetic rhymes, and the part that is lengthened or stressed when a person elongates or stresses a word in speech.

The rime is usually the portion of a syllable from the first vowel to the end. For example, /æt/ is the rime of all of the words at, sat, and flat. However, the nucleus does not necessarily need to be a vowel in some languages. For instance, the rime of the second syllables of the words bottle and fiddle is just /l/, a liquid consonant.

Just as the rime branches into the nucleus and coda, the nucleus and coda may each branch into multiple phonemes. The limit for the number of phonemes which may be contained in each varies by language. For example, Japanese and most Sino-Tibetan languages do not have consonant clusters at the beginning or end of syllables, whereas many Eastern European languages can have more than two consonants at the beginning or end of the syllable. In English, the onset, nucleus, and coda may all have two phonemes, as in the word flouts: [fl] in the onset, the diphthong [aʊ] in the nucleus, and [ts] in the coda.

Rime and rhyme are variants of the same word, but the rarer form rime is sometimes used to mean specifically syllable rime to differentiate it from the concept of poetic rhyme. This distinction is not made by some linguists and does not appear in most dictionaries.

C = consonant, V = vowel, optional components are in parentheses.
structure: syllable = onset + rhyme
C⁺V⁺C*: C₁(C₂)V₁(V₂)(C₃)(C₄) = C₁(C₂) + V₁(V₂)(C₃)(C₄)
V⁺C*: V₁(V₂)(C₃)(C₄) = + V₁(V₂)(C₃)(C₄)


Syllable illustrations 3and4
Branching nucleus for pout and branching coda for pond

A heavy syllable is generally one with a branching rime, i.e. it is either a closed syllable that ends in a consonant, or a syllable with a branching nucleus, i.e. a long vowel or diphthong. The name is a metaphor, based on the nucleus or coda having lines that branch in a tree diagram.

In some languages, heavy syllables include both VV (branching nucleus) and VC (branching rime) syllables, contrasted with V, which is a light syllable. In other languages, only VV syllables are considered heavy, while both VC and V syllables are light. Some languages distinguish a third type of superheavy syllable, which consists of VVC syllables (with both a branching nucleus and rime) or VCC syllables (with a coda consisting of two or more consonants) or both.

In moraic theory, heavy syllables are said to have two moras, while light syllables are said to have one and superheavy syllables are said to have three. Japanese phonology is generally described this way.

Many languages forbid superheavy syllables, while a significant number forbid any heavy syllable. Some languages strive for constant syllable weight; for example, in stressed, non-final syllables in Italian, short vowels co-occur with closed syllables while long vowels co-occur with open syllables, so that all such syllables are heavy (not light or superheavy).

The difference between heavy and light frequently determines which syllables receive stress – this is the case in Latin and Arabic, for example. The system of poetic meter in many classical languages, such as Classical Greek, Classical Latin, Old Tamil and Sanskrit, is based on syllable weight rather than stress (so-called quantitative rhythm or quantitative meter).


Syllabification is the separation of a word into syllables, whether spoken or written. In most languages, the actually spoken syllables are the basis of syllabification in writing too. Due to the very weak correspondence between sounds and letters in the spelling of modern English, for example, written syllabification in English has to be based mostly on etymological i.e. morphological instead of phonetic principles. English "written" syllables therefore do not correspond to the actually spoken syllables of the living language.

Phonotactic rules determine which sounds are allowed or disallowed in each part of the syllable. English allows very complicated syllables; syllables may begin with up to three consonants (as in string or splash), and occasionally end with as many as four (as in prompts). Many other languages are much more restricted; Japanese, for example, only allows /ɴ/ and a chroneme in a coda, and theoretically has no consonant clusters at all, as the onset is composed of at most one consonant.[8]


There can be disagreement about the location of some divisions between syllables in spoken language. The problems of dealing with such cases have been most commonly discussed with relation to English. In the case of a word such as "hurry", the division may be /hʌr.i/ or /hʌ.ri/, neither of which seems a satisfactory analysis for a non-rhotic accent such as RP (British English): /hʌr.i/ results in a syllable-final /r/, which is not normally found, while /hʌ.ri/ gives a syllable-final short stressed vowel, which is also non-occurring. Arguments can be made in favour of one solution or the other: Wells (2002)[9] proposes a general rule that "Subject to certain conditions ..., consonants are syllabified with the more strongly stressed of two flanking syllables", while many other phonologists prefer to divide syllables with the consonant or consonants attached to the following syllable wherever possible. However, an alternative that has received some support is to treat an intervocalic consonant as ambisyllabic, i.e. belonging both to the preceding and to the following syllable: /hʌṛi/. This is discussed in more detail in English phonology § Phonotactics.


The onset (also known as anlaut) is the consonant sound or sounds at the beginning of a syllable, occurring before the nucleus. Most syllables have an onset. Syllables without an onset may be said to have a zero onset – that is, nothing where the onset would be.

Onset cluster

Some languages restrict onsets to be only a single consonant, while others allow multiconsonant onsets according to various rules. For example, in English, onsets such as pr-, pl- and tr- are possible but tl- is not, and sk- is possible but ks- is not. In Greek, however, both ks- and tl- are possible onsets, while contrarily in Classical Arabic no multiconsonant onsets are allowed at all.

Null onset

Some languages forbid null onsets. In these languages, words beginning in a vowel, like the English word at, are impossible.

This is less strange than it may appear at first, as most such languages allow syllables to begin with a phonemic glottal stop (the sound in the middle of English "uh-oh" or, in some dialects, the double T in "button", represented in the IPA as /ʔ/). In English, a word that begins with a vowel may be pronounced with an epenthetic glottal stop when following a pause, though the glottal stop may not be a phoneme in the language.

Few languages make a phonemic distinction between a word beginning with a vowel and a word beginning with a glottal stop followed by a vowel, since the distinction will generally only be audible following another word. However, Maltese and some Polynesian languages do make such a distinction, as in Hawaiian /ahi/ "fire" and /ʔahi/ "tuna".

Hebrew and Arabic forbid empty onsets. The names Israel, Abel, Abraham, Iran, Omar, Abdullah, and Iraq appear not to have onsets in the first syllable, but in the original Hebrew and Arabic forms they actually begin with various consonants: the semivowel /j/ in yisrāʔēl, the glottal fricative in /h/ heḅel, the glottal stop /ʔ/ in ʔaḅrāhām and ʔīrān, or the pharyngeal fricative /ʕ/ in ʕumar, ʕabduḷḷāh, and ʕirāq. Conversely, the Arrernte language of central Australia may prohibit onsets altogether; if so, all syllables have the underlying shape VC(C).[10]

The difference between a syllable with a null onset and one beginning with a glottal stop is often purely a difference of phonological analysis, rather than the actual pronunciation of the syllable. In some cases, the pronunciation of a (putatively) vowel-initial word when following another word – particularly, whether or not a glottal stop is inserted – indicates whether the word should be considered to have a null onset. For example, many Romance languages such as Spanish never insert such a glottal stop, while English does so only some of the time, depending on factors such as conversation speed; in both cases, this suggests that the words in question are truly vowel-initial. But there are exceptions here, too. For example, standard German (excluding many southern accents) and Arabic both require that a glottal stop be inserted between a word and a following, putatively vowel-initial word. Yet such words are said to begin with a vowel in German but a glottal stop in Arabic. The reason for this has to do with other properties of the two languages. For example, a glottal stop does not occur in other situations in German, e.g. before a consonant or at the end of word. On the other hand, in Arabic, not only does a glottal stop occur in such situations (e.g. Classical /saʔala/ "he asked", /raʔj/ "opinion", /dˤawʔ/ "light"), but it occurs in alternations that are clearly indicative of its phonemic status (cf. Classical /kaːtib/ "writer" vs. /maktuːb/ "written", /ʔaːkil/ "eater" vs. /maʔkuːl/ "eaten").

The writing system of a language may not correspond with the phonological analysis of the language in terms of its handling of (potentially) null onsets. For example, in some languages written in the Latin alphabet, an initial glottal stop is left unwritten; on the other hand, some languages written using non-Latin alphabets such as abjads and abugidas have a special zero consonant to represent a null onset. As an example, in Hangul, the alphabet of the Korean language, a null onset is represented with ㅇ at the left or top section of a grapheme, as in 역 "station", pronounced yeok, where the diphthong yeo is the nucleus and k is the coda.


Syllable onset nucleus coda

Syllable onset nucleus coda
Examples of syllable nuclei
Word Nucleus
cat [kæt] [æ]
bed [bɛd] [ɛ]
ode [oʊd] [oʊ]
beet [bit] [i]
bite [baɪt] [aɪ]
rain [ɻeɪn] [eɪ]
[ˈbɪt.ən] or [ˈbɪt.n̩]
[ə] or [n̩]

The nucleus is usually the vowel in the middle of a syllable. Generally, every syllable requires a nucleus (sometimes called the peak), and the minimal syllable consists only of a nucleus, as in the English words "eye" or "owe". The syllable nucleus is usually a vowel, in the form of a monophthong, diphthong, or triphthong, but sometimes is a syllabic consonant.

In most Germanic languages, lax vowels can occur only in closed syllables. Therefore, these vowels are also called checked vowels, as opposed to the tense vowels that are called free vowels because they can occur even in open syllables.

Consonant nucleus

The notion of syllable is challenged by languages that allow long strings of obstruents without any intervening vowel or sonorant. By far the most common syllabic consonants are sonorants like [l], [r], [m], [n] or [ŋ], as in English bottle, church (in rhotic accents), rhythm, button and lock 'n key. However, English allows syllabic obstruents in a few para-verbal onomatopoeic utterances such as shh (used to command silence) and psst (used to attract attention). All of these have been analyzed as phonemically syllabic. Obstruent-only syllables also occur phonetically in some prosodic situations when unstressed vowels elide between obstruents, as in potato [pʰˈteɪɾəʊ] and today [tʰˈdeɪ], which do not change in their number of syllables despite losing a syllabic nucleus.

A few languages have so-called syllabic fricatives, also known as fricative vowels, at the phonemic level. (In the context of Chinese phonology, the related but non-synonymous term apical vowel is commonly used.) Mandarin Chinese is famous for having such sounds in at least some of its dialects, for example the pinyin syllables sī shī rī, sometimes pronounced [sź̩ ʂʐ̩́ ʐʐ̩́] respectively. Though, like the nucleus of rhotic English church, there is debate over whether these nuclei are consonants or vowels.

Languages of the northwest coast of North America, including Salishan, Wakashan and Chinookan languages, allow stop consonants and voiceless fricatives as syllables at the phonemic level, in even the most careful enunciation. An example is Chinook [ɬtʰpʰt͡ʃʰkʰtʰ] 'those two women are coming this way out of the water'. Linguists have analyzed this situation in various ways, some arguing that such syllables have no nucleus at all and some arguing that the concept of "syllable" cannot clearly be applied at all to these languages.

Other examples:

Nuxálk (Bella Coola)
[ɬχʷtʰɬt͡sʰxʷ] 'you spat on me'
[t͡sʼkʰtʰskʷʰt͡sʼ] 'he arrived'
[xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬɬs] 'he had in his possession a bunchberry plant'[11]
[sxs] 'seal blubber'

In Bagemihl's survey of previous analyses, he finds that the Bella Coola word /t͡sʼktskʷt͡sʼ/ 'he arrived' would have been parsed into 0, 2, 3, 5, or 6 syllables depending on which analysis is used. One analysis would consider all vowel and consonant segments as syllable nuclei, another would consider only a small subset (fricatives or sibilants) as nuclei candidates, and another would simply deny the existence of syllables completely. However, when working with recordings rather than transcriptions, the syllables can be obvious in such languages, and native speakers have strong intuitions as to what the syllables are.

This type of phenomenon has also been reported in Berber languages (such as Indlawn Tashlhiyt Berber), Moroccan Arabic (apparently under Berber influence), Mon–Khmer languages (such as Semai, Temiar, Khmu) and the Ōgami dialect of Miyako, a Ryukyuan language.[12]

Indlawn Tashlhiyt Berber
[tftktst tfktstt] 'you sprained it and then gave it'
[rkkm] 'rot' (imperf.)[13]
[kckmrʔɛːc] 'short, fat arms'[14]


The coda (also known as auslaut) comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus. The sequence of nucleus and coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist of only a nucleus, only an onset and a nucleus with no coda, or only a nucleus and coda with no onset.

The phonotactics of many languages forbid syllable codas. Examples are Swahili and Hawaiian. In others, codas are restricted to a small subset of the consonants that appear in onset position. At a phonemic level in Japanese, for example, a coda may only be a nasal (homorganic with any following consonant) or, in the middle of a word, gemination of the following consonant. (On a phonetic level, other codas occur due to elision of /i/ and /u/.) In other languages, nearly any consonant allowed as an onset is also allowed in the coda, even clusters of consonants. In English, for example, all onset consonants except /h/ are allowed as syllable codas.

If the coda consists of a consonant cluster, the sonority decreases from left to right, as in the English word help. This is called the sonority profile.[15] English onset and coda clusters are therefore different. The onset str in strengths does not appear as a coda in any English word, and likewise the coda ngths does not appear as an onset in any word.

Open and closed

A coda-less syllable of the form V, CV, CCV, etc. (V = vowel, C = consonant) is called an open syllable or free syllable, while a syllable that has a coda (VC, CVC, CVCC, etc.) is called a closed syllable or checked syllable. Note that they have nothing to do with open and close vowels, but are defined according to the phoneme that ends the syllable: a vowel (open syllable) or a consonant (closed syllable). Almost all languages allow open syllables, but some, such as Hawaiian, do not have closed syllables.

Note that when a syllable is not the last syllable in a word, the nucleus normally must be followed by two consonants in order for the syllable to be closed. This is because a single following consonant is typically considered the onset of the following syllable. For example, Spanish casar "to marry" is composed of an open syllable followed by a closed syllable (ca-sar), whereas cansar "to get tired" is composed of two closed syllables (can-sar). When a geminate (double) consonant occurs, the syllable boundary occurs in the middle, e.g. Italian panna "cream" (pan-na); cf. Italian pane "bread" (pa-ne).

English words may consist of a single closed syllable, with nucleus denoted by ν, and coda denote by κ:

  • in: ν = /ɪ/, κ = /n/
  • cup: ν = /ʌ/, κ = /p/
  • tall: ν = /ɔː/, κ = /l/
  • milk: ν = /ɪ/, κ = /lk/
  • tints: ν = /ɪ/, κ = /nts/
  • fifths: ν = /ɪ/, κ = /fθs/
  • sixths: ν = /ɪ/, κ = /ksθs/
  • twelfths: ν = /ɛ/, κ = /lfθs/
  • strengths: ν = /ɛ/, κ = /ŋθs/

English words may also consist of a single open syllable, ending in a nucleus, without a coda:

  • glue, ν = /uː/
  • pie, ν = /aɪ/
  • though, ν = /oʊ/
  • boy, ν = /ɔɪ/

A list of examples of syllable codas in English is found at English phonology: Coda.

Null coda

Some languages, such as Hawaiian, forbid codas, so that all syllables are open.

Suprasegmental features

The domain of suprasegmental features is the syllable and not a specific sound, that is to say, they affect all the segments of a syllable:

Sometimes syllable length is also counted as a suprasegmental feature; for example, in some Germanic languages, long vowels may only exist with short consonants and vice versa. However, syllables can be analyzed as compositions of long and short phonemes, as in Finnish and Japanese, where consonant gemination and vowel length are independent.


In most languages, the pitch or pitch contour in which a syllable is pronounced conveys shades of meaning such as emphasis or surprise, or distinguishes a statement from a question. In tonal languages, however, the pitch affects the basic lexical meaning (e.g. "cat" vs. "dog") or grammatical meaning (e.g. past vs. present). In some languages, only the pitch itself (e.g. high vs. low) has this effect, while in others, especially East Asian languages such as Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese, the shape or contour (e.g. level vs. rising vs. falling) also needs to be distinguished.


Syllable structure often interacts with stress or pitch accent. In Latin, for example, stress is regularly determined by syllable weight, a syllable counting as heavy if it has at least one of the following:

In each case the syllable is considered to have two morae.

The first syllable of a word is the initial syllable and the last syllable is the final syllable.

In languages accented on one of the last three syllables, the last syllable is called the ultima, the next-to-last is called the penult, and the third syllable from the end is called the antepenult. These terms come from Latin ultima "last", paenultima "almost last", and antepaenultima "before almost last".

In Ancient Greek, there are three accent marks (acute, circumflex, and grave), and terms were used to describe words based on the position and type of accent. Some of these terms are used in the description of other languages.

Placement of accent
Antepenult Penult Ultima
Circumflex properispomenon perispomenon
Acute proparoxytone paroxytone oxytone
Any barytone


Guilhem Molinier, a member of the Consistori del Gay Saber, which was the first literary academy in the world and held the Floral Games to award the best troubadour with the violeta d'aur top prize, gave a definition of the syllable in his Leys d'amor (1328–1337), a book aimed at regulating the then flourishing Occitan poetry:

Sillaba votz es literals.
Segon los ditz gramaticals.
En un accen pronunciada.
Et en un trag: d'una alenada.

A syllable is the sound of several letters,
According to those called grammarians,
Pronounced in one accent
And uninterruptedly: in one breath.

See also


  1. ^ de Jong, Kenneth (2003). "Temporal constraints and characterising syllable structuring". In Local, John; Ogden, Richard; Temple, Rosalind (eds.). Phonetic Interpretation: Papers in Laboratory Phonology VI. Cambridge University Press. pp. 253–268. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511486425.015. ISBN 978-0-521-82402-6. Page 254.
  2. ^ Geoffrey Blainey, A Short History of the World, p.87, citing J.T. Hooker et al., Reading the Past: Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet, British Museum, 1993, Ch. 2
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "syllable". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2015-01-05.
  4. ^ λαμβάνω. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  5. ^ Smyth 1920, §523: present stems formed by suffixes containing ν
  6. ^ See CUNY Conference on the Syllable for discussion of the theoretical existence of the syllable.
  7. ^ Feng, Shengli (2003). A Prosodic Grammar of Chinese. University of Kansas. p. 3.
  8. ^ Shibatani, Masayoshi (1987). "Japanese". In Bernard Comrie (ed.). The World's Major Languages. Oxford University Press. pp. 855–80. ISBN 0-19-520521-9.
  9. ^ "Wells: Syllabification and allophony". Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  10. ^ Breen, Gavan; Pensalfini, Rob (1999). "Arrernte: A Language with No Syllable Onsets". Linguistic Inquiry. 30 (1): 1–25. JSTOR 4179048.
  11. ^ (Bagemihl 1991:589, 593, 627)
  12. ^ Thomas Pellard. "Ogami (Miyako Ryukyuan)" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  13. ^ (Dell & Elmedlaoui 1985, 1988)
  14. ^ (Sloan 1988)
  15. ^ Jonathan Harrington and Felicity Cox (2009-08-01). "The Syllable and Phonotactic Constraints". Retrieved 2016-07-17.

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A diphthong ( DIF-thong or DIP-thong; from Greek: δίφθογγος, diphthongos, literally "double sound" or "double tone"), also known as a gliding vowel, is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: that is, the tongue (and/or other parts of the speech apparatus) moves during the pronunciation of the vowel. In most dialects of English, the phrase no highway cowboys has five distinct diphthongs, one in every syllable.

Diphthongs contrast with monophthongs, where the tongue or other speech organs do not move and the syllable contains only a single vowel sound. For instance, in English, the word ah is spoken as a monophthong (), while the word ow is spoken as a diphthong in most dialects (). Where two adjacent vowel sounds occur in different syllables—for example, in the English word re-elect—the result is described as hiatus, not as a diphthong. (The English word hiatus is itself an example of both hiatus and diphthongs.)

Diphthongs often form when separate vowels are run together in rapid speech during a conversation. However, there are also unitary diphthongs, as in the English examples above, which are heard by listeners as single-vowel sounds (phonemes).Diphthongs use two vowel sounds in one syllable to make a speech sound.

English phonology

Like many other languages, English has wide variation in pronunciation, both historically and from dialect to dialect. In general, however, the regional dialects of English share a largely similar (but not identical) phonological system. Among other things, most dialects have vowel reduction in unstressed syllables and a complex set of phonological features that distinguish fortis and lenis consonants (stops, affricates, and fricatives). Most dialects of English preserve the consonant /w/ (spelled ⟨w⟩) and many preserve /θ, ð/ (spelled ⟨th⟩), while most other Germanic languages have shifted them to /v/ and /t, d/: compare English will (listen) and then (listen) with German will [vɪl] (listen) ('want') and denn [dɛn] (listen) ('because').

Phonological analysis of English often concentrates on or uses, as a reference point, one or more of the prestige or standard accents, such as Received Pronunciation for England, General American for the United States, and General Australian for Australia. Nevertheless, many other dialects of English are spoken, which have developed independently from these standardized accents, particularly regional dialects. Information about these standardized accents functions only as a limited guide to all of English phonology, which one can later expand upon once one becomes more familiar with some of the many other dialects of English that are spoken.

Iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter () is a type of metric line used in traditional English poetry and verse drama. The term describes the rhythm, or meter, established by the words in that line; rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables called "feet". "Iambic" refers to the type of foot used, here the iamb, which in English indicates an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (as in a-bove). "Pentameter" indicates a line of five "feet".

Iambic pentameter is the most common meter in English poetry; it is used in the major English poetic forms, including blank verse, the heroic couplet, and some of the traditionally rhymed stanza forms. It is used both in early forms of English poetry and in later forms. William Shakespeare famously used iambic pentameter in his plays and sonnets, as did the 20th century poet Wallace Stevens.

As lines in iambic pentameter usually contain ten syllables, it is considered a form of decasyllabic verse.


Kana (仮名) are syllabic Japanese scripts, a part of the Japanese writing system contrasted with the logographic Chinese characters known in Japan as kanji (漢字). There are three kana scripts: modern cursive hiragana (ひらがな); modern angular katakana (カタカナ); and the old syllabic use of kanji known as man'yōgana (万葉仮名) that was ancestral to both. Hentaigana (変体仮名, "variant kana") are historical variants of modern standard hiragana. In modern Japanese, hiragana and katakana have directly corresponding character sets (different sets of characters representing the same sounds).

Katakana with a few additions is also used to write Ainu. Taiwanese kana was used in Taiwanese Hokkien as a gloss (furigana) for Chinese characters during Taiwan under Japanese rule.

Each kana character (syllabogram) corresponds to one sound in the Japanese language. This is always CV (consonant onset with vowel nucleus), such as ka, ki, etc., or V (vowel), such as a, i, etc., with the sole exception of the C grapheme for nasal codas usually romanised as n. This structure had made some scholars label the system moraic instead of syllabic, because it requires the combination of two syllabograms to represent a CVC syllable with coda (i.e. CVn, CVm, CVng), a CVV syllable with complex nucleus (i.e. multiple or expressively long vowels), or a CCV syllable with complex onset (i.e. including a glide, CyV, CwV).

Due to the limited number of phonemes in Japanese, as well as the relatively rigid syllable structure, the kana system is a very accurate representation of spoken Japanese.

Kensiu language

Kensiu (Kensiw) is an Austro-Asiatic language of the Jahaic (Northern Aslian) subbranch. It is spoken by a small community of 300 in Yala Province in southern Thailand and also reportedly by a community of approximately 300 speakers in Western Malaysia in Perak and Kedah States. Speakers of this language are Negritos who are known as the Mani people or Maniq of Thailand.

Khmer language

Khmer or Cambodian (natively ភាសាខ្មែរ phiəsaa khmae Khmer pronunciation: [pʰiə.ˈsaː kʰmae], dialectal khmæ or khmɛɛr, or more formally ខេមរភាសា kheemaʾraʾ phiəsaa Khmer pronunciation: [kʰeː.maʔ.raʔ pʰiə.ˈsaː]) is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. With approximately 16 million speakers, it is the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language (after Vietnamese). Khmer has been influenced considerably by Sanskrit and Pali, especially in the royal and religious registers, through Hinduism and Buddhism. The more colloquial registers have influenced, and have been influenced by, Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and Cham, all of which, due to geographical proximity and long-term cultural contact, form a sprachbund in peninsular Southeast Asia. It is also the earliest recorded and earliest written language of the Mon–Khmer family, predating Mon and by a significant margin Vietnamese, due to Old Khmer being the language of the historical empires of Chenla, Angkor and, presumably, their earlier predecessor state, Funan.

The vast majority of Khmer speakers speak Central Khmer, the dialect of the central plain where the Khmer are most heavily concentrated. Within Cambodia, regional accents exist in remote areas but these are regarded as varieties of Central Khmer. Two exceptions are the speech of the capital, Phnom Penh, and that of the Khmer Khe in Stung Treng province, both of which differ sufficiently enough from Central Khmer to be considered separate dialects of Khmer. Outside of Cambodia, three distinct dialects are spoken by ethnic Khmers native to areas that were historically part of the Khmer Empire. The Northern Khmer dialect is spoken by over a million Khmers in the southern regions of Northeast Thailand and is treated by some linguists as a separate language. Khmer Krom, or Southern Khmer, is the first language of the Khmer of Vietnam while the Khmer living in the remote Cardamom mountains speak a very conservative dialect that still displays features of the Middle Khmer language.

Khmer is primarily an analytic, isolating language. There are no inflections, conjugations or case endings. Instead, particles and auxiliary words are used to indicate grammatical relationships. General word order is subject–verb–object, and modifiers follow the word they modify. Classifiers appear after numbers when used to count nouns, though not always so consistently as in languages like Chinese. In spoken Khmer, topic-comment structure is common and the perceived social relation between participants determines which sets of vocabulary, such as pronouns and honorifics, are proper.Khmer differs from neighboring languages such as Thai, Burmese, Lao and Vietnamese in that it is not a tonal language. Words are stressed on the final syllable, hence many words conform to the typical Mon–Khmer pattern of a stressed syllable preceded by a minor syllable. The language has been written in the Khmer script, an abugida descended from the Brahmi script via the southern Indian Pallava script, since at least the seventh century. The script's form and use has evolved over the centuries; its modern features include subscripted versions of consonants used to write clusters and a division of consonants into two series with different inherent vowels. Approximately 79% of Cambodians are able to read Khmer.

Korean name

A Korean name consists of a family name followed by a given name, as used by the Korean people in both South Korea and North Korea. In the Korean language, ireum or seongmyeong usually refers to the family name (seong) and given name (ireum in a narrow sense) together.

Traditional Korean family names typically consist of only one syllable. There is no middle name in the English language sense. Many Koreans have their given names made of a generational name syllable and an individually distinct syllable, though this practice is declining in the younger generations. The generational name syllable is shared by siblings in North Korea, and by all members of the same generation of an extended family in South Korea. Married men and women keep their full personal names, and children inherit the father's family name unless otherwise settled when registering the marriage.

The family names are subdivided into bon-gwan (clans), i.e. extended families which originate in the lineage system used in previous historical periods. Each clan is identified by a specific place, and traces its origin to a common patrilineal ancestor.

Early names based on the Korean language were recorded in the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), but with the growing adoption of the Chinese writing system, these were gradually replaced by names based on Chinese characters (hanja). During periods of Mongol influence, the ruling class supplemented their Korean names with Mongolian names.

Because of the many changes in Korean romanization practices over the years, modern Koreans, when using languages written in Latin script, romanize their names in various ways, most often approximating the pronunciation in English orthography. Some keep the original order of names, while others reverse the names to match the usual Western pattern.

According to the population and housing census of 2000 conducted by the South Korean government, there are a total of 286 surnames and 4,179 clans.

List of Korean given names

This is a list of Korean given names by type. Most Korean given names consist of two Sino-Korean morphemes each written with one hanja. There are also names with more than two syllables, often from native Korean vocabulary. Finally, there are a small number of one-syllable names. Originally, there was no legal limitation on the length of names, but since 1993, regulations in South Korea have prohibited the registration of given names longer than five syllable blocks, in response to some parents giving their children extremely long names such as the 16-syllable Haneulbyeollimgureumhaennimbodasarangseureouri (하늘별님구름햇님보다사랑스러우리).

Lists of hanja for names are illustrative, not exhaustive.

Metre (poetry)

In poetry, metre (British) or meter (American; see spelling differences) is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study and the actual use of metres and forms of versification are both known as prosody. (Within linguistics, "prosody" is used in a more general sense that includes not only poetic metre but also the rhythmic aspects of prose, whether formal or informal, that vary from language to language, and sometimes between poetic traditions.)

Mora (linguistics)

A mora (plural morae or moras; often symbolized μ) is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. The definition of a mora varies. In 1968, American linguist James D. McCawley defined it as "something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one". The term comes from the Latin word for "linger, delay", which was also used to translate the Greek word chronos (time) in its metrical sense.

Monomoraic syllables have one mora, bimoraic syllables have two, and trimoraic syllables have three, although this last type is relatively rare.


Om (listen , IAST: Oṃ, Devanagari: ॐ, Tamil: ௐ, Telugu: ఓం, Kannada: ಓಂ), also written as Aum, is the most sacred syllable, symbol or mantra in Hinduism. The syllable is often chanted either independently or before a mantra; it signifies the essence of the ultimate reality, consciousness or Atman. The Om sound is the primordial sound and is called the Shabda-Brahman (Brahman as sound).Om is part of the iconography found in ancient and medieval era manuscripts, temples, monasteries and spiritual retreats in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The symbol has a spiritual meaning in all Indian dharmas, but the meaning and connotations of Om vary between the diverse schools within and across the various traditions.

In Hinduism, Om is one of the most important spiritual sounds. It refers to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge). The syllable is often found at the beginning and the end of chapters in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and other Hindu texts. It is a sacred spiritual incantation made before and during the recitation of spiritual texts, during puja and private prayers, in ceremonies of rites of passages (sanskara) such as weddings, and sometimes during meditative and spiritual activities such as Yoga. It is also used in other Dharmic religions, such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

The syllable Om is also referred to as onkara (ओङ्कार, oṅkāra), omkara (ओंकार, oṃkāra) and pranava (प्रणव, praṇava).

Om mani padme hum

Auṃ maṇi padme hūṃ (Sanskrit: ॐ मणिपद्मे हूँ, IPA: [õːː mɐɳɪpɐdmeː ɦũː]) is the six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra particularly associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. It first appears in the Mahayana Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra where it is also referred to as the sadaksara (six syllabled) and the paramahrdaya, or “innermost heart” of Avalokiteshvara. In this text the mantra is seen as condensed form of all the Buddhist teachings.The first word Aum/Om is a sacred syllable found in Indian religions. The word Mani means "jewel" or "bead", Padme is the "lotus flower" (the Buddhist sacred flower), and Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment.In Tibetan Buddhism, this is the most ubiquitous mantra and the most popular form of religious practice, performed by laypersons and monastics alike. It is also an ever present feature of the landscape, commonly carved onto rocks, known as mani stones, painted into the sides of hills or else it is written on prayer flags and prayer wheels.Due to the increased interactions between Chinese Buddhists and Tibetans and Mongolians during the 11th century, the mantra also entered Chinese Buddhism. The mantra has also been adapted into Chinese Taoism.

Pitch-accent language

A pitch-accent language is a language that has word-accents—that is, where one syllable in a word or morpheme is more prominent than the others, but the accentuated syllable is indicated by a particular pitch contour (linguistic tones) rather than by stress. This contrasts with fully tonal languages like Standard Chinese, in which each syllable can have an independent tone.

Languages that have been described as pitch-accent languages include Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, Baltic languages, Ancient Greek, Vedic Sanskrit, Turkish, Japanese, Filipino, Norwegian, Swedish, Western Basque, Yaqui, certain dialects of Korean, and Shanghainese.Pitch-accent languages tend to fall into two categories: those with a single pitch-contour (for example, high, or high-low) on the accented syllable, such as Tokyo Japanese, Western Basque, or Persian; and those in which more than one pitch-contour can occur on the accented syllable, such as Punjabi, Swedish, or Serbo-Croatian. In this latter kind, the accented syllable is also often stressed.

Some of the languages considered pitch-accent languages, in addition to accented words, also have accentless words (e.g., Japanese and Western Basque); in others all major words are accented (e.g., Blackfoot and Barasana).Some have claimed that the term "pitch accent" is not coherently defined and that pitch-accent languages are just a sub-category of tonal languages in general.The term "pitch accent" is also used to denote a different feature, namely the use of pitch to give prominence (accent) to a syllable or mora within a phrase.


In music, solfège (UK: , US: ; French: [sɔlfɛʒ]) or solfeggio (; Italian: [solˈfeddʒo]), also called sol-fa, solfa, solfeo, among many names, is a music education method used to teach aural skills, pitch and sight-reading of Western music. Solfège is a form of solmization, and though the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the systems used in other music cultures such as swara, durar mufaṣṣalāt and Jianpu are discussed in their respective articles.

Syllables are assigned to the notes of the scale and enable the musician to audiate, or mentally hear, the pitches of a piece of music which he or she is seeing for the first time and then to sing them aloud. Through the Renaissance (and much later in some shapenote publications) various interlocking 4, 5 and 6-note systems were employed to cover the octave. The tonic sol-fa method popularized the seven syllables commonly used in English-speaking countries: do (or doh in tonic sol-fa), re, mi, fa, so(l), la, and si (or ti), see below).

There are two current ways of applying solfège: 1) fixed do, where the syllables are always tied to specific pitches (e.g. "do" is always "C-natural") and 2) movable do, where the syllables are assigned to scale degrees ("do" is always the first degree of the major scale).

Stress (linguistics)

In linguistics, and particularly phonology, stress or accent is relative emphasis or prominence given to a certain syllable in a word, or to a certain word in a phrase or sentence. This emphasis is typically caused by such properties as increased loudness and vowel length, full articulation of the vowel, and changes in pitch. The terms stress and accent are often used synonymously in this context, but they are sometimes distinguished. For example, when emphasis is produced through pitch alone, it is called pitch accent, and when produced through length alone, it is called quantitative accent. When caused by a combination of various intensified properties, it is called stress accent or dynamic accent; English uses what is called variable stress accent.

Since stress can be realised through a wide range of phonetic properties, such as loudness, vowel length, and pitch, which are also used for other linguistic functions, it is difficult to define stress solely phonetically.

The stress placed on syllables within words is called word stress or lexical stress. Some languages have fixed stress, meaning that the stress on virtually any multisyllable word falls on a particular syllable, such as the penultimate (e.g. Polish) or the first. Other languages, like English and Russian, have variable stress, where the position of stress in a word is not predictable in that way. Sometimes more than one level of stress, such as primary stress and secondary stress, may be identified. However, some languages, such as French and Mandarin, are sometimes analyzed as lacking lexical stress entirely.

The stress placed on words within sentences is called sentence stress or prosodic stress. This is one of the three components of prosody, along with rhythm and intonation. It includes phrasal stress (the default emphasis of certain words within phrases or clauses), and contrastive stress (used to highlight an item − a word, or occasionally just part of a word − that is given particular focus).


A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words.

A symbol in a syllabary, called a syllabogram, typically represents an (optional) consonant sound (simple onset) followed by a vowel sound (nucleus)—that is, a CV or V syllable—but other phonographic mappings such as CVC, CV- tone, and C (normally nasals at the end of syllables) are also found in syllabaries.

Tone (linguistics)

Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called intonation, but not all languages use tones to distinguish words or their inflections, analogously to consonants and vowels. Languages that do have this feature are called tonal languages; the distinctive tone patterns of such a language are sometimes called tonemes, by analogy with phoneme. Tonal languages are common in East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas; as many as seventy percent of world languages may be tonal.In many tonal African languages, such as most Bantu languages, tones are distinguished by their pitch level relative to each other, known as a register tone system. In multisyllable words, a single tone may be carried by the entire word rather than a different tone on each syllable. Often, grammatical information, such as past versus present, "I" versus "you", or positive versus negative, is conveyed solely by tone.

In the most widely spoken tonal language, Mandarin Chinese, tones are distinguished by their distinctive shape, known as contour, with each tone having a different internal pattern of rising and falling pitch. Many words, especially monosyllabic ones, are differentiated solely by tone. In a multisyllabic word, each syllable often carries its own tone. Unlike in Bantu systems, tone plays little role in the grammar of modern standard Chinese, though the tones descend from features in Old Chinese that had morphological significance (such as changing a verb to a noun or vice versa).

Contour systems are typical of languages of the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area, including Kra–Dai, Vietic and Sino-Tibetan languages. The Afroasiatic, Khoisan, Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan languages spoken in Africa are dominated by register systems. Some languages combine both systems, such as Cantonese, which produces three varieties of contour tone at three different pitch levels, and the Omotic (Afroasiatic) language Bench, which employs five level tones and one or two rising tones across levels.Many languages use tone in a more limited way. In Japanese, fewer than half of the words have a drop in pitch; words contrast according to which syllable this drop follows. Such minimal systems are sometimes called pitch accent since they are reminiscent of stress accent languages, which typically allow one principal stressed syllable per word. However, there is debate over the definition of pitch accent and whether a coherent definition is even possible.

Vietnamese poetry

Vietnamese poetry originated in the form of folk poetry and proverbs. Vietnamese poetic structures include six-eight, double-seven six-eight, and various styles shared with Classical Chinese poetry forms, such as are found in Tang poetry; examples include verse forms with "seven syllables each line for eight lines," "seven syllables each line for four lines" (a type of quatrain), and "five syllables each line for eight lines." More recently there have been new poetry and free poetry.

With the exception of free poetry, a form with no distinct structure, other forms all have a certain structure. The tightest and most rigid structure was that of the Tang Dynasty poetry, in which structures of content, number of syllables per line, lines per poem, rhythm rule determined the form of the poem. This stringent structure restricted Tang poetry to the middle and upper classes and academia.

Zulu language

Zulu () or isiZulu (Zulu: isiZulu) is the language of the Zulu people, with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority (over 95%) of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa (24% of the population), and it is understood by over 50% of its population. It became one of South Africa's 11 official languages in 1994.

According to Ethnologue, it is the second most widely spoken of the Bantu languages, after Swahili. Like many other Bantu languages, it is written with the Latin alphabet.

In South African English, the language is often referred to by using its native form, isiZulu.


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