Syncope (phonology)

In phonology, syncope (/ˈsɪŋkəpi/; from Ancient Greek: συγκοπή, translit. sunkopḗ, lit. 'cutting up') is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word, especially the loss of an unstressed vowel. It is found both in synchronic analysis of languages and diachronics. Its opposite, whereby sounds are added, is epenthesis.

Synchronic analysis

Synchronic analysis studies linguistic phenomena at one moment, usually the present. In modern languages, syncope occurs in inflection, poetry, and informal speech.


In languages such as Irish, the process of inflection can cause syncope:

  • In some verbs
imir (to play) should become *imirím (I play). However, the addition of the -ím causes syncope and the second-last syllable vowel i is lost so imirim becomes imrím.
  • In some nouns
inis (island) should become *inise in the genitive case. However, instead of *Baile na hInise, road signs say, Baile na hInse (the town of the island). Once again, there is the loss of the second i.

If the present root form in Irish is the result of diachronic syncope, there is a resistance to synchronic syncope for inflection.

As a poetic device

Sounds may be removed from the interior of a word as a rhetorical or poetic device: for embellishment or for the sake of the meter.

  • Latin commōverat > poetic commōrat ("he had moved")
  • English hastening > poetic hast'ning
  • English heaven > poetic heav'n
  • English over > poetic o'er
  • English ever > poetic e'er, often confused with ere ("before")

Informal speech

Various sorts of colloquial reductions might be called "syncope" or "compression".[1]

Contractions in English such as "didn't" or "can't" are typically cases of syncope.

  • English Australian > colloquial Strine, pronounced /straɪn/
  • English did not > didn't, pronounced /ˈdɪdənt/
  • English I would have > I'd've, pronounced /ˈaɪdəv/
  • English going to > colloquial gonna (generally only when unstressed and when expressing intention rather than direction), pronounced /ɡənə/ or, before a vowel, /ɡənu/
  • English every pronounced [ˈɛvɹi]

Diachronic analysis

In historical phonology, the term "syncope" is often limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel, in effect collapsing the syllable that contained it: trisyllabic Latin calidus (stress on first syllable) develops as bisyllabic caldo in several Romance languages.

Loss of any sound

  • Old English hlāfweard > hlāford > Middle English loverd > Modern English lord, pronounced /lɔːrd/
  • English Worcester, pronounced /ˈwʊstər/
  • English Gloucester, pronounced /ˈɡlɒstər/
  • English Leicester, pronounced /ˈlɛstər/
  • English Towcester, pronounced /ˈtoʊstər/

Loss of unstressed vowel

  • Latin cálidum > Italian caldo [ˈkaldo] "hot"
  • Latin óculum > Italian occhio [ˈɔkkjo] "eye"
  • Proto-Norse armaʀ > Old Norse armr "arm"
  • Proto-Norse bókiʀ > Old Norse bǿkr "books"
  • Proto-Germanic *himinōz > Old Norse himnar "heavens"

A syncope rule has been identified in Tonkawa, an extinct American Indian language in which the second vowel of a word was deleted unless it was adjacent to a consonant cluster or a final consonant.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2000). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (2nd ed.). Longman. pp. 165–6. ISBN 0-582-36467-1.
  2. ^ Hayes, Bruce (2009). Introductory Phonology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 255.
Silent letter

In an alphabetic writing system, a silent letter is a letter that, in a particular word, does not correspond to any sound in the word's pronunciation. In linguistics, a silent letter is often symbolised with a null sign U+2205 ∅ EMPTY SET. Null is an unpronounced or unwritten segment. The symbol resembles the Scandinavian letter Ø and other symbols.


Syncope may refer to:

Syncope (medicine), also known as fainting

Syncope (phonology), the loss of one or more sounds, particularly an unstressed vowel, from the interior of a word

Syncopation, a musical effect caused by off-beat or otherwise unexpected rhythms

Suspension, in music

Syncope (genus), a genus of microhylidae frogs

Syncope (album), an album by aggrotech band Tactical Sekt

Syncopy Inc., a British film production company

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