Chapter 7: Beyond the segment: Syllable structure in English 7.1. The Syllable: a fundamental phonological unit in any language.

A tentative definition 7.2. The structure of the syllable. Phonotactic constraints 7.3 The importance of segmental sonority for the syllable structure 7.4. Constraints on onsets 7.5. Constraints on codas 7.6. Syllabic consonants. Non-vocalic nuclei 7.7. Syllabification in English

7.5. Constraints on codas
Simple codas. If we consider one-consonant codas, or simple codas in English we will notice that with the exception of the two glides, w and j, of h and of r – in nonrhotic accents, any English non-vocalic segment can be distributed in final position. ¥ will be again a special case as it only occurs in French loan words as garage, mirage, espionage, camouflage, massage, barrage, prestige, beige, cortège, rouge. Complex codas. Even a superficial look at the possible consonantal combinations in syllable-final position – in other words in the last (optional) element of the syllable, the coda – will show that constraints are much laxer than in the case of onsets. If in principle the Sonority Sequencing Generalization is observed, in the sense that the syllable contour decreases in sonority at the end, we cannot say the same thing about the Minimal Sonority Distance, as words like apt for instance prove, where the two voiceless stops display the same degree of sonority. Statistics can be confusing and exhaustive computations as those performed by Hortensia Pârlog, though having the great merit of covering the whole range of combinations, leave us with the feeling of discomfort that we always experience when confronted with bare figures: our intellect is puzzled, but our understanding of the phenomenon is hardly advanced. We learn thus that English allows 86 two-consonant combinations in syllable codas, while Romanian only licenses 60. By contrast, 41 such combinations are possible in the English onsets, while in Romanian the number is almost double: 75. This is in keeping with our previous assertion that Romance languages (and, consequently, Romanian, too) seem to favour open syllables while in Germanic languages (English included) closed syllables are statistically preponderant. We are left, however, with a large amount of data that we will have to handle in a satisfactory, plausible way. If we leave aside the word-final consonantal clusters that are a result of the morphological process of affixation – e.g. aged [ewd¥d] or depth [depθ] and we restrict our analysis to morphologically simple words without examining the complex ones, the picture is much simplified. We will come across a fairly large number of cases that appear to blatantly violate the Sonority Sequencing Generalization as they seem to be made up of a succession of an obstruent and a nasal or a liquid. Consequently the sonority seems to be rising in the

coda; e.g. dn: hidden [hwdn]; zm: schism [skwzm]; tl: cattle [kFtl]; dl: riddle [rwdl] and, in rhotic accents br: sabre [sewbr]. These cases will be dealt with later, when we discuss non-vocalic nuclei in English. We are left with a fairly reduced number of possible combinations that we will tentatively group as follows: a) the liquid l is followed by another consonant. This second consonant can be a labial or alveolar nasal as in realm and kiln or almost any obstruent help, bulb, kilt, cold, bulk, golf, valve [lv], health [lθ], else [ls], Charles [lz], Welsh [l•], milch [lt•], divulge [ld¥]. b) the rhotic r shares the same contexts in rhotic accents: firm, fern, carp, curb, cart, card, cork, dwarf, carve [rv], hearth [rθ], horse [rs], Mars [rz], harsh [r•], birch [rt•], dirge [r®], and, additionally, rg: burg. c) nasals followed by an obstruent that shares the same place of articulation: mp, mf, nt, nd, ns, nz, nt•, n®, õk: camp, lymph, ant, and, lens, cleanse, pinch, range, link. Notice that in the sequences mb and õg, the last sound was lost in modern English: dumb [d∧m], sing [sıõ]; d) sequences of two obstruents: a non-coronal stop followed by a coronal one: kept, pact [kt], or a fricative followed by a coronal stop: least, rift; a plosive followed by s: oops, tax [ks]. e) In morphologically complex codas s can follow any voiceless obstruent (with the exception of the strident coronal sounds, the sibilants [s, z, •, ¥ , ± , ®]) to form the plural of nouns or the 3rd person singular of the present indicative of verbs, while z does the same after voiced obstruents and sonorants; t forms the past tense of the regular verbs and is added after voiceless obstruents, while d does the same thing after voiced obstruents and sonorants. Neither sound can be reduplicated, in such cases an epenthetic vowel being needed. [θ], too, appears in morphologically complex codas, either as a derivational suffix: length [leõθ], depth [depθ] – in width [wıdƒ] we have its voiced pair – or as an affix forming ordinals: tenth [tenθ], fifth [fıfθ]. Three-consonant codas. Morphologically simple codas including three consonants can be formed either of a nasal followed by two obstruents: against [nst], lynx [õks], adjunct, [õkt], prompt [m(p)t], attempt [m(p)t] – notice that in the case of mpt the oral plosive, which shares the place of articulation with the preceding nasal is normally dropped - or of rare sequences of three obstruents, of which the second is s: text [kst], amidst [dst]. Morphologically complex codas will include the two-consonant licensed combinations followed by one of the phonological realizations of the affixes mentioned

in the previous paragraph: [s, z, t, d, θ, ƒ]. E.g. helped [lpt]. We can even have combinations of affixes depths [pθs]. Four-consonant codas. They can only be morphologically complex, being made up of a well-formed coda of the kind we met in the preceding paragraph to which an affix is added – s or t: thousandths [ndθs]; instincts [õkts], tempts [mpts], glimpsed [mpst]. Notice, however, that since such clusters are difficult to pronounce, some of the consonants are often dropped: e.g.[glwmst], [temts]

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