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By Fasold R., Connor-Linton J.

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Extra resources for An Introduction to Language and Linguistics

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Sonority rises from [p] (voiceless stop) to [r] (rhotic) to [I] (vowel), then falls from vowel to [n] (nasal) to [t] (stop). A single peak, a single syllable. Meanwhile, the sequence [rpItn] has three peaks; higher sonority [r], [I], and [n] are interrupted by lowest sonority [p] and [t]. Thus (if it is pronounceable at all) it has three syllables, not one. The most sonorous element of a syllable, the peak itself, is called the nucleus. Lower sonority sounds preceding the nucleus are called the onset; those following the nucleus are called the coda.

Qxd 1/10/06 5:21 PM Page 27 pinnacle Raj01:Desktop Folder:CUUK414-fasold-sushil: The sounds of language rounding. In General American English, the back vowels [u, U, o, ç] are round, all other vowels are unround. Finally, English divides its vowels into two sets, tense and lax. The tense vowels [i, e, o, u] are longer, slightly higher, and produced with greater stiffening of the tongue root than their lax counterparts [I, E, ç, U]. The tense/lax distinction doesn’t really apply to low vowels. These descriptive terms can be combined to pick out a specific vowel: [I] is high, front, lax, unround; [o] is mid, back, tense, round.

Sounds other than vowels may form sonority peaks, so that hidden and prism have one vowel but two syllables. Sonority thus seems to capture most of our intuitions about syllable structure and explains a lot about possible syllables in the languages of the world. But sonority doesn’t account for everything. There are some English words that clearly violate the principle of sonority – sprints and sixths, for example. Linguists aren’t sure exactly how to deal with words like this. It may be that endings like plural [s] and ordinal [T] are not really part of the syllable at all; rather they’re tacked on in an “appendix” to the end of the word.

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