Syllable Structure and Syllabification in English and Arabic

A Comparative Study

Term Paper, 2018

12 Pages, Grade: 100


The Outline


1. Introduction

2. Concept of Syllabification
2.1 General Syllabification Principles.
2.1.1 The Obligatory Onset Principle
2.1.2 The Legality Principle
2.1.3 The Principle of Irregular Coda
2.1.4 The Sonority Cycle Principle
2.1.5 Resyllabification Principle
2.1.6 The stress principle

3. Syllable Structure in English
3.1 English Constituents of the Syllable
3.1.1 Syllable Onset
3.1.2 Syllable Nucleus
3.1.3 Syllable Coda

4. Syllables in Arabic
4.1 Rhythm and Syllable in Arabic
4.2 Syllable structure in Modern Standard Arabic

5. Conclusion



This term paper is about the syllable structure and syllabification in both Arabic and English languages. It deals first with what syllabification is and with its principles as well as with the syllable structure of the English language and Arabic and its constituents.

Key words: Syllable, Syllabification, Arabic, English

1. Introduction

The syllable is defined as a unit of pronunciation which has vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants and which forms the whole or a part of a word (Crystal: 2009, p. 214). The sounds that are produced from the human beings form what is known as syllable (Birjandi and Salmani-Nodoushan: 2005, p.19). In its smallest form, a syllable may be only a vowel. In addition to the vowel, a syllable may have one or more consonants that appear on either or both sides of the vowel (Ibid: p.20). In languages like Japanese, most the syllable consists of one consonant followed by one vowel. These languages are called syllabic languages. In syllabic languages, every syllable has a symbol which is called syllabary in the writing system. The word NISSAN from for example consists of two syllables: NI, and AN. Therefore, the syllable structure of most Japanese syllables is very simple: Consonant + Vowel (CV) (Field: 1998, p. 70).

However, most of the world’s languages are alphabetic, and using characters or letters, in their orthographical representations consist of sound segments or phonemes rather than syllables. The consonants and vowels are arranged in a linear way to represent the syllables, words, sentences, etc. Arabic language, however, tends to arrange its consonants in a linear fashion, and subscribes its vowels as diacritics or sporadic features above or under their consonants (Ownes: 2006, p. 119).

Most of the famous languages of the world, like the English language, are, however, alphabetic in the way that they show both their vowels and consonants in the form of letters in their orthographic system. In these languages, words consist of one or more syllables (Field: 1998, p. 73).

This term paper is about the syllable structure and syllabification in both Arabic and English languages.

2. Concept of Syllabification

As a matter of fact, “the process of breaking down a polysyllabic word into successive syllables is called syllabification” (Jones: 1972, p.56). It usually obeys the phonological rules which determine the structure of a syllable in a language. Also, this process can be useful when it is practiced in pronunciation or in finding a convenient place to put a stress mark in a phonetic transcription (Ibid).

Moreover, syllabification has main implications that are not only on the way we write words when we arrive at the end of the line, but are also on some important phonological processes (Ibid: p. 58)

In phonology, the goal is to suggest a theory for syllabification and syllable structure that is general enough to encompass the spectrum of variation which is seen between languages, at the same time being restrictive to account for the facets of syllable structure that vary from language to language. Because the variation is so limited, syllable structure is often analyzed in terms of parameters. The diagram shows some basic terminology that is used in discussing syllable structure.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

2.1 General Syllabification Principles.

Hooper (1972:525-540) defines the nucleus of a syllable according to their binary feature. The class of [+ syllabic] units, includes all syllabic “vocoids” but also a number of syllabic “contoids.” The most important aspect in the definition of the syllable is the formulation of principles for setting the boundary between each [+syllabic] segments.

2.1.1 The Obligatory Onset Principle

This principle is regarded as one of the simplest principles. It is sometimes called the principle of maximum open syllabicity (Pulgram, 1970: p. 43). This principle is based on the proposal that open syllables (syllables with no coda) have primitive significance in that all languages have open syllables, no languages have only closed syllables (syllables with coda). Therefore, if we have the pattern ( the syllable boundary must be before the consonant in order to have the open syllable.

Roach (2000: p.77) explains that “… where two syllables are to be divided, any consonant between them should be attached to the right-hand syllable, not the left, as far as possible”.

Accordingly, the word “atlas” is so syllabified and the sequence /tl/ is cost in the initial position of the second syllable: a.tlas /v.ccvc/.

2.1.2 The Legality Principle

The second principle of syllabification is known as the legality principle which states that syllables’ onset and codas are restricted to those which are phonotactically possible at word-initial or word final positions. There are two things as an evidence for such principle:

- The first observation is that there is not any word medial cluster that has been found which cannot be analyzed as a possible word-final followed by word-initial cluster.
- The second observation is that, in cases where the syllabification of medial cluster is not clear, native speakers do not produce syllabification that involve clusters not found at word margins (Kahn: 1976, p. 54)

For example, in the word, ‘atlas’, the sequence /tl/ is impermissible in this position due to collocational restrictions on onset consonant clusters.

2.1.3 The Principle of Irregular Coda

Vennemann (1988:70) proposes that there is a number of exceptions in the rules of finals than in the rules of initials. This proposal is also embodied in this principle which says that if an intervocalic consonant cluster cannot be divided into legal onset and coda, then the ‘illegality’ must be borne by that of the coda. Hooper (ibid, 1972) suggests that there is an exception to this principle which shows a hierarchy for the choice of the initial onset segment, with obstruents the optimum choice, followed by liquids and nasals and finally glides. Treiman and Zukowski (1990:68) say “if a consonant or consonant cluster is illegal at the beginning of a word it is also at the beginning of a syllable.”

2.1.4 The Sonority Cycle Principle

Clements (1990:283-333) suggests that there is an alternative way to deal with the ‘sonority scale’ rather than the analysis of phonotactic regularities which is generally called the sonority cycle.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Syllable Structure and Syllabification in English and Arabic
A Comparative Study
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ISBN (Book)
Comparative Study, Arabic, English, Syllable, Syllabification
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Ahmed M. Hashim (Author), 2018, Syllable Structure and Syllabification in English and Arabic, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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