Phonetics Constrains in the English language

Term Paper, 2004

10 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1. Introduction

2. Syllable constructions

3. Phonetic constraints at the beginning of an English word or syllable

4. Phonetic constraints at the end of an English word or syllable

5. Phonological rules – The function of phonological rules
5.1. Feature changing rules
5.1.1. Assimilation rules
5.1.2. Coalescence rules
5.1.3. Dissimilation rules
5.2. Feature addition rule
5.3. Segment Addition and Deletion rules
5.3.1. Consonant and vowel epenthesis
5.4. Schwa rule
5.5. Alveolar flap rule

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The constraints on sequences of segments are called phonotactic con -straints or phonotactics of a language. Word phonotactics in English are based on syllable phonotactics. This means that only clusters which can begin a syllable can begin a word and that a possible cluster at the end of a syllable can end a word. In multisyllabic words, the clusters consist of syllable final and syllable initial sequences. A word like instruct can be divided into well-formed syllables /In $ strΛkt/, because the word final and initial syllables consist of possible constraints in English.

The arrangement of different phonemes is restricted. Some sequences are possible but have no meaning; some are not possible words in the English language. Nonsense words are possible words, respectively possible sequences of sounds of a particular language. They can be seen as accidental gaps in the vocabulary. The word Crike [krajk] obeys the phonological rules of the English language, but does not have any meaning. This phenomenon must be distinguished from non-words. Their sequences have no meaning either, but their sequences are not possible words of a language (For example bkli). If a form is not allowed by the phonotactics of a language there is said to be a systematic gap in the vocabulary.

(Fromkin, Victoria. Rodman, Robert. An Introduction to Language. 6th edition. Hardcourt Brace College Publishers. United States of America. 1998)

2. Syllable constructions

The maximum number of consonants at the beginning of an English word is three, but in this case, the first must be [s] followed by an oral stop such as [p], [t], [k]. After the oral stop, a glide - [j] or [w] - or a liquid – [l] or [r] must be attached.

The maximum number of consonants at the end of a word or syllable is four (For example sixths [sIksθs]). If one considers the occurrence of vowels in a syllable, there is a difference between open and closed syllables: Open syllables end in a vowel, for instance CV, CCV or only V syllable constructions. If the vowel is “arrested” in the nucleus as in CVC, CVCC, one speaks about closed syllables. Every syllable must consist of one or more vowels. The longest syllable, which can occur in English, is CCCVCCCC as in strengths [strεŋkθs]. The “most natural” syllable shape is said to be CV. There are three main evidences that show that CV is the preferred syllable structure. The articulatory contrast between a closed (consonant) and an open (vowel) vocal tract is ideal. CV or CVCV, the reduplicated form, is acquired very early by children. At early acquisition stages, children simplify complicated adult words to the CV shape. Dog may be produced as [da] or spoon as [pu]. Another evidence can be found in diachronic change and in synchronic variation among social or geographical dialects. In modern English, the [t] in hasten is not pronounced. The [st] sequence has been simplified to [s], giving a CV sequence. In some dialects of English, speakers insert an epenthetic vowel as in /fIləm/ for film, again giving the preferred CV sequence.

(Edwards, Mary Louise. Shriberg, Lawrence. Phonology: Applications in Communicative Disorders. College Hill Press. California, United States of America. 1983)

3. Phonetic constraints at the beginning of an English word or syllable

As already mentioned above, the maximum number of consonants at the beginning of an English word or syllable is three and they must be arranged in a certain order: [s] plus oral stop followed by a glide or liquid. But there are also restrictions to this rule. However glides are more restricted than liquids. For instance, if /t/ occurs in second position, only /r/ can follow as in the word string. In some American English dialects, [j] stands after the oral stops [p] or [k] and is followed by the vowel [u] as in spew or skewer. If the glide is [w] the oral stop must be [k] as in squid or squash. /skr/ is very common in initial position in English, but /skl/ as in sclerosis is extremely rare and /stw/ does not occur. Whereas /tw/ appears at the beginning of words like twelve or twin. Children, who learn English or speakers with articulation problems sometimes produce the sequence *[stw] instead of /tr/. (Edwards, Mary Louise. Shriberg, Lawrence. Phonology: Applications in Communicative Disorders. College Hill Press. California, United States of America. 1983)

If two consonants should stand in word or syllable initial position, a lot of combinations are possible. An oral stop can be combined with a liquid, for example, /pl/ or /tr/. /S/ plus a voiceless stop as in spell or sting is fine as well. /S/ and a front nasal which occur in the word smell is a possible beginning of a word or syllable. A usually voiceless fricative followed by a liquid or glide is permitted by the rules. (Compare /fl/, /fr/ or /sw/)

A front nasal plus glide as in music is a possible word or syllable beginning. In rare cases, /∫/ and a liquid can occur at the beginning of a word or syllable as in shrimp.

Homorganic sounds are not permitted to begin a word or syllable in English. */tl/, */dl/, */stl/ cannot start a word or syllable, because they are produced at the same place of articulation, in this case, all three sounds are alveolar. The same goes for labial sequences like *[pw] , *[bw] and therefore *[spw] is not possible, although this sequence consists of a [s], an oral stop and a glide. If /j/ is in third position, the following vowel must be /u/ as in skew, consequently *[skjem] for example would be a non-word.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Phonetics Constrains in the English language
University of Wuppertal
Contrastive Phonology
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
446 KB
Phonetics, Constrains, English, Contrastive, Phonology
Quote paper
Nicole Hahn (Author), 2004, Phonetics Constrains in the English language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Phonetics Constrains in the English language

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free