Syllable structure and functions of syllables in English


Articulatorily, the syllable is the minimal articulatory unit of the utterance.

Auditorily, the syllable is the smallest unit of perception: the listener identifies the whole of the syllable and after that the sounds which it contains.

Phonologically it is a structural unit which consists of a sequence of one or some phonemes of a language in numbers and arrangements permitted by the given language.

Syllable formation in English is based on the phonological opposition vowel – consonant.

In English the syllable is formed:

1. by any vowel alone or in combination with one or more consonants – not more than 3 preceding and not more than 4 following it, e.g. are [a:], we [wi:], it [it], sixth [siksθ].

2. by a word final sonorants [n], [1], [m] immediately preceded by a consonant: e.g. rhythm ['rIðEm], garden ['ga:dEn].


The English sonorants [w], [j] are never syllabic as they are always syllable-initial.

According to the placement of vowels and consonants the following types of syllables are distinguished:

open: the V is at the end, such a syllable is articulated with the opening of the mouth by the end: e.g. they, wri-ter;

closed: which end in C, at the end of such a S the mouth is closed: e.g. hun-dred, hat.

Structurally, the commonest types of the syllable in English are VC; CVC. CV is considered to be the universal structure. CV syllabic types constitute more than half of all structural types in Russia. The characteristic feature of English is monosyllabism. Most of the words of old English origin is of one syllable, the limit for the number of syllables in a word in English is 8, e.g. incomprehensibility.?

A most GENERAL RULE claims that division of words into syllables in writing is passed on the morphological principle which demands that the part of a word which is separated should be either a prefix, or a suffix or a root (morphograph), e.g. pic-ture ['pik-ʧə].

Compound words can be divided according to their meaning: hot-dog; spot-light.


Now we shall consider three functions of the syllable.

The first is constitutive function. It lies in its ability to be a part of a word itself. The syllables form language units of greater magnitude that is words, morphemes, and utterances. Within a syllable (or syllables) prosodic characteristics of speech are realized, which form the stress pattern of a word and the intonation structure of an utterance. In sum, the syllable is a specific minimal structure of both segmental and suprasegmental features.

The other function is distinctiveone. In this respect, the syllable is characterized by its ability to differentiate words and word-forms. One minimal pare has been found in English to illustrate the word distinctive function in the syllabic: ['nai-treit] nitrate – ['nait-reit] night-rate.

The third function of the syllable is the identificatory function: the listener can understand the exact meaning of the utterance only when the correct syllabic boundary is perceived:

an aim — a name, an ice house — a nice house, peace talks — pea stalks.

Sometimes the difference in syllabic division might be the basic ground for differentiation sentences in such minimal pairs as:

I saw her eyes. — I saw her rise



13. The etymology of English words (words of native origin, borrowings)



Etymological Survey of the Modern English Language.

According to the origin, the word-stock may be subdivided into two main groups: one comprises the native elements; the other consists of the borrowed words.


Native Words

The term native denotes words which belong to the original English stock known from the earliest manuscripts of the Old English period. They are mostly words of Anglo-Saxon origin brought to the British Isles in the 5th century by Germanic tribes.

Linguists estimate the Anglo-Saxon stock of words as 25-30 per cent of the English vocabulary. The native word-stock includes the words of Indio-European origin and the words of Common Germanic origin. They belong to very important semantic groups.

The words of Indio-European origin (that is those having cognates in other I-E. languages) form the oldest layer. They fall into definite semantic groups:

terms of kinship: father, mother, son, daughter, brother;

words denoting the most important objects and phenomena of

nature: sun, moon, star, water, wood, hill, stone, tree;

names of animals and birds: bull, cat, crow, goose, wolf;

parts of human body: arm, eye, foot, heart;

the verbs: bear, come, sit, stand, etc;

the adjectives: hard, quick, slow, red, white.

Most numerals belong here.

The words of the Common Germanic stock, i.e. words having cognates in German, Norwegian, Dutch and other Germanic languages are more numerous. This part of the native vocabulary contains a great number of semantic groups. Examples:

the nouns are: summer, winter, storm, ice, rain, group, bridge,

house, shop, room, iron, lead, cloth, hat, shirt, shoe, care,

evil, hope, life, need, rest;

the verbs are: bake, burn, buy, drive hear, keep, learn, make, meet,

rise, see, send, shoot, etc;

the adjectives are: broad, dead, deaf, deep.

Many adverbs and pronouns belong to this layer, though small in number (25-30 per cent of the vocabulary).

The Common Germanic words and the verbs of the Common Indo-European stock form the bulk of the most frequent elements used in any style of speech. They constitute not less than 80 per cent of the most frequent words listed in E.L. Thorndike and I. Lorge`s dictionary “The Teacher`s Wordbook of 30,000 Words, N.Y.1959, p.268).

Investigation shows that the Anglo-Saxon words in Modern English must be considered very important due to the following characteristics. All of them belong to very important semantic groups. They include most of the auxiliary and modal verbs (shall, will, should, would, must, can, may, etc.), pronouns (I. he, you, his, who, whose, etc.), prepositions (in. out, on, under), numerals (one, two) and conjunctions (and, but). Notional words of native (Anglo-Saxon) origin include such groups as words denoting parts of the body, family, relations, natural phenomena and planets, animals, qualities and properties, common actions, etc.

Most of native words are polysemantic (man, head, go, etc.)

Most of them are stylistically neutral.

They possess wide lexical and grammatical valency, many of them enter a number of phraseological units.

Due to the great stability and semantic peculiarities the native words possess great word-building power.

English vocabulary contains an immense number of words of foreign origin.

The first century B.C. Most of the territory of Europe is occupied by the Roman Empire. Among the inhabitants are Germanic tribes with a primitive stage of development. They are primitive cattle-breeders and know almost nothing about land cultivation. Their tribal languages contain only Indo-European and Germanic elements.

After a number of wars between the Germanic tribes and the Romans, they came to a peaceful contact. Trade is carried on and the Germanic people gain knowledge of new and useful things. It is from the Romans that they learn how to make butter and cheese. They are to use the Latin words to name them. The names of fruits and vegetables are also borrowed from Latin.

E.g. cherry (Lat. cerasum), pear (Lat. pirum), plum (Lat. prunus), pea (Lat. pisum), beet (Lat. bẽta), pepper (Lat. piper).

The fifth century A.D. several of Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) migrated across the sea to the British Isles. There they were confronted by Celts, the original inhabitants of the Isles. The Celts yielded most of their territory. The conquerors got to know and assimilated a number of Celtic words (ME – bald, down, druid, bard, cradle). Especially numerous among the Celtic borrowings were place names, names of rivers, hills, etc.

E.g. The names of rivers Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk originate from Celtic words meaning “river” and “water”.

Even the name of London originates from Celtic Llyn+dun in which llun is “river” and dun stands for “a fortified hill”, the meaning of the whole being “fortress on the hill over the river“.

Some Latin words entered the Anglo-Saxon language through Celtic(street-strãta via; wall-vallum).

The seventh century A.D. This century was significant for the Christianization of England. Latin was the official language of the Christian church. So this period was accompanied by a new period of Latin borrowings. New borrowings mostly indicated persons, objects and ideas associated with church and religious rituals.

E.g. priest (presbyter), nun (nonnal), candle (candela).

Also some educational terms were borrowed (school-schola, scholar, magister).

From the end of the eighth century to the middle of the eleventh century there were Scandinavian invasions which left their trace on English vocabulary (call, take, cast, die, law, husband, window, ill). Some of the words of this group are easily recognizable by the initial sk-combination.

E.g. sky, skill, skin, skirt.

Certain English words changed their meanings under the influence of Scandinavian words of the same root. So the OE brẽad which meant “piece”acquired in ME by association with the Scandinavian braud (хлеб).

1066. With the battle of Hastings, when the English were defeated by the Normans under William the Conqueror, we come to the epoch of the Norman Conquest. England became a bi-lingual country: French words from the Norman dialect got into every aspect of social life. E.g. state, government, parliament, council, power, judge, crime, prison, army, war, battle, enemy, pupil, lesson, library, science, pen, pencil, etc. Everyday life words are: plate, dinner, supper, river, autumn, uncle, etc.

The Renaissance Period was marked by development in science, art and culture and a revival of interest in the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome and their languages. There occurred a great number of Latin and Greek borrowings. They were mostly abstract words (major, minor, intelligent, to elect, to create). There were scientific and artistic terms (method, music). The same is true of Greek Renaissance borrowings (atom, cycle, ethics).

A lot of French borrowings came into English from the Parisian dialect (police, ballet, matinee, scene).

Italian also contributed a number of words to English (piano, opera, alarm).


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