Weak and strong syllables syllabic consonants

					FL-Tesol: Further Phonology 2                                                  HANDOUT

Notes on the lecture and reading. As Roach states, not all words are covered by his
summary, and in particular, space does not permit an exhaustive analysis, only an
example of some kinds of rule. I have raised a few queries in this extended version of my
notes, and also approached more issues of division into syllables. The latter presents
more than one possible solution in some cases. If we are going to pursue the ‘Maximum
Onsets’ point to a logical conclusion, it will be necessary to take on some difficult

Suprasegmental phonology:
        Weak and strong syllables:
        syllabic consonants:
        word stress

1. Weak and strong syllables:

strong syllables                                weak syllables
 Have a peak that is either a tense vowel       schwa is always associated with weak
    or a diphthong ( i.e. have a peak which        syllables
    is NOT /  / or [i] or [u])                  vowel peaks are /  / or [i] or [u]
 Have a peak that if it is lax vowel is         /  / or [i] or [u] can be word-final or
    followed by a coda                             in medial position without coda
                                                 /  / can be followed by a coda

 We should acknowledge the presence of the two variants in English speech, [i] or [u],
 occurring syllable / word final, which it is possible to use in transcription for purely
 pragmatic purposes, for example in teaching, to reflect native intuitions. Clearly, in this
 position, English speakers do not use either a fully close front tense or lax vowel, but a
 vowel that is somewhat tense and rather more front and close than /  /. In particular, [i]
 may be useful in explaining how English speakers handle adjacent vowels, word final
 and word initial. For now, let it be said that [i] and [u] are NOT extra phonemes, but
 phonetic variants of phonemes.

2. Weak syllables may consist of or have as their peak syllabic consonants*

Syllabic consonants are /n/ and /l/.

Phonetically, these consonants can be described as the lateral or nasal release of a stop.
*Syllabic /m/ and /  / can probably be explained as /n/ that has been subject to
assimilation. (find out what this is, but don’t worry; we’ll be dealing with it) Syllabic /r/
is fairly marginal in a ‘Standard-England’ accent, but common in a ‘rhotic’ accent (e.g.
American accents)

3. Stress: word stress

Stress in words is something we tend to feel intuitively and identify with one or more
syllables. We would tend to associate it with a distinctive physiological effort in uttering
a syllable. We should perhaps again spend a moment considering the phonetic definition
of a syllable (Reference to Catford from last week). The ‘pulse of initiatory action’ is
distinct from the arresting or boundary effect of, typically, consonant phonemes in a CVC
syllable, and so we detect it as a peak and are able to identify and count it as one of a
number of syllables, but it is quite possible for such pulses to vary in actual effort, and
hence in the impression of being stronger or weaker. Phonetically the impression of stress
is given by the relative prominence of a syllable, contributed by as many as four factors:
loudness, length, pitch, phonetic quality (in terms of phonetic description of the vowel, as
more open, close, front, back, etc).

Levels of stress:

A point sometimes missed in teaching the stressing of English words is the presence of
primary AND secondary stress. We can illustrate this from several polysyllabic words:

photographic archaeology

Roach discusses the viability of a third descriptive level. You need at least to recognise
secondary stressing. Teachers who simply ask students ‘where does the stress fall in the
word?’ may be ignoring the essential rhythm of the utterance.

Stress placement: SIMPLE WORDS
Mark up the stresses on the examples as we go through them

It is possible to describe stress placement systematically and this is useful in a teaching
The following are simple words (i.e. formed without affixation or compounding)

Two-syllable words
        strong second syllable a . p p l y i n . v e s t c o . l l i d e
        first syllable if final is weak e n . t e r h u r r . y
        NB a final  is unstressed f o l l . o w b o r r . o w

       first syllable if second has a short vowel p r o d . u c t     m o u n . t a i n
       second syllable otherwise b a . l l o o n
         Follow the above pattern…but
         there are adjectives where both syllables are strong, and stressing follows a
            preference for the first syllable h o n . e s t1

Three-syllable words
        a strong final syllable e n . t e r . t a i n . In other words, if the final syllable
           is a strong syllable, it will be stressed. Notice that here the first syllable has
           secondary stress.
        a strong penultimate syllable where final is weak Roach gives the example
        an initial syllable where the second and third are weak p a . r o d y
        We do not find a rule under this heading for r e g . u . l a t e,
           d e m . o n . s t r a t e, and this is a problem. There is a fairly large number of
           words involved, and they seem to behave quite like three-syllable nouns that
           prefer initial stress, as described in the next section. In the present case, initial
           syllable vowel peaks are strong and final-syllable vowel peaks are NOT

                      dec .o.rate                                 l i q . u i d . ise
                      nav.i.gate                                  mag.nif.y
                      cap.ti .vate                                t e r r i f y ? (syllable division? see
                                                                  Roach p78)
       syllable preceding a final syllable if that is weak or has // t o . m a . t o
       first syllable where second and third are weak c i . n e . m a . Roach in fact
        proposes schwa for the second syllable, but I think we can justify this if the
        second syllable peak is [i]. You can try saying ‘cine’ and see if this works
       NB there is a preference for initial stressing, even where a final syll is
        strong** ca . r a . v a n c a t . a . r a c t 2 i n . t e . l l e c t
        o adjectives appear to be similar

  This , and other examples: we do not find isolated syllables ending in this short vowel (in) ‘ho’ and some
others. Same for ‘ca’ (Schwa, as a weak-syllable peak, is exempt from this.) If a segment or sequence of
segments cannot be a syllable in isolation, the argument runs, it cannot be a syllable in any environment.
*Abercrombie D (1967) Elements of General Phonetics Chapter 9 ‘Stops’ includes the articulatory phonetics of the
syllabic consonant. Look at the diagrams explaining stops, and read what Abercrombie says about them using the
diagram to explain.. It is a very lucid explanation.
Question: English stress patterns are quite complex and advanced learners sometimes
ask for ‘rules’. How far would you want to give them explicit rules such as the above?


1. Read Roach Ch 9 -12. Pay attention to ‘Complex word stress’. Essentially a
straightforward analysis. Notice that affixation implies derivational affixes, which means
affixes that when added to a stem, produce words of a new word class, or new words of
the same word class. E.g. Japan / Japanese

2. Add examples to the ‘simple word’ categories above

3. Important: do some practical revision