The binary branching nature of syllable constituents: the English onset

  • Kemmonye Collete Monaka Department of English, University of Botswana, Private Bag UB 00703, Gaborone, Botswana


Abstract: The conventional composition of the English syllable is captured in the template:C03V12C04. This means that the onset accommodates a minimum of zero and a maximum of three consonants, the coda a minimum of zero and a maximum of four, whilst the nucleus takes a minimum of one and a maximum of two vowels. This article focuses on the onset constituent, and argues that the English onset branches twice instead of three times. It argues that the conventional three position onsets are derived from word initial consonant clusters, and that these onsets do not appear to hold word medially where only onsets with two positions appear to be attested. Motivating evidence is drawn from other languages, specifically Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, because it is believed that, except for the coda, the binary branching nature of syllable constituents is universally imposed in the world\'s languages. Also, no one language or dialect can exhaustively account for all linguistic phenomena — evidence to demonstrate an otherwise systematic behaviour of a phonological unit may have to be drawn from other languages or dialects. A brief overview of the Optimality Theory account of syllable onset is given, and areas of overlap are noted.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2007, 25(4): 505–518

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614