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The Syllable: Comparison of English and Japanese

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Introduction

Explain what is meant by the term 'Syllable'. Select two languages with which you are familiar. Compare their syllable structure and other important characteristics of the syllable in each language. What sort of problems could differences in the content and structure of syllables in the two languages cause for second language learners? CONTENTS 1 Introduction: 1.1 What is a syllable?..................................................................3 2 Defining the English syllable..................................................4 2.1 English Syllable Structure...................................................5 2.2 Syllable division.................................................................6 3 Constraints..........................................................................7 Stress.....................................................................................9 4.1 Identifying Stress in Syllables (for learners)............................9 5 Japanese ???...................................................................10 6 Mora: Difference between Syllable and Mora.............................11 6.1 Syllable Debate..................................................................12 7 Mora Timing.......................................................................13 8 Accentuation........................................................................14 9 Constraints..........................................................................14 10 Learner Difficulties............................................................15 Bibliography..........................................................................17 Appendix 1............................................................................................................18 1.Introduction Although speech is perceived as a continuous flow of sounds, we as natural speakers are naturally predisposed towards thinking of these sounds as units or segments (Clarke & Yallop, 1990) which we call sentences, words, syllables and phonemes. The articulation of these sounds is an accumulation of a range of articulatory devices involving the lungs, vocal chords, pharynx, oral and nasal cavity, tongue and lips. Amongst the 4,000 estimated languages in the world (O'Connor, 1973) the process of articulation as well as the phonological differences has been explicated in great detail (Saussure 19161; Pike 1943; Ladgefoged 20012; Gimson 1962). Yet despite the commonalities of these sounds and processes no two languages have the same sounds resources; resulting in more than a modicum of frustration and difficulty for language learners. The frustration also extends to native speakers, and with the rise in illiteracy rates3 solutions are being discussed by educationalists4. Part of the problem resides in the difficulty of encoding whole words from units. Whilst most speakers of English can recognise the number of syllables in any given word (Clarke & Yallop 1990, Roach 2004), `the custom of using sequences of discrete letters to write a language such as English...can be highly misleading, for the parrallel between writing and speech is not excact` (p. ...read more.

Middle

p.70). 4 Stress English, like Germanic languages has stress timing. The difference between stressed and unstressed syllables is greater in English than in most other languages (Clark & Yallop, 1990; Celce-Mercia et al, 1996), it is also an extremely important characteristic of the syllable. In stress languages like English, a certain syllable within a word is perceived as dominant and it is this syllable which is said to carry the primary stress (Tsujimura, 1996). Stress can fall on any part of the syllable depending on the origin of the word and according to lexical status i.e. abstract '�bstr�ct (adjective) and �b'str�kt (verb) (Roach, 2004) and such lack of predictability causes confusion for second language learners (Celce-Mercia et al, 1996). Perhaps for this reason the phenomenon of stress in English has received substantial attention for identifying its salience within syllables and words6. 4.1 Identifying Stress in Syllables (for learners) What are the characteristics of stressed syllables and what rules, if any, can we apply to syllables for learners? Unlike French or Polish where stress is received on the last and penultimate syllable respectively (Gimson 1964; Roach 2004), English stress placement is a matter much more complex, with examples of stress as independent of syllables whilst in some cases clearly being identified within syllable. We will look briefly at these two areas. First, Katamba (1993) in his discussion of stress, uses evidence to show that stress is a prosody, i.e. not residing in any consonant or vowel, but rather 'stress can hop from syllable to syllable' (p.155) so that a word such as `democrat becomes demo`cratic. The causative factor being the suffix rather than the syllable. Katamba succintly concludes: 'If stress were an integral part of the segments in a syllable it would not enjoy such mobility and independence.` (Katamba, 1983: 155) Therefore lexical status plays a greater role in stress placement as demonstrated with the word 'abstract', both a noun and an adjective: '�bstr�ct (adjective) ...read more.

Conclusion

As we have seen, selecting the correct syllable to stress in an English word is based on a complicated set of factors which sets English apart from other languages like French or Polish where stress can be decided simply in relation to the syllables of the word i.e. the last syllable or the penultimate syllable. We also looked at Kreidler's (1989) definition of an important characteristic of stress syllables, in which for example the stressed vowel of `aroma` is the same as the vowel of `row`. This may be of help for learners looking for a stable rule to apply. Celce-Murcia et al (ibid.) ask for syllabuses to determine linguistic priorities to correct any linguistic traits identified in a students first language, so that if a student's first language is a syllable timed language jazz chants or limericks 'may have equal priority over excercises that focus on "difficult" segmental contrasts' (p.324). Finally, the sequences of English consonant clusters present a challenge for speakers of Japanese that have a stricter pattern of CV order. Celce-Murcia et al (ibid.) have shown that speakers of languages with a simpler syllable structure tend to drop final consonants altogether or change challenging consonant clusters i.e. cold to /kow/. Since the /l/ and /r/ is also a problem for Asian learners they are often ommitted altogether. To overcome this, students can be taught the strategy of cluster reduction known as resyllabification whereby the final consonant of the cluster is moved to the next syllable in order to make the cluster easier to pronounce. Correspondingly, students of Japanese are challenged by a comparable pronunciation transference for ra?, tsu [?] and shi [?]. This is often due to an over-reliance on a Romanji translated alphabet rather than the Hiragana/Katakana alphabet. In the final assessment of the differences in syllables between English and Japanese it must be kept in mind that the goal of language learning/pronunciation must be intelligible - rather than nativelike - pronunciation. This presents a more realistic pedogogical goal as well as respecting the individualism expressed in regional, national and foreign accents. ...read more.

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