Syllable

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A syllable (Greek: συλλαβή) is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel) with optional initial and final margins (typically, consonants).

Syllables are often considered the phonological "building blocks" of words. They can influence the rhythm of a language, its prosody, its poetic meter, its stress patterns, etc.

Syllablic writing began several hundred years before the first letters. The earliest recorded syllables are on tablets written around 2800 BC in the Sumerian city of Ur. This shift from pictograms to syllables has been called 'the most important advance in the history of writing'.[1]

A word that consists of a single syllable (like English dog) is called a monosyllable (such a word is monosyllabic), while a word consisting of two syllables (like puppy) is called a disyllable (such a word is disyllabic). A word consisting of three syllables (such as wolverine) is called a trisyllable (the adjective form is trisyllabic). A word consisting of more than three syllables (such as rhinoceros) is called a polysyllable (and could be described as polysyllabic), although this term is often used to describe words of two syllables or more.

Contents

Syllable structure

The general structure of a syllable consists of the following segments:

  • Onset (obligatory in some languages, optional or even restricted in others)
  • Rime
    • Nucleus (obligatory in most languages)
    • Coda (optional in some languages, highly restricted or prohibited in others)

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