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The syllable (from Latin syllaba from ancient Greek συλλαβή "summary, syllable") is a grammatical or linguistic term that denotes a unit of one or more successive sounds or phonemes that can be pronounced in one go and thus form a unit of speech. It represents the smallest group of sounds in the natural flow of speech.

The syllable forms a purely sound ( phonetic ) unit that is formed independently of its meaning. Therefore, the division of a word into syllables often does not match the division into meaningful units ( morphemes ) - even if this impression often arises in German. This is made more difficult by the fact that morphemes are also referred to as language syllables in certain nomenclatures . The syllable described in this article is then referred to as the speaking syllable for delimitation . In addition, a spelling syllable is sometimes also defined.

Each phonological word can be subdivided into syllables - this subdivision serves as the basis for the written language (graphematic) word separation at the end of the line, which is identified by a hyphen (e.g. syllable, funny, why). In poetry , d. H. Poetry and other poems , in some languages ​​such as German, the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables constitutes the meter . In this context, in verse theory (metrics), a stressed syllable required by the meter is referred to as elevation , an unstressed syllable as lowering . This terminology is also applied in a figurative sense to quantifying verses of ancient metrics (verse theory). The long syllables that do not represent short syllables are referred to as elevation, and the short syllables and the long syllables that replace them are designated as lowering.

Every language has its own rules for the structure of its syllables, but some of them are universal : A syllable must always contain exactly one syllable core. This is usually a vowel or double vowel ( diphthong ). In addition, it can have one or more consonants . Some languages ​​(e.g. German ) also allow sonorous consonants such as nasals or liquids as syllable kernels in unstressed syllables . Other languages, e.g. B. Czech , allow certain consonants as a syllable core even in stressed syllables, e.g. B. Strč prst skrz krk 'Put your finger through your throat'. In linguistics, these aspects are understood as syllable restrictions. In this context the question is asked when a syllable follows the so-called "well-formedness aspects" and when it does not. A distinction is made between universal and language-specific syllable structure restrictions.

A consonant is called syllable if it is a syllable carrier in a word. Examples are words that end in en : “Laden” [ ˈlaːdn̩ ] with syllable / n̩ / in contrast to the nonsyllabic variant [ ˈlaːdən ] with Schwa / ə / , the historically older pronunciation.

Syllable structure

Syllable structure

In linguistics, the syllable (σ), to put it simply, is defined as a sequence of segments that has an internal structure. That is, a syllable is made up of a group of sounds in the natural flow of speech, which the speaker can articulate in one breath. The syllable is thus the smallest free phonological unit.

Syllable structure models

Due to the structural properties of the syllable, it makes sense to represent it in structural models. There are two main approaches to this in linguistics. The CV model and the constituent model. The CV model depicts the syllable structure linearly and non-hierarchically, but flatly as a sequence of C and V elements. C elements are usually consonants and V elements are typically vowels. Syllables are therefore viewed as a sequence of positions, with a position being associated with one or more sounds. The CV model makes it possible to use the occupied CV positions to make statements about duration differences and quantity, taking into account tension and stress, and is therefore useful for the analysis of these aspects of the syllable. Another approach is the constituent model. Here the structural positions of the syllable are in a hierarchical relationship. In this model, the syllable is divided into basic components. These components are the syllable head (onset, ω) , syllable core (nucleus, ν) and syllable tail (coda, κ) . Kern and coda can in turn be combined as syllable rhymes (ρ) . This model is useful if the analysis is to be carried out on the basis of these segments, since, for example, not all segments have to be occupied and this should be clarified. A combination of CV and constituent models is possible.

There are different traditions and theories about syllable analysis. In the first level, the syllable structure from the sequence of segments is usually divided into syllable headers and syllable rhymes. Especially in western phonology, rhyme is further subdivided into sonorous syllable kernel and syllable tail. Especially in Far Eastern phonology, the head or initial sound is further analyzed in initial sound (ι) and medial sound (μ) or instead of medial and rhyme the complex final sound ( φ) is used, which also carries the tone (τ) with height and course, which in has lexemic, not just syntactic, meaning in many East Asian languages .

Thus, the obligatory nucleus has an optional left and right margin, which together form the syllable shell. The syllable starting point is mandatory in some languages, in others (including German ) it may be missing. The syllable coda is not compulsory in any language, it is always either optional (e.g. in German) or it does not appear at all (e.g. in Hawaiian ).

Some linguists distinguish between the phonetic and the phonological syllable. Pike uses the terms Kontoid (C) , Vokoid (V) and Tone (T) to name the purely phonetically defined sound units . Vocoids are "oral, non-lateral resonants ", accountids are all other segmental speech sounds. In addition to the syllable characteristic “tone”, a phonetic syllable can contain accountide in the initial sound, vokoide in the nucleus and accountide or vocoide in the final sound.

Syllable approach

The syllable beginning (also: syllable beginning, syllable initial, syllable head, initial margin, onset ) consists of one or more consonants. For example, the consonants form [⁠ n ⁠] and [⁠ m ⁠] in the word "name" in each case the recognition of a syllable. The sequence and maximum number are restricted. The restriction applies both to individual languages from the point of view of phonotactics and universally because of the sonority hierarchy . A consonant sequence in the syllable approach usually has increasing sonority, but there are exceptions such as the sequence [ ʃt ] in the German word "Stock".

For the morphological initial for the first speech sound of a word, see Initial .

Syllable rhyme

The syllable rhyme consists of the consonantic syllable coda together with the vowelic syllable core . In traditional Chinese phonology it is not further subdivided, but still differentiated according to tone .

Syllable core

The syllable core (nucleus, syllable peak) is the moment of the greatest sonic fullness of a syllable and thus its sonorous main part ( segment with the highest prominence ). This syllable nucleus is usually vowel, e.g. For example, the vowel [⁠ a ⁠] in the word "comb" forms the top of a syllable. If there is no vowel, the syllable core is on a flowing sound ( liquid ) or on a nasal sound, e.g. B. the [ ] sound in the word “summit” and the [ ] sound in the word “laden” each form the summit of a vowelless syllable.

The syllable as the smallest free phonological unit has exactly one nucleus. Consonantic satellite phonemes (syllable initials and syllable coda) can surround the nucleus. A larger phonological unit can have several syllable kernels.

In the simplest case, a syllable core consists of exactly one short or long vowel. In most languages, the slightest deviation is a syllable core made up of two vowels and thus from a diphthong , e.g. B. [ai] in the word "porridge". Triphthongs are also rarer , i.e. a direct sequence of three vowels or half-vowels in the nucleus, capable of syllable kernels, e.g. B. in the English word fire [ faɪə ] ( RP ).

Syllable coda

The syllable coda (from Italian coda 'tail', also: syllable end, syllable end, syllable tail, end edge ) consists of one or more consonants . The sequence and maximum number of consonants are restricted. The restriction applies both to individual languages ​​from the point of view of phonotactics and universally because of the sonority hierarchy . A consonant sequence in the syllable coda usually has descending sonorities, but there are exceptions such as the sequence [ ] in the German word “ schönsch ”. In many languages, including German, an obstruent in the coda has to be voiceless , see final hardening .

Syllable bowl

The syllable shell is made up of the optional syllable borders (syllable head and syllable coda). Head and coda form the consonant environment of the obligatory vowel core.

Phonemes that cannot be in the syllable core of a syllable, but only in the syllable shell, are called satellite phonemes . These include non-syllabic consonants and the not fully vowel parts of a diphthong . In German , with a few exceptions (e.g. / n / and / l /), all consonants are satellite phonemes, in other languages ​​the number of consonants that can appear as syllable kernels is significantly greater. Vowels can always form the nucleus of the syllable, so they do not belong in the satellite phoneme category.

Types of syllables

On the basis of their segmental structure, a distinction is made between open and closed syllables and between naked and covered syllables:

A covered syllable has a ( consonantic ) syllable head . A naked syllable , on the other hand, begins directly with the ( vowel ) syllable core. About the structure of rhyme, i.e. H. Whether there is a (consonant) coda or not, the two terms make no statement.


  • The third syllable of the word "museum" is naked.
  • The first and second syllables of the word "museum" are covered.

An open syllable ( Latin syllaba aperta ) ends with a vowel. A closed syllable ( Latin syllaba clausa ), on the other hand, ends in at least one consonant. The two terms say nothing about the existence or type of the syllable head.


  • The first syllable of the word "syllable" is closed.
  • The second syllable of the word "syllable" is open.

On the basis of the length one differentiates according to quantity , syllable weight and syllable duration .

The characteristic of quantity, which is particularly decisive in the quantitative ancient metrics of the Greeks and Romans, differentiates between “short” and “long” syllables, whereby one refers to the relative duration of a syllable in the context of the specific verse. Analogous to the "abbreviations" and "lengths" of the quantifying languages, a distinction is made between "unstressed" and "stressed" syllables in languages ​​with an accented verse principle .

In contrast to this, the syllable weight is a property of the syllable itself, regardless of its context, which can be derived from the syllable structure. A distinction is made here between “light” and “heavy” syllables. According to a terminology introduced by Theo Vennemann , “light” or “heavy” is also used in an abstract way from the verse principle in order to designate properties of metric elements independently of this.

Finally, the syllable duration means the (physically measurable) duration of the articulation of a syllable.

With Utz Maas a distinction is made between the two-syllable German hereditary words between the prominent syllable (stressed and with a full vowel ) and the reduction syllable (unstressed and with a reducing vowel [ə] or [ɐ]).

In order to designate syllables of a word with regard to their position, Latin technical terms are used for the last three word syllables: the last syllable of a word is called the final syllable or ultima ( Latin [syllaba] ultima , "the last [syllable]"), the penultimate Vorendsilbe or Pänultima ( latin [syllaba] paenultima ) and the antepenultimate Antepänultima ( latin [syllaba] antepaenultima ); the first syllable of a word is called the first syllable , all between the first and last syllable are called inner syllables or middle syllables .

On the other hand, Greek technical terms are used to designate words in the classical and Romance languages ​​with regard to the syllable that bears the main accent: if the main accent is on the last syllable, the word is called an oxytonone ; if it is on the penultimate syllable, it is called a paroxytonon , and if it falls on the penultimate syllable, the word is a proparoxytonon . All three terms are to be pronounced “proparoxytonal”, namely with the main emphasis on the “y”. Words that are accented on the first syllable are called prototonic , and words that are accented on the second syllable are called deuterotonic .

Syllable formation

The phonotactic rules of syllable formation describe the structure of the syllable from its phonemes. The sonority principle is particularly important here , according to which the sonority (sound volume) of the syllable-forming phonemes increases towards the syllable core, where it assumes a maximum, and conversely decreases towards the syllable boundary and has a minimum there.

A syllable form that is optimal in the sense of the theory of optimality according to the rules of syllable formation - especially with regard to maximum sonority contrast - is called an optimal syllable . It only has a (mostly vowelic) syllable core (V) and an initial syllable attachment (K) and does not use the coda. So it only consists of a consonant and a vowel (scheme KV).

See also


  • Dudenredaktion (ed.): Duden. The grammar (= The Duden in twelve volumes. Vol. 4). 7th, completely new and expanded edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim et al. 2005, ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , chapter The syllable. P. 37ff.
  • Otto von Essen : General and applied phonetics. 5th, revised and expanded edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1979, chapter The Syllable. Pp. 128-139.
  • Helmut Glück (Ed.), With the collaboration of Friederike Schmöe : Metzler Lexikon Sprache. 3rd, revised edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2005, ISBN 3-476-02056-8 .
  • Joseph H. Greenberg : Some generalizations concerning initial and final consonant clusters. In: Joseph H. Greenberg (Ed.): Universals of Human Language. Volume 2: Phonology. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA 1978, ISBN 0-8047-0966-1 , pp. 243-279.
  • T. Alan Hall: Phonology. An introduction. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2000, ISBN 3-11-015641-5 , chapter syllable phonology. Pp. 205-270.
  • Judith Meinschaefer: Syllable and sonority in language and brain. Dissertation Bochum 1998, pp. 26-76, (PDF; 857.02 kB) .

Web links

Wiktionary: syllable  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ August Grotefend : Latin school grammar . Hahn, Hannover 1833, p. 116 (digitized from Google Books ).
  2. syllable .