Part Two: Phonotactics

Phonotactics are deeply related to phonology. In fact, one cannot exist without the other. Phonotactics is the structure of phonological elements within a word. Languages can differ greatly based on phonotactics alone.

The most important element of phonotactics is the syllable structure. This determines the placement of consonants and vowels within syllables, as well as the number of each. It is often written with C symbolizing consonants and V symbolizing vowels. Languages are classified as having simple to complex syllable structures, with gradients in between. A language with a simple syllable structure would be Hawaiian, which only allows for one consonant and one vowel in a syllable. On the other side, Gregorian is often noted for having the most complex syllable structure, allowing for words like გვრწვრთნი (gvrts’vrtni) meaning “you train us”.

Syllable structure also defines how many consonants can come after the nucleus, that being the central vowel. Some languages do not allow consonants to come after the vowel, like our old friend Hawaiian from earlier. Most of Earth’s languages do allow consonants in the coda but greatly limit the number and type. Japanese for example only allows coda N, which can variably be n or m. Other languages allow for the same number of consonants at the coda as at the onset of the syllable. English does this in a word like strengths, strengths.

3 thoughts on “Part Two: Phonotactics

  1. I’m going to challenge you on this. A vowel is by definition voiced, regardless of its graphic representation. A syllable is defined, as I use it, as a unit of sound that includes a vowel, hence a voiced phoneme.

    Review voiced vs voiceless sounds. You’re in the choir. It should all make sense.

  2. I should clarify my definition. A syllable (again, my definition), is a unit of sound that includes a voiced phoneme, which is usually a vowel but doesn’t necessarily have to be.

    1. I had assumed that this was what you were meaning. While I agree, the typical analysis of Georgian syllable structure says that strictly vowels can act as syllable nuclei and that the consonants at the beginning of a word like “Gvrts’vrtni” are just a very long consonant cluster. The phonology of Georgian doesn’t feature syllabic consonants which could act as syllable nuclei.
      A more apt example of having a lot of consonants would be Nuxalk of British Columbia, which is famous for having entire words devoid of vowels and sonorants. It features words such as “Qwt” [qʷʰtʰ] which means “crooked”, or a sentence like “Clhp’xwlhtlhplhhskwts'” [xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ] which translates to “Then he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant.” Not only are these examples rare in the language, but the point in the article was mostly about the number of onset consonants in a syllable before the nucleus.

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