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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Putting the sounds together


In chapter 4, the sounds of German were analysed on an individual basis. We looked at the vowels and consonants, and described the way in which each separate sound is articulated. These separate sounds are also known in linguistics as segments.

But now consider this English word: ‘medicine’ [mεdisin]. When we utter a word such as this, we do not pronounce each segment in complete isolation, i.e. finishing one sound before we begin the next. If we did, we would have to say: [m] + [ε] + [d] + [i] + [s] + [i] + [n]. In order to articulate the individual sounds as carefully as this, we would have to speak extremely slowly. In fact, we would probably not make very good communicators at all since most people would find such a way of talking rather irritating and would soon stop listening. In practice, what happens when we speak is that we merge small groups of consonants and vowels in order to form syllables. Sometimes, a word may consist of one syllable only. In other cases, two or more are joined together. The word ‘medicine’, for example, is made up of three syllables: [mε] + [di] + [sin].

We can see therefore how, in the same way that we merge certain letters of the alphabet in order to produce ‘joined-up writing’, we also link the individual sounds of language when speaking in order to form syllables, words and eventually whole sentences.