In this chapter …
In this chapter we look in more detail at how English syllables are structured. We take some terms and concepts we introduced earlier – those of syllabic onset, nucleus and coda – and use them to describe the internal structure of syllables. In doing so, we see how nucleus and coda are themselves gathered into a higher-level internal constituent of the syllable, called the rhyme.
We observe that onsets and rhymes are the immediate constituents of the syllable. The immediate constituents of the rhyme are the nucleus and the coda.
Once we've established the existence of these internal constituents we also see that there are principles at work – principles possibly based on ‘sonority’, which we reanalyse as ‘openness’ – which govern how segments can appear in well-formed syllables (and within internal constituents of those syllables).
We also look at apparently onsetless syllables and suggest that in English, onsets may be obligatory, and that therefore it makes sense to explore the concept of a ‘zero phoneme’ which might fill an erstwhile empty onset position, as in words such as eye or egg.
We close this chapter by briefly reconsidering the notions of the optionality and obligatoriness of internal syllable constituents, and aligning those notions with a typology that might obtain in the world's languages.
The constituents of English syllables
In chapter 4 we claimed that we could think about syllables as containing constituents such as onset (the consonant or consonants that might begin the syllable), nucleus (the vowel at the heart of the syllable), and coda (the consonant or consonants that might end the syllable).