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The Structure And Function Of Heavy Syllables English Language Essay

English belongs to the group of stress language, and it is widely acknowledged that word stress is gathered by syllables. The structure of syllables is comprised of onset and rhyme, and the rhyme can be separated into nucleus and coda. However, if an English word has two syllables or even more, how can we dispatch the stress? The first thought is heavy syllables, but how can a syllable be heavy? This essay is going to discuss the structure of heavy syllables and their function between syllable structure and stress.

The structure of heavy syllable

Generally speaking, the weight of syllables can be categorized into two groups, heavy and light syllables. There are two methods to cluster these two categories; one is based on the syllabic constituency, and the other is moras (Hayes, 1995: 51). Syllabic constituency can be explained by two theories: CV Theory, and X Theory, which are cited by Hayes (1989: 253). Nonetheless, Hayes claims that X Theory is more preferable to researchers since it can obviously show the structure of rich syllables based on upper nodes. The instances are given below:

CV Theory

C

b

ɪ

V

/bɪ/

/bɪt/

C

b

ɪ

V

t

C

/bi/

C

b

i

V

V

/bit/

C

b

i

V

V

C

t

X Theory

(O represents onset, R represents rhyme, and N stands for nucleus.)

σ

σ

R

O

X

X

b

ɪ

/bɪ/

/bi/

/bit/

σ

R

O

X

X

/bɪt/

X

b

ɪ

t

R

O

X

b

X

X

i

σ

R

O

X

b

X

X

i

X

t

N

N

N

|

N

|

In terms of constituency of syllables, if a syllable has a branching rhyme, it is regarded as a heavy syllable; that is, a rhyme includes at least two slots (Hogg and McCully, 1987:38; Hayes, 1995: 51), and for long vowels, one segment contains two slots. In the language of English, diagram a represents a light syllable, whereas b, c, and d are heavy syllables. However, there is one exception. According to Carr (1999:90), a syllable with branching rhyme cannot be a heavy syllable is due to the schwa vowel. Hence, CVC is not exactly a heavy syllable.

Apart from syllabic constituency, mora is the other approach to evaluate heavy or light syllables. According to Hayes (1989: 254), “ the mora has a dual role in this theory.” The first role is the apparent distinction between light and heavy syllables, that is, there are two morae in a heavy syllable while there is only one mora in a light syllable. The second is “phonological position,” which means that long vowels have two links. These two roles are similar to X Theory, but Hayes (1989: 258) further illustrates CVC as either a heavy syllable or a light syllable via “weight by position:” if a language has “weight by position” rule, a closed syllable is a heavy, because the function of this rule is to generate two morae. Therefore, the instances in X Theory can be divided into two groups as below:

σ

/bɪ/

/bi/

/bit/

σ

/bɪt/

b

μ

ɪ

b

μ

ɪ

μ

t

σ

b

μ

i

μ

σ

b

μ

i

μ

t

In instance (3), a is considered as a light syllable, whereas the other three are heavy syllables.

(4)

σ

/bɪ/

/bi/

/bit/

σ

/bɪt/

b

μ

ɪ

b

μ

ɪ

t

σ

b

μ

i

μ

σ

b

μ

i

μ

t

In example (4), both a and b are light syllables, while c and d are still heavy syllables.

The two advantages of moraic theory are later explicated by Hayes (1995: 53). First of all, in contrast to CV Theory and X Theory, moraic theory merely depicts morae in a syllable without calculating segments. For instance, /bɪ/ and /i/ in syllabic constituency theories are marked as two segments, but they are not demonstrated in moraic theory. Second, moraic theory can represent the compensation of procedure for the eliminated or shortened segments in that the quantities of morae either in the sequence of input or output are equivalent.

No matter which theory is better, Szigetvári (2005: 43) concludes that these theories indicate the idea that the principle of stress division is not determined by syllable nodes. He further states that in English if and only if a long vowel or a rhymal consonant is included in a syllable, that syllable is heavy. In other words, CVC is a heavy syllable under this condition.

Syllable structure and stress

English is considered to be a stress language so the association between syllable structure and stress are crucial. Giegerich (1992: 182) summarizes two salient points about the correlation. The first one is that “stressed syllable must be heavy, while unstressed syllables may be light,” and a complex rhyme must be contained in a monosyllabic or polysyllabic word. The second is the idea of ambisyllabicity based on the syllable boundary rule, which makes a stressed syllable either heavy or light.

Giegerich (1992: 183-189) categorizes the stress of English words into two groups: final stress and non-final stress. In final stress group, a light syllable never places at the end of a word and some examples provided by Giegerich show the occasion of secondary stress on both heavy syllables in one word. Giegerich later elucidates some exceptions in the examples he provides, such as finance, based on alteration of two heavy syllables, from secondary stress to primary stress. On the contrary, if a word with final stress consists of light-heavy syllables, the variation of heavy-light syllables is impossible. Although there are some English words with final stress, instances of nouns in final stress are infrequently occurs compared with examples of adjectives and verbs. Similarly, non-final stress is normally determined by syllable weight, but it is not always the same case. Provided that a penultimate syllable is heavy, it is stressed; if it is not, then the antepenultimate syllable stresses. Hence, on the basis of these two groups, Giegerich concludes that the position of stress in some words is able to suppose, but some are not. In addition to that, syllable weight may be the reason to predict the placement of stress.

The factor of syllable weight is also related to metrical phonology (Giegerich, 1992: 193). Between syllable level and word stress level, there is a layer called foot level. Foot level is constructed by some syllables as feet or a foot, and on foot level, the stressed syllable is the first one in a foot; therefore, the structure of feet reoccurs. Moreover, binary structure of foot level is exploited if there are more than two syllables. Three diagrams are displayed as below:

(5)

(Giegerich, 1992: 195)

a.

W

S

S

W

c.

S

S

W

b.

W

S

S

W

W

S

W

S represents that the syllable is stronger than the W one on foot level.

The following examples shown in Giegeirch’s book (1992: 196 and 197) also illustrate how syllables construct foot level. Pity and happy have two syllables but they only consist of one foot as a SW structure because they are bisyllabic foot. Rabbi and bamboo have two feet because they have two heavy syllables, as SW and WS structures, respectively. Kangaroo and nightingale likewise have two feet because of two heavy syllables. Nevertheless, not all two heavy syllables have two feet. July, which is comprised of one syllable and one foot, is a good instance for this.

Although the above examples exemplify the formation of feet, Giegeirch (1992: 197) suspects the analysis of it because of the contravention of hierarchical metrical structure in the example of July. Consequently, Giegeirch (1992: 198-204) proposes the rules of foot-level and word level construction especially for nouns. There are four steps for distributing the foot of nouns, and the approach of distribution begins from right syllable to left ones. Initially, if the final syllable has a long vowel, or if it is a heavy syllable, the foot is allocated. Secondly, a heavy bisyllabic foot is allocated to penultimate syllable. Subsequently, a heavy initial syllable is allocated with a foot to a penultimate syllable. Finally, the residual syllables are allocated with bi- or trisyllabic foot, and a foot as a minimum in a word should be confirmed. After the rule of foot level construction, all elements of feet are assembled into word level. On word level, S and W distribution is in principle the same as the diagram (5) given above, but there are still some exceptions, such as cavalcade, which consists of upper W and S, and the upper W branches into lower S and W. Likewise, if there are more than three feet, they are determined by the idea of binary in the diagram (5) as well.

In addition to the above rule, Giegerich (1992: 204) also states “word prominence rule” as another approach to decide the foot assignment. If a lexicon has a pair of nodes, the latter node is strong on any of the three conditions: (i) the latter node “branches above the syllable level,” (ii) the lexicon “is an exceptional noun,” or (iii) the lexicon “is a verb.”

So far, the correlation between syllable and stress has demonstrated how syllable weight assists the assignment of stress in phonological approach (Giegerich, 1992: 204), but the above explanation does not describe the feature of the unstressed heavy syllables. According to Kreidler (1989: 81), unstressed heavy syllables have four similarities to stressed syllables. The initial point is that a schwa never occurs in a heavy syllable, which is mentioned in X Theory. Secondly, the onset of an unstressed heavy syllable is more obvious than the other onset of unstressed syllables. One of Kreidler’s instances is /p/ in caterpillar, which is clearer than the unstressed onset /t/. Next, when the onset of a heavy unstressed syllable is comprised of voiceless stops, the voiceless stops of the onset are aspirated. The instances are also shown in Krdidler’s book: /t/ in penetrate is different from the /t/ in caterpillar, since the former /t/ is aspired whereas the latter is not. Last but not least, it is possible for a heavy syllable to be a stressed syllable. This can explain why the stress of some words may vary, if they accompany other words. The examples are shown in Giegerich’s book (1992: 185): from cham’pagne to ‘cham,pagne ‘breakfast, and from ho’tel to ‘ho,tel ‘management.

Conclusion

This essay has discussed the structure of heavy syllables, and there are three approaches to define a heavy syllable from syllable weight. CV Theory and X Theory use segments to form the pattern of syllables. That is, VV, CVV, CVCC, and CVVCC (Rogers, 2000: 267) are definitely considered as heavy syllables because they have a branching rhyme, whereas CVC is flexible, either a heavy syllable or a light one. On the other hand, the way of classifying a heavy syllable in moraic theory is based on the number of morae. Although the moraic theory is highly supported by Hayes (1995), I still use syllabic constituency to analyze the English stress pattern because moraic theory disregards the structure of syllables.

The relation between syllabic structure and stress indicates that it is the heavy syllables that distinguish from the other syllables in a word, making the word has its stressed syllable and unstressed syllables. However, not all unstressed syllables are light since if a word has two heavy syllables, only one of them is stressed. This manifests that heavy syllables do not have the function of word stress determination, but at least they to some extent play a salient role on the position of stress.

Metrical phonology further explicates the foot level between syllable structure and stress, clarifying how stress is determined. Similarly, heavy syllables are important element on foot level branching, because they are first to be considered. Moreover, binary dichotomy is applied to every level of the distribution of S and W. Accordingly, the function of a heavy syllable can be described as one of the implements to understand how stress works. Finally, the unstressed heavy syllables also have some analogous to a stressed syllable.

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