On Consonants and Syllable Boundaries

  • Katherine S. Harris
  • Fredericka Bell-Berti
Part of the Cognition and Language: A Series in Psycholinguistics book series (CALS)


Arthur Bronstein, in his book The Pronounciation of American English (1960), follows the convention of dividing the sounds of the language into two classes—the consonants and the vowels. Within this rubric, he assigns the glottal stop [?], and the glottal fricative [h] to the consonant class, as other textbook authors do. To choose a few examples, [?] is described as a “glottal plosive” and [h] as a “breathed glottal fricative” by Daniel Jones (1956); [?] as a “laryngeal stop” and [h] as a “laryngeal open consonant” by Heffner (1949). The authors thus make the tacit assumption that these sounds share some property with the stops and fricatives and contrast, in some manner, with vowels. In part, this view is a consequence of their distributional properties (Andresen, 1968) and, indeed, their role in the syllable. However, this decision leaves us with the further problem of deciding what syllables are, within which the consonants and vowels may have roles. To continue with our sampling of phonetics texts, we find Malmberg (1963) and MacKay (1978) observing that, although phoneticians may differ on the definition of a syllable, the untrained speaker of a language usually has a clear idea of the number of syllables in an utterance, and this intuitive reality suggests that there must be some corresponding articulatory reality. For convenience, we will ignore the problems of the more general definitions of the syllable (Bell & Hooper, 1978; Pulgram, 1970), though we note that the problem of finding articulatory meaning for the syllable is made more acute by the failure of efforts to find easy distributional definitions.


Syllable Boundary Tongue Position Glottal Stop External Intercostal Muscle Acoustic Requirement 
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  1. 1.
    We are grateful to Dr. Masayuki Sawashima and the staff of the Research Institute of Logopedics and Phoniatrics at the University of Tokyo for their help with these experiments, and to Dr. Osamu Fujimura, Dr. Joan Miller, and Dr. Winston L. Nelson of Bell Laboratories for their help with the preparatory data processing and analysis facilities for the output of the Tokyo System.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    We are grateful to Dr. Sandra Hamlet of the University of Maryland for making these recordings at her experimental facility, and to Dr. Maureen Stone for her help in data analysis.Google Scholar


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine S. Harris
    • 1
  • Fredericka Bell-Berti
    • 2
  1. 1.The Ph.D. Program in Speech and Hearing SciencesGraduate School of the City University of New York, and Haskins LaboratoriesUSA
  2. 2.St. Johns University and Haskins LaboratoriesUSA

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