Literacy Project/2012-04-27 Notes/Phonotactics

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Denise Umans
Acceptable syllable patterns in English (O’Grady et al) plus my own analysis

Initial consonant clusters in English containing a voiceless stop:
Labial and liquid glides
Pl
Pr
Pj eg. ‘pure’
Spl
Spr
Spw eg. ‘spew’
Alveolar plus liquid or glide
Tr
Tw
Tj ‘tune’ (BR)
Stj eg. ‘stew’(BR)
Velar plus liquid or glide
Kl
Kr
Kw ‘queen
Kj ‘cute
Skl ‘sclerosis’
Skr ‘scrap’
Skw ‘squeak’
Skj ‘skewer’

Foreign words adopted in English eg., ps in ‘psychology’ introduce additional patterns but we do not need to deal with this now.

Final consonant clusters in English: Some languages do not allow consonant clusters altogether eg. “standard Arabic forbids initial consonant clusters and more than two consecutive consonants in other positions. So do most other Semitic languages”. “In English, the longest possible initial cluster is three consonants, as in split /ˈsplɪt/ and strudel /ˈʃtruːdəl/, all beginning with /s/ or /ʃ/ and ending with /l/ or /r/;[3] the longest possible final cluster is five consonants, as in angsts /ˈæŋksts/, though that is rare and four, as in twelfths /ˈtwɛlfθs/, sixths /ˈsɪksθs/, bursts /ˈbɜrsts/ and glimpsed /ˈɡlɪmpst/, is more common. In compound words, longer clusters are possible, as in handspring /ˈhændspriŋ/.” (Wikipedia)

Note that Oromo may not have the same clusters as English but they do have diagraphs as in English ie. two consonant letters which form a single sound eg /sh/. (Wikipedia on consonant clusters). In English, these include ch (as in church), ch (school), ng (king), ph (phone), sh (shoe), th (then), th (think), and wh (wheel). (I will look at Oromo in more detail on this).

Lengthening of vowel is English is predictable according to certain rules eg.
Vowel is shorter before voiceless consonants, sonorant consonants (vowels glides, liquids and nasals), a Eg. Words like Bat, ape, face, leaf, tack, show, broke, etc.
and in word-final positions eg. Before /t/, /p/, /k/ /s/, /f/ /l/, /m/, /r/, /w/.
Vowel is longer before voiced consonants which are nonsonorant that is, obstruent (ie. Affricate, fricative, stop) eg. Before /b/, /d/ /g/, /z/, /v/.
Eg. Words like bad, Abe, phase, leave, tag, brogue.

Word Stress: We should be sure to use natural stress patterns in English in all teaching tasks so this is learned along with the word. Shifts in pattern then help with meaning and grammatical shifts eg., words such as ‘desert’ vs. ‘desert’; nouns to verbs and prefix or suffix additions etc. We have to be careful to present examples in natural language intonation so that stress and intonation are not altered since they may be imitated as such. Oromo stress patterns will likely be applied to English words and we can work with this as it arises. This may result in lengthening or shortening of vowels etc. For example, some ESL learners may say:

Colleegee (lengthened ‘e’s because the stress is on the 2nd syllable rather than on the first. (I need to analy\se Oromo stress more fully if we have sufficient information about this).

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