Do syllables exist? 
Posted: 25 June 2014 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
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We all think we intuitively know what a syllable is, but trying to explain them isn’t so easy and even linguists aren’t in agreement about a definition, it says in the Guardian.

Where is the name Ladefoged from? Welsh?

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Posted: 25 June 2014 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There may be some problems with coming up with an objective definition of syllable, but the article creates confusion where there isn’t any.

Ladefoged explains that he would say that the word predatory has three syllables, but other people would count four. He also cites bottling and brightening as words that can be pronounced as two syllables, or with with syllabic consonants in the middle, so that they have three syllables.

The syllable is a property of the pronunciation; it is not a fixed and inherent property of the word. If the pronunciation changes, the syllable count may change. (Arguably, when you approach the language phonetically, there is no such thing as a word. All the phonemes spill out without clear demarcations between the lexemes.)

Then there are the words that everybody pronounces the same, but whose syllable-counts are open to debate. For example, in a word like communism, is that final “m” syllabic or not?

Yes.  /ˈɪz(ə)m/ is two syllables. You can, of course, elide one of the phonemes, but in that case you’re changing the pronunciation, and see the case above.

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Posted: 25 June 2014 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Where is the name Ladefoged from? Welsh?

It’s Danish.

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Posted: 27 June 2014 05:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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the article creates confusion where there isn’t any.

Protip: Newspapers are good for many things (and I’m very fond of the Grauniad), but linguistic analysis isn’t their forte.

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Posted: 27 June 2014 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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She’s young yet and not a Guardian hack and so may go on to great things: Josephine Livingstone is a doctoral candidate and teacher at New York University, says her profile. I assume they trusted her judgement even if it was crap. Freelancing for a newspaper surely pays better than waitressing in the evenings and might help her get precious tenure one day, ho ho. After all they got a Pulitzer for the Snowden stuff with the Washington Post. That’s got to look good on a CV. I don’t know if American papers are better at ‘linguistic-analysis’ articles.

Thanks, Ratatosk.

[ Edited: 27 June 2014 11:27 AM by venomousbede ]
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Posted: 27 June 2014 04:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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This article is poor, it is sad to think that a teacher wrote it, and I am surprised a major paper thought it was worth publishing. There are so many interesting, valid things to be said about language that there is no excuse for an editor letting this through.

More generally on this topic…

I can’t think of any cases in which there would be any debate about the number of syllables in a given pronunciation of a word. Are there any such cases?

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Posted: 27 June 2014 05:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Language - like syllables - is/are fluid. No object to pedantry!

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Posted: 27 June 2014 05:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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OP Tipping - 27 June 2014 04:59 PM

This article is poor, it is sad to think that a teacher wrote it, and I am surprised a major paper thought it was worth publishing. There are so many interesting, valid things to be said about language that there is no excuse for an editor letting this through.

More generally on this topic…

I can’t think of any cases in which there would be any debate about the number of syllables in a given pronunciation of a word. Are there any such cases?

Apparently coral and choral are words with two syllables, as is Superman’s father’s name, Jor-El. However, what about snarl and furl? The schwa thingamajig seems a little ambiguous.

I’m not a big believer in syllables. But I can see that, as languagehat pointed out in a different thread, non-rhotic speakers have a different concept of the function of “r” as it is spoken and written.

[ Edited: 27 June 2014 05:29 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 27 June 2014 09:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Talk of a serious discussion of whether “communism” has three or four syllables takes me back several hundred years, to the days when scholars were seriously debating the question of how many angels could stand on the point of a needle….

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Posted: 28 June 2014 12:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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lionello - 27 June 2014 09:19 PM

Talk of a serious discussion of whether “communism” has three or four syllables takes me back several hundred years, to the days when scholars were seriously debating the question of how many angels could stand on the point of a needle….

I seem to remember that this question, rather than vexing the minds of the scholiasts, sprang from the inventive and playful minds of Messrs. Swift, Pope, Arbuthnot and Gay in their satiric Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus. Not that old Tom Aquinas didn’t come up with a whole slew of equally engaging questions such as whether angels have bodies or merely assume them when needed, whether they can have sex, etc. (They assume the bodies, and no, disappointingly they are incapable of having sex in such assumed bodies. How the Angelic Doctor knew this is anybody’s guess!)

BTW I mentioned Aquinas as the Angelic Doctor. The other schoolmen had epithets attached to their doctorates too, such as:

Augustine - The Eloquent Doctor
John, Fidanza Bonaventure - The Seraphic Doctor
Alexander of Hales - The Irrefrangible Doctor
John Duns Scotus - The Subtle Doctor
William Durandus de Pourcain - The Most Resolving Doctor
Gregory of Rimini - The Authentic Doctor
Raymond Lully - The Illuminated Doctor

and, my personal favourite

Giles, Archbishop of Bourges - The Doctor with Good Foundation

Taken from Brewers Phrase & Fable and one of the reasons I love the book, error-strewn though it be.

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Posted: 28 June 2014 01:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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lionello - 27 June 2014 09:19 PM

Talk of a serious discussion of whether “communism” has three or four syllables takes me back several hundred years, to the days when scholars were seriously debating the question of how many angels could stand on the point of a needle….

My feeling or intuition about this is that many scientific enquiries have been presaged by philosophical ones, such as this where the quantum physicist’s answer might be: “An infinite number of angels. So now go and define infinity in mathematical terms.” It might have to do with extra dimensions which we human beings are incapable of understanding.

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Posted: 28 June 2014 05:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I don’t know if American papers are better at ‘linguistic-analysis’ articles.

Nope, with the pleasing exception of the journalist Michael Erard, who did graduate work in linguistics.

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Posted: 28 June 2014 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The author of this piece is not your typical journalist writing about language. The Guardian says Josephine Livingstone is a doctoral candidate at NYU, from which I assumed she was a linguist, and the problems with the piece came from “dumbing it down” for a general audience. But I just looked up her profile on academia.edu and it turns out she does medieval literature like me, although she works in a later period. (And I realize that we met at a conference two years ago--her picture did look familiar.) Her academic credentials in medieval literature are quite good, and two of her committee members (Carolyn Dinshaw and Christopher Cannon) are big names in the field. Now I think it more likely she’s fallen into the common pitfall of going beyond her field of expertise without adequate understanding of the fundamentals of the second field and made some basic errors in categorization (i.e., assuming phonetic properties are inherent to lexemes).

I’m wondering if some basic training in how to do interdisciplinarity right shouldn’t be part of every PhD program.

[ Edited: 28 June 2014 06:10 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 28 June 2014 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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There’s a thread over at SDMB currently on whether fire has one or two syllables. I myself use one. OED, if I’m reading it aright, states that the British use one syllable, with the Americans it can be one or two - depending on region perhaps, although OED is silent on this.

Pronunciation:  Brit. /ˈfʌɪə/ , U.S. /ˈfaɪ(ə)r/

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