Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Syllables

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 25, 2014

A syllable (from the Greek syn = ‘co, together’ + labe = ‘grasp’, thus meaning a handful [of letters]) is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel) with optional initial and final margins (typically, consonants).

Syllables are often considered the phonological “building blocks” of words. They can influence the rhythm of a language, its prosody, its poetic meter and its stress patterns.

A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words. Mora (plural morae or moras; often symbolized μ) is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing.

The definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D. McCawley in 1968: a mora is “something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one”. The term comes from the Latin word for “linger, delay”, which was also used to translate the Greek word chronos (time) in its metrical sense.

A symbol in a syllabary, called a syllabogram, typically represents an (optional) consonant sound (simple onset) followed by a vowel sound (nucleus)—that is, a CV or V syllable—but other phonographic mappings such as CVC and CV-tone are also found in syllabaries.

Syllabic writing began several hundred years before the first letters. The earliest recorded syllables are on tablets written around 2800 BC in the Sumerian city of Ur. This shift from pictograms to syllables has been called “the most important advance in the history of writing”.

A word that consists of a single syllable (like English dog) is called a monosyllable (and is said to be monosyllabic). Similar terms include disyllable (and disyllabic) for a word of two syllables; trisyllable (and trisyllabic) for a word of three syllables; and polysyllable (and polysyllabic), which may refer either to a word of more than three syllables or to any word of more than one syllable.

Syllable

Syllabary

Syllabogram

Mora

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