Colorado Research in Linguistics

Document Type

Working Paper


In the past 20 years, Kuryłowicz, O'Connor and Trim, Arnold, Haugen, Greenberg, and Pulgram have advocated theories of the distributional syllable. The theories are based on two assumptions: The syllable can and should be defined formally, without reference to phonetic realization; and the syllable is derivable solely from the distributional properties of segments.

It is argued that theories of the distributional syllable are unsuccessful, both because they are not in reasonable conformity with the phonetic facts, and because they do not appear to be capable of supporting generalizations about phenomena beyond the segmental phonotactics on which they are based.

The nature of their failures suggests that the assumptions of the distributional syllable are unwarranted. It should be more promising to assume that segment and syllable are independent constructs; and that segments are organized in terms of syllables both phonetically and at more abstract levels.



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