LINGUIST List 7.523

Wed Apr 10 1996

Sum: Un-English segment sequences

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. John Coleman, Un-English segment sequences

Message 1: Un-English segment sequences

Date: Wed, 10 Apr 1996 13:06:58 BST
From: John Coleman <>
Subject: Un-English segment sequences
A few weeks ago I posted a request for examples of a number
of un-English consonant clusters in other languages. I am
very grateful for the many helpful replies I received, from
the following respondents: Paul Foulkes, Marc Picard, Richard
Wiese, Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby, Markus Hiller, Paul Fallon,
Rudolf Wachter, James KirchnerWaruno Mahdi, Richard Coates, Robert
Hoberman, Peter Szigetvari, Dara Connolly, and Martin Jansche.
Thank you all. And I found some by myself.

I now have an extensive set of segment sequences that are not
phonotactically well-formed in English, but are well-formed in
other languages, that may interest LINGUIST subscribers. They
are quite a useful consciousness-raising exercise in breaking
out of Anglocentric views of phonological naturalness. I shall
be using this data in a paper about
language-specific phonotactic constraints, so if there are any
mistakes in it, I would welcome them to be pointed out. Also, there
are still some gaps in the list. Are these clusters (listed at
the end) really unattested in any languages?

[tS] denotes "ch" as in "church", [dZ] denotes "j" as in "judge",
[N] denotes "ng" as in "sing", [D] denotes "th" as in "that",
[S] denotes "sh" as in "ship", [Z] denotes "s" as in "pleasure",
[aU] denotes "ou" as in "house", [>I] denotes "oy" as in "toy",
[aI] denotes "i" as in "time", [i:] denotes "ee" as in "keep",
[u:] denotes "oo" as in "shoot", [eI] denotes "a" as in "came",
[I] denotes "eer" as in "beer" (non-rhotic pronunciation),
[^] denotes "u" as in "cup" (in both British English RP and General
American pronunciation), [T] denotes "th" as in "think",
[] denotes "e" as in "father", [O] denotes "o" as in "hot"
(British English pronunciation).

Word-initial onset consonant clusters:

[tSw] Tswana [tSwere] "sparrow"; Ga~ [tSwa] "to strike"
[sdZ] Georgian [sdZuli] "law"
[dZl] Javanese 'jlimet' [dZlimt] "intricate, complicated"
 Modern Aramaic [dZlaxa] "peeling off the skin or bark"
[dZw] Ga~ [dZwa] "to break"
[mr] Kru [mriedo] "six"; Russian, Czech examples too.
[ml] Kru (variant of [mr]); Russian, Czech, Zhuang dialects
[smr] Czech, Russian
[sml] Czech, Russian, Polish
[smw] French 'se mouiller' [smwije]
[nr] Russian [nrav] "temper, disposition"
[nl] Yoruba [nla] "great", N. Pame [nl?ospt] "their houses"
[snw] French 'se noyer' [snwaje]
[Nr] Javanese 'ngrampas' [Nrampas] "to seize, snatch"
[Nl] Javanese 'nglarang' [NlaraN] "to forbid"
[N] Swahili, Ewe, Chinese languages, Chatino, Australian languages
[sN] Tsou

Word-final coda clusters:

[mtS] ? (Georgian has [mdZ])
[mS] German 'Ramsch' [ramS] "odds and ends"; Georgian
[mZ] Russian [bomZ] "person without permission to live in a place". (This
	derives from an acronym, but the respondent reported that it was
	not regarded as phonotactically unacceptable.)
[mv] Hungarian [hamv], an archaic pronunciation of [hamu] "ash"
[nv] Hungarian 'ellenszenv' "antipathy"
[Nv] ? (Georgian has [ngv], with alveolar [n])
[lg] Irish 'bolg' "stomach"; Hungarian 'uralg' "dominate"
(archaic/odd/marginal 		word); French 'algue' [alg] "seaweed"; Georgian
[ST] Irish 'pe'ist' "worm, monster, water monster"

syllable rimes:

[aUb] Nonstandard English (Cockney) variant of "alb"
[aUp] German 'urlaub', S. Scots 'loup' "leap"
[>Ig] Scots 'spoig' "paw, hand, foot", 'Doig' a surname
[aUf] German 'auf', Scots 'sclowff'
[aUv] Nonstandard English (Cockney) variant of [alv] in e.g. 'valve'
[>IdZ] Irish 'Pa'id' "Pat", 'ba'id' "boat (genitive)"
[aItS] German 'Peitsche' "whip"
[>ItS] German 'Deutsch' "German", Irish 'Ca'it' "Kate"
[aIS] German 'fleisch' "meat"
[>IS] German 'Geraeusch' "sound", Irish 'ba'is' "death (genitive)"
[i:nt] Hungarian 'ki'nt' [ki:nt] "torture+Accusative"
[u:nt] Scots 'coont' "count"
[Ind] English dialects, N. Irish English 'rained, reigned' [rInd]
[aIg] Welsh 'aig' "host, shoal", 'gwraig' "wife", 'saig' "feast",
	'ffaig' "course, flow" (obsolescent); Irish 'Tadhg' [taig] (a name)
	'aghaidh' [aig] "face"

un-English onset+coda combinations:

C = any consonant, G = glide, V = vowel

[sCVsC] Scots 'skist' "a chest", 'smuist' "to smoulder"
[sCGVsC] Czech [splasknout] "pop (a baloon)", Scots 'sclasp' "clasp"
[sC1GVC2], C1=C2 Scots 'strute' "obstinacy", 'skriek' "to shriek",
		'scraik' "to screech".
[sC1VC2], C1=C2 Scots 'snewn' "snowed", 'steet', 'stoit', 'stot', 'stut'.
[ClVl]	 Czech [klel] "he swore", Scots 'blellum'

- ---------------------------------------
A CHALLENGE: The following clusters are not attested, to my knowledge.
I would welcome further enlightenment.

Onsets: [snr], [snl], [sNr], [sNl], [sNw]
Codas: [mtS], [mk], [mD], [NS], [Nf], [Nv], [NtS], [NdZ], [lD], [tST]
Rimes: [aIdZ], [aUg] - I'm sure these occur somewhere
	[Ig], [eIns] (Swiss German?), [i:lT], [i:lp], [i:lk],
Longer stretches: [plals], [aIh], [Oh]

John Coleman

Director, Oxford University Phonetics Laboratory
41 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JF, UK

Home page:
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue