This book looks at the range of possible syllables in human languages. The
syllable is a central notion in phonology but basic questions about it
remain poorly understood and phonologists are divided on even the most
elementary issues. For example, the word city has been syllabified as ci-ty
(the 'maximal onset' analysis), cit-y (the 'no-open-lax-V' analysis), and
cit-ty (the 'geminate C' analysis).
San Duanmu explores and clarifies these and many other related issues
through an in-depth analysis of entire lexicons of several languages. Some
languages, such as Standard and Shanghai Chinese, have fairly simple
syllables, yet a minimal difference in syllable structure has lead to a
dramatic difference in tonal behavior. Other languages, such as English,
German, and Jiarong, have long consonant clusters and have been thought to
require very large syllables: San Duanmu shows that the actual syllable
structure in these languages is much simpler. He bases his analyses on
quantitative data, paying equal attention to generalizations that are
likely to be universal. He shows that a successful analysis of the syllable
must take into account several theories, including feature theory, the
Weight-Stress Principle, the size of morpheme inventory, and the metrical
representation of the syllable.
San Duanmu's clear exposition will appeal to phonologists and advanced
students and will provide a new benchmark in syllabic and prosodic
analysis. He also offers an answer to the intriguing question: how
different can human languages be?