A comparison of theoretical and human syllabification

Lang Speech. 2001 Dec;44(Pt 4):409-36. doi: 10.1177/00238309010440040101.


A review of phonological syllabification theory reveals considerable controversy, with a number of conflicting theories put forward to explain this process. In this study the performance of five, French specific, syllabification procedures were compared and contrasted both against each other, using lexical analysis, and against human syllable boundary placement, using a metalinguistic syllable repetition task. Lexical analysis revealed substantial, practical differences in the application of procedures, with disagreements rising along with consonant cluster complexity. Results from the syllable repetition task showed differences in participant's syllabification consistency due to experimental condition, that is, syllable onset or offset detection, and the consonant cluster used in the stimuli. Comparison between the predictions of syllabification procedures and human segmentation show greater agreement for procedures based upon phonotactic regularities than sonority. Furthermore, segmentation by maximizing the length of syllable onset, practiced in most procedures, was not reflected in our results. Instead participants preferred single consonant onsets, apart from the case of obstruent-liquid clusters, which are considered as a single indivisible unit.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Phonetics*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Discrimination Tests