pronunciation: Six English Syllable Types [open/closed, stressed/unstressed, etc]

Ivan_I

Senior Member
Russian
I have some questions about Six English Syllable Types by Daniel Webster. (The Six English Syllable Types)


1) When we say that some word belongs to the closed or open syllable type, do we mean that all syllables of the word are of the same type or only the stressed syllable?

For example, (a piece of the table from here The Six English Syllable Types)
_________________________________________________________________
The Syllable Type - closed
The Pattern -
One or more consonants come after the vowel. (The consonant ‘closes’ the syllable.)
The Sounds - ‘short’ or "lax" sound
a (as in “apple”), e (as in “Ed”), i (as in “itch”), o (as in “odd”), u (as in “up”)
More Examples - stump, muffin (muf /fin), rabbit (rab /bit), fantastic (fan /tas/tic )
_________________________________________________________________
My analysis

Muffin = [ˈmʌfɪn]

The two syllables are read in accordance with the rule mentioned in the column The Sounds. It is clear.

However, let’s take the word Suffrage (ˈsʌf rɪdʒ)

Seems like it belongs to the closed syllable type. The stressed syllable reads according the rule (u (as in “up”) ). But what is going on in the second syllable? I thought it should be read as æ (as in “apple”) (ˈsʌf rædʒ) But it doesn't.

This find is unpleasant as it shows that there is a shortcoming in the system or in my understanding. I hope someone will shed more light on the issue.

PS: I have some other questions on the topic, but one step at a time.
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    You would only say a word is of some type if all its syllables were: 'dustbin' has two closed syllables, 'highway' two open ones. 'Midway' has one closed and one open, 'liking' one open and one closed. But there's no reason ever to say a word is of a syllable type. Presumably your author is only talking about monosyllabic words. The word 'stump' is a closed syllable, because the syllable 'stump' is closed. It is convenient to talk about the word 'stump', but this is only shorthand. Each syllable has to be treated separately.

    With 'suffrage', or many other words, English is like Russian: unstressed syllables are often reduced. The vowel doesn't have the same value it would have if it was stressed. Still, 'suffrage' has two closed syllables, the second being [rɪdʒ].

    There are problems when you try to divide English words into syllables. Often, each syllable can be pronounced as a separate word, but sometimes this is not possible. For example, when the middle consonant is [r]. 'Mirror' is ['mɪrə], but neither [mɪ] not [mɪr] can be said on its own (in my accent, anyway), so it's not possible to neatly divide it as ['mɪ.rə] or ['mɪr.ə].
     

    Ivan_I

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you, entangledbank!
    Each syllable has to be treated separately.
    This is an important remark for me.
    With 'suffrage', or many other words, English is like Russian: unstressed syllables are often reduced. The vowel doesn't have the same value it would have if it was stressed. Still, 'suffrage' has two closed syllables, the second being [rɪdʒ].
    The problem here is that according to the Webster's system (The Six English Syllable Types) the second syllable "rage" in 'suffrage' belongs either to the open syllable type or the silent -e syllable type. In either way the reading is the same. That's why it should be read as "eɪ" (cake, make). But it's read [rɪdʒ]. Seems like this system doesn't explain this phenomenon.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Up the top it says more than 90% of English words follow the six patterns. The ending -age must be one of the commonest in the remaining 10%, because there are many words where such endings are short and closed: package, garbage, wastage, outage, pillage, and many more. There's also -ace in palace, terrace, and -ance and -ence in balance, reliance, confidence, competence, dependence, and many more. It's not random: in all these words the final silent E is required to indicate the pronunciation of the C or G.
     

    RedwoodGrove

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Up the top it says more than 90% of English words follow the six patterns. The ending -age must be one of the commonest in the remaining 10%, because there are many words where such endings are short and closed: package, garbage, wastage, outage, pillage, and many more. There's also -ace in palace, terrace, and -ance and -ence in balance, reliance, confidence, competence, dependence, and many more. It's not random: in all these words the final silent E is required to indicate the pronunciation of the C or G.
    :thumbsup:

    The typical emphasis in English is on the first syllable, i.e., the first syllable is the default position for placing the emphasis. In "nuance" the pronunciation follows the French. NEW-AHNSS not NEW-enss. Sorry, can't use the IPA symbols.

    Ivan, I question whether open and closed are very current terms. For example, many vowels in English are actually diphthongs, which the IPA system represents rather well.
     

    Ivan_I

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I see your point, entangledbank. I think -age- should be put into exceptions.
    I have another example - POCKET (ˈpɒkɪt). I think the two syllables are closed, hence, the first one is to be read - o (as in odd) and it is read like that. But, again, the second syllable should be read according to the closed type which is - e (as in “Ed”). So, we are to end up with (ˈpɒket) but we have (ˈpɒkɪt). It leads me to believe that only the stressed syllable is read in accordance with the rule of Webster's table.

    RedwoodGrove,
    Do you know any other systems like Webster's which attempt to organize reading in English? I don't know whether open and closed are current terms but I don't think it's really important. Even if there are some other names for them, does it change the gist of the issue?

    I am just trying to figure out whether learning this system is worthy. Does it really help to learn how to read in English or is its effect rather insignificant? For the time being, it seems to me that it leaves a lot to be desired.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Have read etb's excellent comments, I would say that if you did bother to learn this system, (a) it seems to be inaccurately/imprecisely described (b) you would spend more time applying the rule than ever saying anything, (c) there seem to be exceptions. My advice is "Listen the the spoken word: TV, radio, cinema, etc."
     

    RedwoodGrove

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    RedwoodGrove,
    Do you know any other systems like Webster's which attempt to organize reading in English? I don't know whether open and closed are current terms but I don't think it's really important. Even if there are some other names for them, does it change the gist of the issue?

    I am just trying to figure out whether learning this system is worthy. Does it really help to learn how to read in English or is its effect rather insignificant? For the time being, it seems to me that it leaves a lot to be desired.
    Well certainly it is important once you have started a discussion. Second, opened and closed are very inaccurate terms. Entangledbank has used them better than I could. I think what helps in learning a language is to hear it in spoken form. That is how you learned to speak as an infant, after all.

    I'm not sure what the question is at this point. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Merriam Webster dictionary (MW), and the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) are all highly regarded.

    edit: crossed by PaulQ
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Open' and 'closed' are, I think, perfectly good terms, but there's more to a syllable than that. Each kind can also be stressed or unstressed, which makes a big difference. The letter E in a stressed closed syllable like 'bet' is pronounced differently from the same letter in an unstressed closed syllable like the second in 'pocket'. English letters aren't enough information to tell you how a word is pronounced. (This is different from Russian, where stressed and unstressed syllables are also different, for some letters, but if you know where the stress is, you can predict the pronunciation.)
     
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