The Autosegmental and Optimality Theories of Syllables

The term ‘syllable’ is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a unit of spoken language that is next bigger than a speech sound and consists of one or more vowel sounds alone or of a syllabic consonant alone or of either with one or more consonant sounds preceding or following” (2009a, p. 1). It is a word from the 14th century Middle English, from the Anglo-French word ‘sillabe’ or from the Latin word syllaba, which means to take or gather together (“Syllable” 2009a, p. 1).

It is used in the sequence of speech sounds and often made up of the following: (1) the nucleus, which is “the most sonorous element at the core of the syllable, typically a local sonority maximum” (Last name year, page no. ); (2) the onset, which is “one or more consonants preceding the nucleus in the syllable” (Last name year, page no. ); and (3) the coda, which is “one or more consonants following the nucleus in the syllable” (Last name year, page no. ). The nucleus is usually presented by the vowels, a typical sonorant in the form of monophthong, diphthong, or triphthong.

The onset and the coda mark the margins taken usually by consonants. Sonority increases from margins to the nucleus (Last name year, page no. ). Syllables are usually considered as “the phonological building blocks of words [that could] influence the rhythm of a language, its prosody, its poetic meter, its stress patterns” (“Syllable” 2009b, p. 1). There are four kinds of syllables: (1) the monosyllable, which consist of one syllable; (2) the disyllable, which consists of two syllables; (3) the trisyllable, which consists of three syllables; and (4) the polysyllable, which consists of four or more syllables (“Syllable” 2009b, p.1).

When separating the syllables, hyphens are usually used (e. g. , syl-la-ble). However, when separating words, an interpunct is usually used, which can be observed as more popular in the ancient Latin alphabet (“Syllabification” 2009a, p. 1). Syllabic writing can be traced back to the history of writing, when sometime around 3100 B. C. , people of Sumer, Mesopotamia began to use pictographs to represent ideas or messages that usually mirror familiar objects (Guisepi 1999, p. 1).

This is called the cuneiform or “wedge-shaped writing” (Guisepi 1999, p. 1). Together with the Egyptians that used hieroglyphics sometime in 3300 B. C. , the Sumerians used pictures in inscriptions that lay on clay tablets that were found along the coasts of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Guisepi 1999, p. 1). The use of sounds and the alphabet, however, originated in the Phoenicians’ method of expressing ideas into words sometime between 1700 and 1500 B. C. in what is called the ‘Semitic writing’ (Guisepi 1999, p.1).

This paper revolves around the topic of syllables and the use of syllabification in presenting the sound of words. It shall present the autosegmental and optimality theories that support the conclusion that syllables are among the ideas that can be presented in theories according to a certain manner in which the reader chooses. In the end, it shall conclude that, as presented in the autosegmental theory, autosegmental phonology is more of a restructuring or reorganization of the autosegments.

Optimality theory likewise, presents the conclusion that parallel analysis applies to any given complexity or structure, be it a single substructure and parse or multiple pars and substructures. Gathering from these points, it is evident that the restructuring and reorganization of the autosegments prove that there is relationship and interaction between the autosegments, as it tries to initiate that autosegments are in a way, independent because it processes on its own.