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Phonotactics at the syllable level

Phonotactics deals with the question as to whether a particular syllable is well-formed in a given language. As can be seen from the examples in (1), Dutch allows for a relatively complex syllable structure with complex onsets (see 1a) and rhymes that can contain complex codas (see 1b).

Example 1

a. strak /strɑk/ straight
      scriptie /skrɪp.si/ thesis
b. herfst /hɛrfst/ autumn, fall
      hoorn /horn/ horn

There are phonotactic restrictions on the wellformedness of any constituent of a syllable. Consonant sequences in onsets and codas are determined by the so-called Sonority Sequencing Generalization, which is given below:

Sonority Sequencing Generalization
Between any member of a syllable and the syllable peak, a sonority rise or plateau must occur (Blevins 1995:210;see also Clements 1990).

Figure 1

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In other words, complex onsets with rising sonority, e.g. /pl-, tr-, kn-/, and complex codas with a falling or a level sonority contour, e.g. /-mp, -rt, -lk, -rn/, are preferred. This is illustrated in the following two (schematic) figures for the examples krant /krɑnt/ newspaper (rising and falling sonority) and hoorn /horn/ horn (level sonority contour in coda).

Figure 2

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Figure 3

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Moreover, co-occurrence restrictions within rhymes and between onsets and rhymes, so-called pansyllabic constraints, can be found in Dutch.

  • Blevins, Juliette1995The Syllable in Phonological TheoryGoldsmith, John A., Riggle, Jason & Yu, Alan C. L. (eds.)The Handbook of Phonological TheoryBlackwell Publishers
  • Clements, George N1990The role of the sonority cycle in core syllabificationPapers in Laboratory Phonology1Cambridge University Press283-333