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SYLLABLE AND WORD DIVISION IN FRENCH AND
Considered from the point of view of the mechanism of their
production, English possesses two kinds of consonants: "initial"
and "final"; whereas in French there is but one, "initial." Of
what consequence is this difference in determining the formation
and division of syllables and words ?
In English, because of the continuity of the articulative effort,
the syllable or word division occurs frequently within a consonant.
In the pronunciation of easy, there are two z sounds: one, the implo-
sion, is produced while the position for z is being assumed; the other,
the explosion, while the tongue is leaving the same position. In
such cases, one of the sounds is much weaker than the other, and
usually we are not observant of it.
Whether the implosion or the explosion will be strong is determined
by the place of the accent. In position, the s ( = z) is pronounced with
the second or accented syllable; in difference, the / is pronounced
with the first or accented syllable. The plainly audible implosion
or explosion is determined by the accented syllable.
In like manner, owing to the continuity of pronunciation in
English, combinations of consonants are produced with a remarkable
economy of movement. In head department, or sit down, the d of
head or the t of sit is produced while the tongue is assuming and
holding the position of closure for d or t; the d of department or the
d of dawn, while the tongue is holding and leaving the same position.
In such cases, the consonant belonging to the accented syllable is
strong; the one belonging to the unaccented syllable is weak, and
at times scarcely audible.
This economy of movement does not characterize the production
of French consonant groups. In pronouncing f&te de I'ind&pendance
amiricaine (Fig. 1), there is a cessation in the expulsion of breath
just before the tongue assumes the position for the t; after the
tongue has assumed position against the teeth and palate, the expira-
tory effort is resumed; the air in the mouth is maintained an instant
[Modern Philoloot, February, 1922J 321
James L. Babker
Syllable and Word Division in French and English 323
324 James L. Bahkeh
under pressure behind the tongue, and, as the tongue leaves the
position against the teeth, this pressure is released; the simultaneous
downward movement of the tongue and the resultant explosion may
be noted on the tracing by the upward movement of the line of the
mouth (M) and the downward movement of the tongue (T). Fol-
lowing the explosion of the t, the tongue again takes the same posi-
tion for d, and d is then pronounced by means of the following mute
e. Both the t and d are initial; the t of fUe and the d of de (Fig.
1) are not produced by a single movement of the tongue as are the
t and d of sit down, or the I and d in the American pronunciation of
belle dame (Fig. 3), or of the two t's in netteU (Fig. 4), but a sepa-
rate movement of the tongue may be noted in the line T, for each
If the end-consonant and the beginning-consonant are both
voiced or both mute, the tongue leaves the position of closure of
the end-consonant sufficiently to permit of the explosion of the con-
sonant, but does not return to a neutral position which would permit
the ampoule 1 to refill with air, and, on its explusion as the tongue
assumes position for the beginning-consonant, produce a separate
distinctive curve. 2
Thus in the French pronunciation of the I and d in belle dame
(Fig. 2), or of the two t's in nettett (Fig. 5), or the two I'b in qu'elle
Va dit (Fig. 6; cf. qu'elle a, Fig. 7), two separate curves do not ap-
pear in the tracing for the line T, but the time is that of a double
The treatment of consonant groups in English and French pro-
nunciation is radically different: in English as many consonants as
> The size of the ampoule, or rubber bulb, Is indicated by the accompanying figure.
« The experiments reproduced in this article were made with the appareil intcripteur
at the laboratory of experimental phonetics directed by Abbe Rousselot at the College de
The upper line, JV, gives the vibrations of the larynx taken through the nose; the
second line, M, the vibrations from the mouth; the lower line, T, the movement of the
tongue. For further detail, cf. my former article, Modern Philology, XIV (1916), 414.
For a description of the appareil intcripteur, cf. Rousselot, Principet de Phoniligue,
I, 61—101, or his Pride de Prononciation francaite, p. 14.
Syllable and Word Division in French and English 325
James L. Barker
Syllable and Word Division in French and English 327
possible are pronounced with the accented syllable; in French, the
whole group is placed with the second syllable, or, where mechanical
difficulties make this impossible, the first consonant is pronounced
as an initial consonant with the first syllable, and the remainder of
the consonant group is pronounced with the second syllable.
In Mr. Paillard's Parisian pronunciation of store and restaurant
(Fig. 3), the line of the tongue, T, presents the same sort of curve
for st in both words; s and t are pronounced initially also and belong
with the second syllable, Mr. Paillard pronouncing the word re s'to ra,
the spacing representing the place of syllable division.
In Mr. Lote's pronunciation (Fig. 9), one may note the simi-
larity of curve for st of both words, and, in addition, that Mr. Lote
takes more time for the pronunciation of st in store than for st in
restaurant; were the word divided into syllables between s and t,
s and t would occupy more time in restaurant (because of the pause
for the syllable division) than in store, where the pronunciation is
The curve of the line T for st in Figures 8 and 9 is character-
istic of "initial" consonants; 1 the curve of the fine T for st in Figure
10 (Eng. restaurant) is typical of final consonants. In the pronuncia-
tion of the English word, the consonants tend to be pronounced with
the accented syllable; s is final or produced with the preceding vowel
and the syllable division occurs between the implosion and the
explosion of the t.
In the French word extase (Fig. 11), the movement of the tongue
as indicated by the line T produced a separate curve for each of the
consonants of the group k s t. The pronunciation may be figured
e k' s'ta z'; k, as shown by the sudden curve, is an initial consonant
pronounced by means of the explosion (') and not by means of the
preceding vowel e; s and t are initial consonants; s with its separate
explosion produces the effect of vocalization; ( is pronounced by
means of the vowel a. As indicated by the spacing, the syllable
1 As I have shown in my former article (p. 419), all end-consonants in French, if
analyzed with respect to the manner of their production, are not final at all, but initial,
that is, produced by means of a following explosion. In English words the end-consonants
are normally final or produced by means of the preceding vowel, while the vocal organs
are assuming and maintaining the position characteristic of the consonant; initial con-
sonants occur in English at the end of a word as a result of a phonetic necessity only,
brought about by an accidental combination of consonants.
James L. Barker
Syllable and Word Division in French and English 329
330 James L. Barker
division occurs after k, and s and t are pronounced with the second
In English ecstasy (Fig. 12), k and s are pronounced with the
first syllable, t with the second; the pronunciation is continuous, the
consonant positions are not held, and the transition from one con-
sonant position to the other is so rapid that kst presents but a single
curve. Ecstasy is divided into syllables thus, eks ta si.
In AbbS Rousselot's pronunciation of extension (Fig. 13),
the first curve of the line T is k, the second, s't; in the pronunciation
of the English word extension (Fig. 14) by Mr. F. Durant Fox, of
the University of London, there is but one curve for all three
o b' s'ta k'le figures Mr. Lote's pronunciation of French obstacle
(Fig. 15), and obs ta kel, Mr. Jackson's American pronunciation
of the English word obstacle (Fig. 16).
Figures 17 and 18 present types of the pronunciation in the
two languages of the groups tr, pr, kr, etc. In English (Fig.
18), the transition from t to r is so rapid that the two consonants
offer but a single curve and from a comparison of the lines T and
M , the explosion of the t and the production of the r, in part of their
duration, are simultaneous. In Figure 17, there are two distinct
curves for t and r; the explosion of the t, registered in the line M
by a slight upward curve precedes the production of the r. The
English pronunciation may be indicated tras, and the French, t'ra s'.
At the end of words, the difference in treatment of the consonant
group is no less marked. In French thedtre (Fig. 19), by comparing
the curves of t and r in trace (Fig. 17), one may note the separation
of t and r and their characteristic "initial" curves (cf. my former
article, p. 417). Likewise, that they are initial is shown by the vibra-
tions in the lines N and M after r, marking the voiced explosion by
means of which r is pronounced. In Figure 20, note the low, flat
curve of the final t; r is also a final consonant pronounced by means
of an indistinct vowel preceding it (cf. so-called vocalic m, I, etc., in
the Germanic languages). In Figure 20, theater is purposely
accented on the second syllable and divided thus, the at er; French
thSdtre (Fig. 19) is pronounced the d t're.
Syllable and Word Division in Fbench and English 331
James L. Barker
Syllable and Word Division in French and English 333
fe ^ ^ fe: ^
334 James L. Barker
In Figure 21, French temple is pronounced ta p'le, and in
Figure 22, English temple is pronounced tern pel; the pronuncia-
tion of the English word is continuous and the syllable division
occurs between m and p. However, one lip-position serves for both
consonants: the implosion is m, the explosion, p.
Diphthongs proper abound in English and even single vowels are
all more or less diphthongized. These diphthongs are distinguished
by the continuous articulative effort and the gradual shifting of
position of the vocal organs, characteristic of English pronunciation
in general. French, on the contrary, possesses no diphthongs at all
in the English sense of the term; thus in oui, the u position is taken
definitely, held an appreciable length of time, then a quick transition
is made to the i position which is held in turn without change in
position of the vocal organs. In English we, the position of the
vocal organs is ever changing during the pronunciation of both w
and e. French efforts to imitate the English pronunciation of they,
though, etc., do not afford examples ordinarily of a gradual change
of position of tongue, jaw, etc., but rather the pronunciation of two
distinct vowels with a rapid transition between them.
Like French, English makes certain liaisons or Unkings, but in
a wholly different manner. In French, a consonant between two
vowels does not "link" the vowels together, but is pronounced
entirely with the second vowel. A consonant at the end of the final
word of a breath-group or of a sentence is pronounced by means of
an explosion (or indistinct vowel which may be voiceless) following
it; if there is no pause between the word to which the consonant
belongs and the next word beginning with a vowel, then a separate
indistinct vowel or explosion is unnecessary for the pronunciation
of the end-consonant; the consonant utilizes the beginning vowel of
the following word, thus il a is pronounced i la; ils out, i I'zo, etc.
The term linking is descriptive of the English pronunciation of when
ever, not at all, and similar word groups. One may figure the pro-
nunciation, hwen nev ver and not ta tal.
Because of the constant change of position of the vocal organs
required in the production of "final" consonants, a drawl in English
is only a normal pronunciation "slowed down"; whereas, owing to
the absence of final consonants in French, positions are held and
Syllable and Word Division in French and English 335
336 James L. Barker
transitions are rapid; no Frenchman drawls, the mechanism of the
language does not permit it.
This difference in general movement may be best appreciated by
comparing Abbe" Rousselot's (Fig. 23) and Mr. Fox's (Fig. 24)
pronunciation of Vous connaissez Bdlet The respective curves
for k indicate that Mr. Fox pronounced with more energy
than Abbe* Rousselot, but in the tracing of Abbe* Rousselot's pro-
nunciation, there are distinct curves for n and s, for which curves
are very slight or even lacking in Mr. Fox's pronunciation. In
Mr. Fox's pronunciation there is gradual change, and positions of
vowels and consonants are not held but are only points of passage
on the path to the next position, which, on being reached, is likewise
only a point of transition. On the contrary, Abbe* Rousselot takes
positions definitely, holds them an appreciable length of time, and
makes his transitions during the cessation of the articulative effort.
James L. Barker
University op Utah