Which introductory texts on phonology contain a clear account of juncture?

I have heard that juncture is a set of suprasegmental phenomenon that conveys the boundaries between words, phrases, clauses and sentences. For example, "a name" and "an aim" are distinguished from one another by distinct junctures. I have heard that the realization of juncture varies from language to language.

But I'd like more information.

  • To answer your question, a user would have to have read all available introductory texts on phonology (possibly limiting himself to English ones), which makes this question hard to answer, so I suggest to edit it in a way that makes an answer more feasible. If you do so, the plural of phenomenon is phenomena. Also I'm not sure there is any phonological difference between "a name" and "an aim", they sound identical to me (not a native though.)
    – user9315
    Mar 9, 2015 at 22:03

3 Answers 3


You would need to explain what you mean by "juncture", since it doesn't refer to an objective observable (it's sometimes used as a term covering a method of describing various facts). As far as I know, no introductory phonology text discusses "juncture", though there might be some general introduction from the 50's that discusses it. The concept has mostly disappeared from linguistics. Given the example that you mention, which matches the structuralist examples of "juncture", a "juncture" is an abstract symbol such as "+", "=", "#" which rules of allophony could refer to, to get the hard-to-describe difference between "Nye-trait" and "night-rate". In contemporary theories, "juncture" has been replaced primarily with notions of syllabification, and to a lesser extent "prosodic phrasing" especially for intonation.

Prosodic phrasing is a fairly advanced topic which isn't usually covered in introductory phonology textbooks, but syllabification could be. IMO the best coverage of those syllabification phenomena covered by "juncture" is in Daniel Kahn's dissertation; but it is difficult to follow. In other words, there isn't an ideal reading, but there might be an okay one, depending on whether you're interested in theories of how syllables are constructed, or in what positing syllables can do for you in describing certain phonological and phonetic variations.

For the utility of the syllable, Hayes Introductory phonology and Odden Introducing phonology both have chapters / chapter-sections on the syllable with some interest in utility. I also recommend Selkirk's 1982 paper "The syllable" (van der Hulst & Smith eds.), The Syllable: Views and Facts ed. by van der Hulst & Ritter (1999) for multiple case studies, and Hermans 1985 "The relationship between aspiration and preaspiration in Icelandic" (van der Hulst & Smith eds., different volume) for a Kahn-like "here's what you can do with it" analysis. Also Clements & Keyser CV phonology, though it's about C's and V's as much as about the syllable, but still it does provide empirical motivation for the syllable.

  • @ user6726: I'm interested in the latter. I want to do a better job of describing the sound patterns for my imaginary languages. Mar 9, 2015 at 23:32

As far as I'm aware, what you refer to is now usually described as phenomena related to the edges of Prosodic units, such as Phonological Phrase or Phonological Word. For example, in (at least my variety of) German, you'd insert Glottal Stops between the edges of Phonological Words, but not between the edges of Lexical Words, e.g.

  • wenn er ("if he") --> wenn er
  • wenn Elefanten ("If elephants") --> wenn ʔElefanten

The whole Phonological Hierarchy is subject to academic discussion, of course, but I believe that if you are interested in (the description of) phonological changes between words and larger (or smaller) constituents/prosodic units, reading up on the Prosodic Hierarchy or on Prosodic Phonology might be your best bet. I don't know any introductory texts, though. (There might not even be any, this is the area of a few specialists constantly disagreeing.)


I bet if you knew more about juncture, you'd regret the time you'd spent learning about it. It's an old fashioned theory which might or might not be accurate (I couldn't say), but it doesn't really make sense of the facts. It's also formulated to fit the peculiar methodological ideas of mid-20th century American structuralism, which require you to be able to deduce the phonemic description, including junctures, from observable facts. I like the description in SPE (The Sound Pattern of English) much, much better, and it has had much more influence in modern linguistics. In the SPE theory, "junctural" phenomena follow from speakers' understanding of syntactic and morphological structure.

We can take your example "an aim" versus "a name" to illustrate a non-junctural description. The phonetic difference between these two is the lenis "n" in "an aim" versus the fortis "n" in "a name". Lenis means weakly articulated, and fortis means strongly articulated. Lenis articulation is typical of syllable offset consonants in English and in many languages, and in some American dialects leads to flapping of the "n" in "an aim", [əɾ̃ẽj̃m]. On the other hand, "n" in "a name" fails to flap, because it's fortis, being at the beginning of a syllable.

And why is one "n" at the end of a syllable? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? It's at the end of a word. But back in the era of juncture and all that, this would have been regarded as a methodologically unsound statement, because when you're observing pronunciation as an analyst, you don't know until after you've figured out the phonemics where the words begin and end! Thus, the need for junctures, which were thought of as being phonemes, or at least like them.

So nice to have all that behind us.

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