I've read a bit about the moraic system found in Japanese, but as there isn't much complexity in the case of its syllabic consonants, I am left with a few questions.

1) Are there any natural languages in which syllables containing a consonantal nucleus are assigned a mora?

For example, if [l̩] is a possible word in some hypothetical language, how would it most likely be parsed moraically? Would it just have one mora? In some language could it be considered to have zero morae?

2) Could one consonant function as both an onset and a nucleus in the same syllable (demonstrated in the 1)?

A. [ll̩]

3) Is it possible for a language have a length distinction for syllabic consonants ?

B. [l̩:] ( contrastive with [l̩]?)

4) Lastly, would there be a difference in how A and B are counted moraically?

  • Welcome to Linguistics SE Borne. I've slightly edited your question (formatting basically, click on "edited ... ago" to see how). Also, consider not asking too many questions in one single question, since it makes it harder for users to give answers. You can group questions that are really strictly related and co-dependent.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:59

1 Answer 1


Answers to your questions have to be prefaced with disclaimers about how one determines that something has a mora, or not -- phonology has embraced and eschewed the concept, and used it for all sorts of things. With that caveat, it has become a matter of virtual principle that every syllable nucleus has a mora (though Piggott 1995 "Epenthesis and syllable weight" allows for amoraic syllables), so yes. In Swahili, there is a contrast between syllabic and non-syllabic preconsonantal nasal, hence [m̩buni] "coffee plant" vs [mbuni] "ostrich". The noun prefix for cl. 9, found in "ostrich", also occurs in "dog", but it is syllabic and stressable ([ˈm̩bwa]). The reason for this exceptional moraicity of the nasal is a minimality condition requiring words to have two moras. To the extent that a language has diagnostics for moraicity, any phonologically syllabic consonant will pas the test of being moraic. However, also note that "syllabicity" is not a self-evident property that can be read trivially off the speech stream.

An example of a consonant being both onset and nucleus, specifically, [mm̩], is discussed for Hehe in Odden & Odden "Kihehe Syllable Structure", where that language phonetically contrasts "moraic" nasals and "syllabic" nasals. In this case, both moraic [m̩] and "syllabic" [mm̩] count as a single mora.

Classical Sanskrit is an example of a language with a contrast between long and short syllabic /r/ (and /l/, though that is more about grammarian's theory), and Slovak also has long and short syllabic /r,l/.

  • I found a source that suggests that the b in both mbwa and mbuni "ostrich" would be non-implosive, but that the b in a Class III noun would be expected to be implosive (review: Swahili phonology reconsidered in a diachronic perspective). Would you know whether [m̩buni] "coffee plant" has implosive b? Is it relevant that buni is borrowed from Arabic? Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 7:28

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