Does palatalisation only occur at the beginning of a given word? All textbook examples (muse, beauty...) are at the beginning.

Could somebody also explain syllabification? (Lecturer hardly covered it and internet searches are often untrustworthy)

  • 2
    These are two separate questions and so you may want to edit this one and post the other in a separate question. Apr 7, 2016 at 12:16
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    I agree that these should be two separate questions. user6726's answer covers the palatalization part very well. "Syllabification" usually means the process of dividing a word into syllables, but it would help if you made your question more specific than "explain syllabification".
    – TKR
    Apr 7, 2016 at 17:42

3 Answers 3


The type of palatalization which you refer to, as in muse, beauty, is found syllable-initially throughout the word, so add to your list acumen, accuse, argue, Caligula, amulet, fibula, tabular, habitual, insinuate, annual, quotient, volume, continue. The analysis of this pattern is controversial, part of the controversy being whether the element of palatality in such examples is an autonomous glide vs. a diphthong [ɪ̆u] -- the other main issue being whether that element is inserted by rule. (In light of words like "moose" vs. "muse", "coot" vs. "cute", one would have to engage in some rather abstract analysis to derive the distinction, if the palatal element is always inserted).

The term "palatalization" simply refers to some approximation between the tongue and the hard palate during the production of a consonant. There are two subclasses of phenomena called "palatalization". One refers to any vocalic fronting and raising, a secondary articulation as found in Irish and various Slavic and Uralic languages, notated with the letter <ʲ> e.g. [mʲasa]. It may also be combined with labialization, in which case the letter used to indicate that is <ᶣ>.

The second use refers to a process changing a sound from one primary place of articulation to one of number of lingually-produced other primary places of articulation. This also happened and happens extensively in Slavic languages. Depending on language and context, you can find /t/ → [tʃ, ts, tç, tɕ, tʂ] or non-affricated versions thereof. In principle, any consonant can be so changed, but it is rather rare for labials to undergo this kind of change of primary place (though it happens as a dissimilative change in some Southern Bantu languages such as Zulu). Whether or not anyone is going to refer to [ʃ] as "palatal" would depend on their knowledge of the history of the language and commitment to speaking of sounds in primarily historical terms. When you have active alternations in consonants as you do in Russian ([plak-atʲ, pla-u]), it is likely that you would call that "palatalization". In the case of English [lɪɾətʃɹ̩] "literature", I would just say that you have an alveopalatal consonant, and we have alveopalatal consonants in English.


When the mid part of the tongue comes to approach the palate in the articulation of a consonant, this is called palatalization. It is usually caused by a regressive assimilation to a following palatal, i.e. front, vowel. The term can also refer to various consequences of this articulatory change. An interesting account is to be found, of all places, in The Sound Pattern of English, which goes into some detail about the secondary ramifications of this articulatory change, especially in Slavic, due to one of the SPE authors, Halle, being a Slavicist.

In the SPE theory, the palatalization of velars shifts the tongue body forward in the mouth, creating front velar articulations, then these become palato-alveolars, which may then affricate or spirantize. The details of this chain of effects are built into the universal interpretive rules proposed in Chapter 9 of SPE.


Syllabification refers to a phonological process in which a consonant becomes a vowel, or at least more like a vowel. Languages favor a syllable structure alternating between non-syllabics (consonants) and syllabic sounds (vowels): CVCVCV... Consequently, when a vowel stands next to another vowel, it sometimes becomes more consonant like, and when a consonant does not stand next to a vowel, it sometimes becomes more vowel like, or that is, it syllabifies.

Due to the changes in syllable structure produced by Indo-European ablaut, syllabification can cause a /v/ next to a vowel in Sanskrit to become /u/ when it is not next to a vowel, for instance. This was noticed and called samprasāraṇa by Indian grammarians. Another famous instance of syllabification is the development of the syllabified nasal in the first syllable of centum "hundred" to /a/ in the satem IE languages.

  • I'd call this "vocalization"; I don't think I've seen "syllabification" used in this way. That term usually means "the division of a word into syllables".
    – TKR
    Apr 7, 2016 at 17:43
  • @TKR, yes, "syllabification" is used to refer to division into syllables. And "syllabication" also means this. But the syllabified s in "pssst" would probably not be said to be "vocalized".
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 7, 2016 at 17:53
  • Fair enough. I guess we need the OP to clarify which sense of the word they meant.
    – TKR
    Apr 7, 2016 at 18:00
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    @GregLee in my experience the [s] in [ps:t] would be described as syllabic, not syllabified, as it has not changed in any way (contra what you seem to be saying) but is simply being used as the syllable nucleus. Apr 7, 2016 at 23:24
  • @GastonÜmlaut, I don't understand the distinction you make between being "syllabified" and "being used as the syllabic nucleus".
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 7, 2016 at 23:50

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