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If a word has an affricate in the onset, let's say /ts/, along with another consonant, let's say /k/, to make a word like /tski/, is the phonotactic syllable structure of this word CCV or is it CCCV?

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    You reminded me the word for Moon/Month in Japanese, which is 月, read as tsuki. Considering the U is half-muted...
    – Alenanno
    Oct 20 '12 at 9:55
  • @Alenanno: In that case, then, the analysis would be neither, and instead /CV.CV/. Oct 20 '12 at 23:41
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It depends on the language, and how you choose to analyze it.

In the phonetic sense, an affricate is a consonant cluster consisting of a stop that is released directly into a fricative, with no intervening release burst before the start of the fricative. Affricates may or may not be phonemic; that depends on whether the affricate behaves phonologically/phonotactically as an indivisible unit.

An example is the cluster [tˢs]. In Japanese, it patterns as a phonemic unit; in fact, it alternates with (compare [matsu] waits with [mata] waited), and is often considered an allophone of, the single phoneme /t/. In contrast, in English, [tˢs] is a sequence of 2 phonemes rather than a phoneme, because it patterns like the sequence /t/ + /s/ (in words like cats /kæts/ the /t/ and /s/ belong to different morphemes, so /ts/ is clearly not a unitary phoneme).

Another case is [tɕ] in Russian. This is clearly a phonemic affricate: because Russian doesn't even have a phoneme /ɕ/, it's not even possible to analyze it as a sequence.

Whether to consider a (phonetic) affricate as two separate consonants in the onset depends on whether you are considering it as a non-phonemic sequence. Phonotactic considerations can also guide you here.

Example: /tʃ/ in Spanish. There are 2 arguments that this should be considered a single consonant in the onset:

  • Standard Spanish has no phoneme /ʃ/, so it's not possible to analyze as /t/ + /ʃ/.
  • If we exclude /tʃ/, Spanish phonotactics only permits a single obstruent in the onset. This is evidence against /tʃ/ being a sequence, because otherwise it would complicate the phonotactics.

In your particular example, treating it as /CCV/ is more likely, since it's uncommon for languages to permit 3 obstruents in the onset, but /CCCV/ is also possible.

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