Wondering if a Syllabic Consonant can be a plosive such as t or p. Maybe Nuxalk has this feature, I don't know.

Basically if you would say something like /p't'p't'/ (where ' is for explosive), wondering what the syllables are there, and if each p and t would be considered a syllabic consonant.

Also would just like to verify that if you did /p's̩t'/ (like "psst, over here"), that the s is in fact a syllabic consonant. It makes sense that non-plosives can be used as syllabic consonants because they can be arbitrarily lengthened. But I wonder about the plosive consonants. I understand that something like the m in mbele ya might be a syllabic consonant (better yet, the m in rhythm).

If the plosive consonants can't be syllabic, wondering why not, and instead what you would call them in the structure above, /p't'p't'/.

2 Answers 2


I recommend this paper by Ridouane which argues that in Tashlhiyt, stops can be syllable peaks (are syllabic), for example [tb̩.dg̩] 'it is wet'. This question has been addressed in the literature: the advantage of this paper is that it is written with full knowledge of that preceding literature. I would also recommend Bagemihl's paper "Syllable Structure in Bella Coola", because it engages a number of alternative theories of syllabification for the Nuxalk facts: obstruents are not syllabic in Nuxalk.

Reading through especially Bagemihl's paper, it should be clear that good argumentation establishing how consonants in a big sequence are sylabified can be made based on phonological patterns, but it is very difficult to make that argument, and it may not be possible. Since "psst" isn't a word of English (it's a sound conventionally made by English speakers), similar to "pfffft", "d'oh!" and [txŇʔn̥] (the nasally-released snort), there's nothing in the grammar that you can call on to decide if these things are syllables or what.

In light of Ridouane's evidence, I would say that the reason why [t] is not a syllable peak in English is that that's the way the rules of syllabification in English work. Some languages allow sonorants to be syllable peaks, some don't; some only allow liquids to be syllable peaks, others are less restrictive. There are functional explanations that say why usually, only vowels are syllable peaks, but the specific patterns of individual languages have to be specified in the grammar of the language.

  • "Since "psst" isn't a word of English" What! That's crazy. So there are things that English language formally doesn't know how to account for, basically then.
    – Lance
    Sep 25, 2018 at 21:54
  • 4
    Yeah, the English language is only a subset of the socially-conditioned noises that English speakers make.
    – user6726
    Sep 25, 2018 at 21:57
  • On a similar note, in Mexican Spanish the word "Pues" is often reduced to "psss" (especially in Mexico City).
    – axme100
    Sep 26, 2018 at 2:55
  • arguing obstruents aren't syllabic in Nuxalk would seem to require accepting that there are free morphemes that contain no syllables (there are certainly free morphemes containing only obstruents, and indeed, only stops). That seems to stretch the definition of syllable somewhat. Am I missing something or is this what Bagemihl is suggesting?
    – Tristan
    Jan 21, 2021 at 10:06
  • Yes-ish, but I don't know in what way the definition of syllable is relevant. What do you think the proper definition of syllable is?
    – user6726
    Jan 21, 2021 at 15:12

An example in English might be potato, generally pronounced p'tato? I know this normally gets analysed as a 'voiceless vowel' but this seems like a distinction without a difference....

  • 1
    Can you explain what you mean by "distinction without a difference"? Is the analysis with syllabic p the one that makes a distinction without a difference?
    – user6726
    Jan 20, 2021 at 21:11

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