I do not consider myself a linguist. I just teach English to Japanese audience. So please excuse my ignorance if this is too basic a question.
What exactly is the definition of a syllable? What I often see is essentially this: a syllable is a series of sounds with exactly one nucleus, which is a vowel, with optional consonants surrounding it. This works for me because I think the distinction between vowels and consonants are relatively clear (except for glides, IMHO).
It gets confusing, however, when you factor in syllabic consonants, which they say can also be nuclei of syllables. I think what we have here now are two circular definitions:
- A syllable is a series of sounds with exactly one nucleus, which is either a vowel or a syllabic consonant, with optional consonants surrounding it.
- A syllabic consonant is a consonant that can be a nucleus of a syllable.
The only way to break this cycle is to define either one differently, without referencing the other. One such definition of a syllable I found is this: a syllable is marked by a peak in sonority. Admittedly, this is not a precise definition, but I do think it captures the underlying idea. But some would argue that it just paraphrases the criteria of a phone being able to be a nucleus of a syllable or not, as its sonority level being high or low. More importantly, it does not give a concrete threshold of sonority level for a phone to be able to be a syllable nucleus, so it still does not answer when a consonant is considered syllabic and when it is not.
I wonder if the notion of syllable is innately understood by native speakers of a particular language, but cannot be objectively defined, particularly not by a quantifiable measure. Perhaps what is often presented as the definition of a syllable is actually a mere description?
To wit, I would like to know if there is a definition of a syllable and that of a syllabic consonant that collectively are not circular in nature.
P.S. If I am not responding to your comment or answer immediately, that is probably because it is taking me a lot of time to take in your comment or answer. I am a complete layman, so just reading through your comment or answer can be a big task for me. Please pardon my tardiness.