What is juncture in phonetics and/or phonology?

From the Wikipedia article on Juncture, I gathered that juncture is a phonological (and/or phonetic?) phenomenon that allows listeners/speakers of a given language to hear and produce differences between words and phrases each comprise the same sequence of phonemes. Juncture, apparently, allows English speakers to produce and hear the distinction between “nitrate” and “night rate”, “a name” and “an aim,” etc.

I didn’t get enough information from this article. It listed and very briefly defined different types of juncture, but did not explain them or provide examples of them. It also made too many unhelpful references to “recreational linguistics.”

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find better articles on the Web. So what is juncture in phonetics and/or phonology, and what are some examples?

  • 1
    Juncture is phonological. That means it varies from language to language. It is usually the case that some bonds between morphemes are tighter than others, producing different effects, rather like a double bond in chemistry. Though nitrate and night rate (and Nye trait, as well) are all bisyllables with first syllable accented and phonemes /naytrayt/, they are all pronounced differently by native speakers because of juncture phenomena.
    – jlawler
    Aug 29, 2013 at 5:02
  • How are tight and loose bonds realized in speech? Aug 29, 2013 at 5:54
  • 1
    Various kinds of contact phenomena either happening or not happening or happening in a differnet way. In nitrate, the syllable bond, which would be the tightest since it's a word-internal consonant cluster and doesn't separate morphemes, produces, roughly, ['nəʸtʰɹeʸt˺], while night rate, which does separate cluster and morphemes, produces ['nəʸt˺reʸt˺], with no aspiration or affrication and only unreleased T's. Finally, the Nye trait would be the ['na:ytʰɹeʸt˺], with aspiration from the cluster, and a different vowel in the first syllable without a following voiceless consonant.
    – jlawler
    Aug 29, 2013 at 15:16

1 Answer 1


"Juncture" is an analytic entity constructed to account for problems in phonemicization, which primarily encodes morphological and syntactic information, often involving syllable structure (syllabification tends to be assigned bottom-up as determined by the morphemic distribution of phonemes -- CV always forms a syllable within a morpheme, C+V or C#V does not always). The underlying premise is that surface phones can be mapped to a subset of such sounds, the phonemes, by eliminating all purely "predictable" sounds. But the fact of there being phonetic differences such as "a name" vs "an aim", or the night-rate / Nye-trait pair, would suggest that English has many more "phonemes" than we want to believe (for example, aspirated and unreleased t would be phonemes, because they both occur in the same surface environment). By positing an entity "juncture" which can be positioned just like any other phoneme, aspiration as a contrastive property of phonemes can be eliminated (and there are a lot of other problems that juncture eliminates).

The problem could also be solved by directly referring to morphological or syntactic structure, but at the time (prior to the 60's) this would run afoul of the "single level" theory that prevailed, where phonemic analysis can only consider phonemes, morphophonemic analysis can only consider morphophonemes, morphological analysis can only consider morphemes. There was nothing in the theory that would prevent having "juncture" be the realization of morpheme concatenation, so by translating morphological structure into analogs on the phonemic level, mixing of analytic levels was avoided. This is essentially the driving force behind later (1980's) prosodic theories of the syntax-phonology interface, where rather than letting phonology directly see syntactic structure in determining whether a given rule applies, a phonological analog was constructed (such as "the prosodic word" or "the prosodic phrase"): that way, phonology only refers to phonological things, which are constructed by reference to syntactic things (and similar moves were made for indirectly encoding morphological information). A classic paper using the concept "juncture" is W. Moulton (Language 1947) "Juncture in Modern Standard German"; see also Hockett's 1958 A Course in Modern Linguistics, Lehiste 1960 An Acoustic-Phonetic Study of Internal Open Juncture, and the not totally unrelated 1956 paper by Chomsky, Halle and Lukoff "On Accent and Juncture in English" (not structuralist, though). Scheer A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories provides a reasonable overview. Juncture too on a second and more obscure interpretation, as a means of indicating facts of intonation, supplanted by current theories of boundary tones and different kinds of accents. Basically, the reason why you can't find web resources is that the concept has fallen into desuetude in linguistics over the past half century.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.