When an affricate is included in the onset of a word e.g., the Polish /ɡd͡ʑi/, is this a CCCV or CCV structure?

Following this, when putting it into a syllable tree, would the affricate be two separate consonants from the onset or would these be under one branch?

Thanks :)

  • 2
    That's a good question. Depending on how the phonology works, and how you think it ought to work, you might want to do it either way. What are the arguments for and against?
    – jlawler
    Apr 22, 2022 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


The whole point of the notion of the affricate is to point out that it behaves like a single segment, an observation that allows us to make further generalisations and predictions about its phonological behaviour. For example, English doesn't allow any syllable onsets like /kf/, /bʒ/ where a stop is followed by a fricative - pronouncing these will pose problems to most speakers, who will repair them by inserting a vowel or deleting one of the consonants. The only apparent exceptions are /tʃ, dʒ/ - not even /ts/ and /dz/ are admitted. This apparent oddity disappears as soon as we recognise that we're dealing with single segments /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/ which occupy a single onset slot, and from the point of view of syllable structure are non-branching.

Another illustration is the fact that in Polish affricates are in complementary distribution with stops in inflectional paradigms, e.g. brat [brat] 'brother', bracie [brat͡ɕɛ] 'o brother!'. These would be inexplicable and require postulating a completely separate set of endings on the assumption that we're dealing with two segments.

Yet another diagnostic can be illustrated with Spanish, where /t͡ʃ/ (spelled ch) is clearly a single segment because the language lacks a standalone /ʃ/ altogether.

  • "For example, English doesn't have any syllable onsets like /kf/, /ps/ where a stop is followed by a fricative - pronouncing these will pose unsurmountable problems to most speakers, who will repair them by inserting an /i/ for example." <-- I don't find this credible. I'd heard dozens of native speakers pronouncing unfamiliar (to them) English words of Greek Origin beginning with < ps > or words of other origins beginning with < pt > as /ps/ or /pt/ instead of /p/ or /t/, but never heard them using /pɪs/ or /pɪt/. There's also a well used English interjection /pst/ "psst". Apr 23, 2022 at 0:27
  • @Araucaria-him I've also heard English speakers pronounce these clusters on occasion, but nowhere near as frequently as I've heard Portuguese or Arabic speakers break up illicit clusters with filler vowels. For English, perhaps the filler /i/ that I was thinking of is rather used in voiceless+voiced clusters like /kv/. In any case I think these are forced, spelling-pronunciations.—Interjections are well-known for disregarding limitations on pword shape and habitually use phonemes that don't otherwise exist in the language. English has clicks in interjections but try them in lexical words...)) Apr 23, 2022 at 7:03
  • @Araucaria-him I've found a thesis that finds that /ps/ is indeed the one cluster that never gets repaired by vowel insertion (only p-deletion) and has a relatively high successful reproduction rate. I've linked the thesis in the answer which I modified accordingly. Apr 23, 2022 at 11:14

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