What accounts for these violations of the sonority sequencing principle in English: /strɛŋkθ/, /fʌdʒ/ (both have fricatives after stops in the coda)

Wikipedia says

In native English words, no phoneme other than /s/ ever violates the SSP

Off the top of my head I found these two seemingly-violations.

Is there linguistic theory that accounts for these among others? The "extra-syllabic" s that often violates SSP seems very well explored, but I haven't found resources about these other violations.

  • 2
    /dʒ/ is usually analysed as a single phoneme, not a cluster, so there is no violation here. Likewise /tʃ/ (which would also give other seeming violations). I do agree that /strɛŋkθ/ would seem to be a violation though. Perhaps the cited authors are using a definition where fricatives are taken to be equally sonorous to stops, and clusters of equally sonorous consonants are allowed?
    – Tristan
    May 5 at 8:52
  • 3
    The [k] in strength is not a phoneme; it’s an optional excrescence found in some people’s speech. The phonemic form just would be /strɛŋθ/. May 5 at 13:25
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I've seen many sources claiming that English syllable structure supports 4 consonants in the coda, with "strengths" as an example. If there is no k phoneme, it seems to only be 3 consonants. May 5 at 14:27
  • @theonlygusti Yes, it’s only three in that word. There are other examples that get to four, like angsts /aŋsts/, but not strengths. May 5 at 14:30
  • It can have an epenthetic [k] (or [t̪] for that matter), though whether that should be regarded as phonemic is another question I guess.
    – Nardog
    May 5 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


It is generally understood that the sonority-related generalizations about English are only valid within a root-like domain and not the fully-inflected word (/-z, -d/ give rise to substantial contradictions of the generalizations that are possible without considering those affixes). Within un-inflected roots, affricates only have a superficial resemblance to being counterexamples because of the current IPA spelling convention, but in the early 80's and before when these generalizations were discussed, they were written as /ǰ, č/ and were clearly understood to be single segments. However, adze, quartz, yutz, Lodz do pose a problem (the latter two have demographically more-restricted distribution). They do invite the inference that English has a couple of marginal affricates /ts, dz/, and indeed words beginning with /<ts, tz/> are often so pronounced (tsatsiki, [tsaitgaist], tsetse though more frequently the latter is pronounced [titsi]). And then there is "six", which cannot be so rationalized. The resolution to such supposed problems has generally been that alveolar obstruents enjoy an "extra" position in the coda, so that while [ɪŋk] is licit, *[aiŋk] is not: but both [ɪnt] and [aint] are (likewise *[mb, ŋg] as coda but [nd] is perfectly fine).

The root-level restriction explains not only the massive number of plurals and past tense forms which have otherwise impermissible coda clusters, and also handles supposed counterexamples with the -th suffix, see depth, breadth, width. The situation with theft, height might suggest a sonority-related adjustment, though you then have to buy into the idea that there is a velar fricative in height. Regardless of the status of [k] in "strength", the fricative in that suffix is simple outside the scope of the generalization.

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