Confused about How Syllables Work

How Syllables Work in English

In spoken English, a syllable may be loud or faint. When a syllable is loud, phoneticians say it’s strong. And when it’s faint, they say it’s weak. I’ll not use strong and weak to describe how syllables work because they don’t convey the idea of listening and speaking. They are jargons that are designed to impress but never to teach or inform. Ordinarily, we use loud and faint to describe the degree of audibility. Therefore, I ‘ll use loud and faint to describe how syllables work.

This presentation may explain why non-native speakers of English appear to be shouting when they speak both English and their native language.

Why are we almost always shouting or too loud when we speak?

  1. Our languages are syllable-timed. Another jargon? This means that we say every letter of a word when we speak. For instance, in pronouncing a name like Babalola, we say all the letters, especially vowels, loud and clear: bAbAlOlA, OdInAkA.
  2. We don’t know the enemy called vowel. English speakers don’t use vowels the way we do. Vowels are used sparingly in spoken English. This means that they are either dropped completely or their sound is reduced. Vowel reduction is a common term in accent reduction.

For these two reasons, we appear to be shouting when we speak.

A native speaker of English can’t pronounce the names: Babalola and Odinaka. This is because their language is stress timed. Meaning? They use vowels sparingly–they drop or reduce vowel sounds.

This article explains how syllables work, how stress works and usage examples.

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