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A syllable is a sequence of speech sounds (formed from vowels and consonants) organized into a single unit. Syllables act as the building blocks of a spoken word, determining the pace and rhythm of how the word is pronounced.
The three structural elements of a syllable are the nucleus, the onset, and the coda.
Syllables can be structured several ways, but they always contain a nucleus, which is (usually) formed from a vowel sound. The nucleus is the core of the syllable, indicating its individual “beat” within a word; the number of syllables in a word will be determined by the number of vowel sounds forming their nuclei.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the minimal articulated unit of speech, consisting of one or several sounds that form a compact phonetic entity and that occur during one chest pulse. Proponents of various theories concerning the syllable believe that a syllable is produced by one muscular contraction, by modulation (narrowing and widening) of the pharynx, or by the degree of sonority and the order in which sounds are uttered.

A syllable is composed of a beginning (onset), a peak (nucleus), and a final part (coda). A peak is formed by simple vowels (ma-ma), by sonorants in some languages (Czech prst, “finger”), and occasionally by obstruents (psst!). A syllable’s beginning and end are formed by one or more consonants; in some languages a syllable may consist only of a peak (o-ni, “they”). Syllables are closed when they end in a consonant and open when they end in a vowel. They are uncovered when they begin with a vowel and covered when they begin with a consonant. The commonest syllable structure, found in all languages of the world, is consonant followed by vowel.

Division into syllables often does not correspond to division into morphemes. In the word ruchka (“handle”), morphemes for example, there are two syllables (ru-chka) but three morphemes (ruch-k-a). In syllabic languages, such as Chinese, morphemes are generally monosyllabic and syllable and morpheme boundaries coincide. In such languages, the beginning of a syllable is contrasted to its end, which is limited to certain permissible sounds.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The proportion of polysyllables on position 10 in All's Well is 4.4 percent of all lines, and of monosyllables 0.4 percent, while in The Kinsmen the numbers are 7.8 and 8.9: the total number of missing stresses on position 10 has increased, and the percent of unstressed monosyllables grew more than twenty times.
(1) A total of 327 cases of dialefe are produced in the Divine Comedy by polysyllables with a final accented vowel or final accented falling diphthong.
(1) Similar to the Flesch-Kincaid grade level model, the SMOG formula calculates the grade level correlating with the difficulty of the text according to the formula: SMOG grade = (1.0430 x SRPC) + 3.1291, where SRPC refers to the square root of the number of polysyllables (words with three or more syllables).
The truism is said in very inflated rhetoric, polysyllables and so on.
Gulliver also goes to the "School of Languages", where he encounters projects that attempt to "shorten discourse by cutting Polysyllables into one [...] because all things imaginable are but nouns" and to "entirely abolish all words whatsoever" (429), both of which serve to satirize the Royal Society's linguistic efforts.
(We have already had Chambers' view on those parts of speech.) We are reminded of the School of Languages in Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), working busily to "shorten Discourse by cutting Polysyllables into one, and leaving out Verbs and Participles; because in reality all things imaginable are but Nouns" (177).
Her conversation, "a mellifluous flow of polysyllables," as Kreymborg would later describe it, "which held every man in awe," charmed Stieglitz, who took her to the back room to see the Picassos, Picabias, Marins, and Hartleys, and invited her to come again (Kreymborg 238).
It was necessary to use polysyllables, and plenty of them; and where to find rhymes for such words as "tyranny," "freedom," and "justice," when you had less than two years' acquaintance with English!
At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in chanting rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys mere accumulation of things."
Here the function of the -eth endings is fulfilled by skillful placing of polysyllables in order to insist on the rhythm:
and the postal seal reads '22-2-1963.' "Many essays are written in the language which caused Dylan to spend more time in Dinkytown than in the University of Minnesota classroom, the copious polysyllables, adjectives and adverbs of dissertationese: "Subjectivity dramatically transmogrifies in Simone's sublime reinterpretation of 'Just Like a Woman'...."
[square root of number of polysyllables x (30/number or sentences) + 3]