Consonant Clustersin English and Lebanese Arabic A contrastive study By Fadi Sukkari
Syllables, Vowels & Consonants Words are comprised of syllables, composed in turn of consonants and vowels (nucleus), to which, short vowels called diacritics are added in some languages like Arabic. By definition, vowels are characterized by a flow of air, whereas, in contrast, consonants are produced by obstructing this air flow.
Phonology and PhonemesIn phonology, the science dealing withpronunciation and speech study, aphoneme is the smallest contrastiveunit (a unit capable of showing adistinction in meaning between twowords) in the sound system of anylanguage, each language having itsown inventory of phonemes.
PhonotacticsThere exist phonetic restrictions thatvary greatly from one language toanother and that take the form oflimitations in the manner phonemes arearranged in sequence.How phonemes are arranged in a givenlanguage is called phoneme distributionor phonotactics.
Consonant ClustersAmong these restrictions, are consonantclusters (C.C.) rules, defining themaximum number of contiguous,consonants that occur, not separated by avowel, and that keep their individualpronunciation when blended.
C.C. vs DiagraphsDiagraphs are sometimes mistaken forconsonant clusters. Actually, diagraphscan be defined as a sequence of morethan one consonant pronounced as onephoneme such as (ch; /k/) in chronology,(ph; /f/) in phrase, (sh; /ʃ/) in shrink, etc.
Phoneme CombinationsA (C-V) combination, called opensyllable because it is not closed by aconsonant, is a frequent pattern in alllanguages without exception.The (C-C) pattern, on the other hand, ismuch rarer and more restrictive.
Consonant Clusters: DefinitionThere is no consensus, among Englishlinguists over whether consonantclusters should be limited withinsyllables: some think that CCs can onlyoccur within the same syllable, whileothers contend that the concept canapply when a CC spreads acrosssyllable boundaries.
Consonant Clusters in English In English the number of consonants in sequence could be 3 maximum in initial position and up to 4 in the final one and can of course occur in the median position.
English Sylalble StructureLinguists usually give the followingrepresentation to the structure of Englishsyllables: CCC-V-CCCC (C)+(C)+ (C) - V - (C)+(C)+(C)+(C),where the initial cluster is called “Onset”,the vowel “Nucleus”, and the final cluster“Coda”.
Structure of C.C. in EnglishInitial three-consonant clusters alwayshave the consonant voiceless alveolarfricative /s/ in the first position of theonset, one of the voiceless stops /p, t, k/in the second, and one of the followingliquids in third position /w, y, r, l/.
Structure of C.C. in EnglishConcerning the second and thirdconsonants of the cluster, the louderconsonant will always be put closer tothe nucleus, or vowel of the syllable.Thus we have “splash” and “spread”,yet, no words start with /slp-/ or /srp-/.
Structure of C.C. in EnglishHowever, there are four exceptions tothis rule. The sequence ofconsonants /s + m + j/ occurs only onceas an initial consonant in English in theword “smew”;/smju:/ (a diving duck). Onthe other hand, /spw/, /stw/, and /stl/,never occur.
C.C. as source of difficultyGiven that initial CCs are forbidden bythe Arabic phonetic system, they can bea source of difficulty for Arabs who arelearning English as their L2. While a native English speakerreduces a CC like in “sixths”:/sɪkfs/, anArab would insert an “extra” schwa to beable to pronounce the word as in“spread”:/səbˈrɪd/.
Consonant Clusters in ArabicAltaha (1999) gives the followingpossible phonetic distribution patterns ofModern Standard Arabic syllables:
Consonant Clusters in Arabic1) C-V as in /bi/ “with”2) C-VC as in /lam/ “not”3) C-VCC as in /qalb/ “heart”4) C-VV as in /laa/ “no”5) C-VVC as in /qaal/ “say”6) C-VVCC as in /ħaadd/ “sharp”
Consonant Clusters in Arabic Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is one of the languages that do not allow initial consonant clusters at all.
C. C. in Lebanese ArabicHowever, Colloquial or dialectalArabic, like Moroccan under Berberinfluence or Lebanese under Syriacinfluence, in contrast does allowconsonant clusters that can be verylong – up to seven in the case ofLebanese Arabic.
C. C. in Lebanese Arabic3- /trtəbek/ = CCC –VCVC4- /stħmalt/ = CCCC –VCC5- /tXtsru/ = CCCCC –V6- /btʃtrku:/ = CCCCCC –VV7- /mħtrmtkon/ = CCCCCCC – VC
C. C. in Lebanese ArabicAs a rule, in dialectal Lebanese Arabic,the initial hamza whether in the past orimperative mode in five-partite verbs builton the ʔifʕalla meter ( )إفعلis left out: thus, ّ(“ʔɪstaʕadda” with the second singularpronoun (you) becomes (b)tstʕedd whichis “you (are) get(ting) ready” follows theCCCCC-VCC pattern with a four-consonant initial cluster and a gemination(or shadda in Arabic) for a final CC.
ConslusionThe phonotactic patterns of a language have acompulsory effect upon its native speakers,who learn these rules very early and then findit hard to infringe upon them later on - whenlearning a new language for instance.A case worth close scrutiny is that of loan-words: people tend to pronounce them withthe phonotactic patterns of their mothertongue. In Turkish, the synonym of “elevator”is /asansør/ borrowed from French“ascenceur”.
ConslusionEnglish allows initial clusters of threeconsonants, Modern Standard Arabicnone, and dialectal Lebanese Arabic upto seven.This pattern in Lebanese Arabic widelyvaries, however, from a Lebanese regionto another, yet for the purpose of thisstudy we tried to make an inventory ofthe extreme cases where we could findan initial cluster of seven consonants.