Dictionary Definition

syllabification n : forming or dividing words into syllables [syn: syllabication]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. the division of a word into syllables.


Extensive Definition

Syllabification is the separation of a word into syllables, whether spoken or written.
''It is also used to describe the process of something like a consonant turning into a syllable, but this is not discussed here. For example, in North Central American English, "can" is normally pronounced as /kən/, or even with the vowel reduced to a syllabification of the /n/ itself.''
The written separation is usually marked by a hyphen (e.g., syl-la-ble). For presentation purposes, typographers may use an interpunct (Unicode character U+00B7, e.g., syl·la·ble), or special-purpose "hyphenation point" (U+2027, e.g., syl‧la‧ble).
At the end of a line, a word is separated in writing into parts conventionally called "syllables" if it does not fit and if moving it to the next line would make the first line much shorter than the others. This is usually only a problem with very long words. This is especially true because the length of words that require separation has increased due to modern word processing, which has automated the process of stretching less text to fit the same space as more text in other lines.
In most languages, the actually spoken syllables are the basis of syllabification in writing too. However, due to the very weak correspondence between sounds and letters in the spelling of modern English, for example, written syllabification in English has to be based mostly on etymological i.e. morphological instead of phonetic principles. For example, it is not possible to syllabify "learning" as lear-ning according to the correct syllabification of the living language. Seeing only lear- at the end of a line might mislead the reader into pronouncing the word as in "King Lear". The letters "ea" (and all other letters) are used in English spelling in highly ambiguous ways in different words. "Learn" and most other words in English are only comprehensible as complete entities (or as combinations of such entities), not as combinations of individual letters. Although few native speakers of English are aware of this, the result is much closer to such writing systems as the Chinese system of characters than the alphabetic system that is only seemingly the basis of current English spelling. (Many centuries ago, English spelling was based on an alphabetic representation of pronunciation, but the pronunciation has changed whereas spelling has not been reformed as it has been for other languages.)
English written syllabification is therefore forced to in essence create "written" syllables that do not correspond to the actually spoken syllables of the living language. Since modern linguistics defines the syllable in terms of speech sounds, such a "written" syllable is essentially a virtual construct, not real. (In fact, modern linguistics also defines language itself as a primarily acoustic phenomenon and considers writing to be a tool, not a different form of the language or the language itself.) The real syllable of all languages is a phonetic unit, not a semantic or morphological one.
As a result, most even native English speakers are unable to syllabify (or spell) words with any degree of accuracy without consulting a dictionary or using a word processor. The process is, in fact, so complicated that even schools usually do not provide much more advice on the topic than to consult a dictionary. Even the Internet does not seem to provide any general syllabification guide, explanation, or discussion not meant for experts. In addition, there are differences between British and US syllabification and even between dictionaries of the same kind of English.
It is not possible to simplify the process of written syllabification in English except in some minor details unless a drastic reform of English spelling is implemented. In contrast, in Finnish, Italian, and other nearly phonetically spelled languages, children by the age of about 10 can in principle correctly syllabify any existing or newly created word.

See also

External links

syllabification in German: Worttrennung
syllabification in Norwegian Nynorsk: Stavingsinndeling
syllabification in Romanian: Despărţirea în silabe
syllabification in Finnish: Tavutus
syllabification in Swedish: Avstavning
syllabification in Tagalog: Pagpapantig
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