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Syncope (phonology)

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In phonology, syncope (/ˈsɪŋkəpi/; from Ancient Greek: συγκοπή sunkopḗ "cutting up") is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word, especially the loss of an unstressed vowel. It is found both in synchronic analysis of languages and diachronics. Its opposite, whereby sounds are added, is epenthesis.


Synchronic analysis

Synchronic analysis studies linguistic phenomena at one moment, usually the present. In modern languages, syncope occurs in inflection, poetry, and informal speech.

In inflections

In languages such as Irish, the process of inflection can cause syncope.

For example:

  • In some verbs
  • Imir (to play) should become *imirím (I play). However, the addition of the -ím causes syncope and the second to last syllable vowel i is lost so Imirim becomes Imrím.
  • In some nouns
  • Inis (island) should become *inise in the genitive case. However, if one looks at road signs, one finds not *Baile na hInise but Baile na hInse (the town of the island). Once again there is the loss of the second i.

    It is interesting that if the present root form in Irish is the result of diachronic syncope, there is a resistance to synchronic syncope for inflection.

    As a poetic device

    Sounds may be removed from the interior of a word as a rhetorical or poetic device, whether for embellishment or for the sake of the meter.

  • Latin commōverat > poetic commōrat ("he had moved")
  • English hastening > poetic hast'ning
  • English heaven > poetic heav'n
  • English over > poetic o'er
  • English never > poetic ne'er
  • In informal speech

    Various sorts of colloquial reductions might be called "syncope". It is also called compression.

    Forms such as "didn't" that are written with an apostrophe are, however, generally called contractions:

  • English Australian > colloquial Strine, pronounced /strn/
  • English did not > didn't, pronounced /ˈdɪdənt/
  • English I would have > I'd've, pronounced /ˈdəv/
  • English going to > colloquial gonna (only when unstressed), pronounced /ɡənə/ or, before a vowel, /ɡənu/
  • Found diachronically as a historical sound change

    In historical phonetics, the term "syncope" is often but not always limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel:

    Loss of any sound

  • Old English hlāfweard > hlāford > Middle English loverd > Modern English lord, pronounced /lɔːrd/
  • English Worcester, pronounced /ˈwʊstər/
  • English Gloucester, pronounced /ˈɡlɒstər/
  • English Leicester, pronounced /ˈlɛstər/
  • Loss of an unstressed vowel

  • Latin cálidum > Italian caldo [ˈkaldo] "hot"
  • Latin óculum > Italian occhio [ˈɔkkjo] "eye"
  • Latin tremuláre > Italian tremare [treˈmaːre] "to tremble"
  • Proto-Norse armaʀ > Old Norse armr "arm"
  • Proto-Norse bókiʀ > Old Norse bǿkr "books"
  • Proto-Germanic *himinōz > Old Norse himnar "heavens"
  • A syncope rule has been identified in Tonkawa, an extinct American Indian language, whereby the second vowel of a word deletes if it is not adjacent to a consonant cluster or final consonant.


    Syncope (phonology) Wikipedia

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