The Influence of Experimental Method on English Syllabification


  • David Eddington Brigham Young University
  • Ross J. Cairns Brigham Young University



English langauge, syllabification, experiment, intratask reliability


A number of experimental methods have been used to elicit metalinguistic judgments about syllable division, a good deal of which deals with the syllabification of English words. However the syllabification literature is largely silent on the issue of intratask reliability, that is, whether the tasks all yield the same kinds of intuitions from speakers. Côté and Kharlamov (2011) gathered data from Russian speakers who syllabified nonce words in four different experimental conditions. When the results were compared they observed widely different results in many instances. This suggests that syllabification preferences are highly influenced by the particular task used to elicit them, which in turn casts doubt on the intratask reliability of syllabification studies. In order to test the reliability of different experimental methods in English, syllable divisions of 120 English words were elicited with eight different experimental tasks. In a mixed-effects logistic regression, no main effect of experimental method was found, although the method showed some interaction with stress and the legality of the consonant cluster word-initially and word-finally. Reasons why these results differ from those of Côté and Kharlamov are discussed, some of which are due to methodological flaws in their analysis.

Author Biographies

David Eddington, Brigham Young University

David Eddington is presently a Professor in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Brigham Young University. He specializes in data-orientated approaches to phonology, morphology, and the Spanish language.

Ross J. Cairns, Brigham Young University

Ross Cairns is an International Account Manager for Spark Innovation. He has an MA in Hispanic Studies from the University of Glasgow and recently graduated from Brigham Young University with an MA in Spanish Linguistics.


Barry, W., Klein, C. and Köser, S. (1999). Speech production evidence for ambisyllabicity in German. Phonus 4: 87–102.

Berg, T. (2001). An experimental study of syllabification in Icelandic. Nordic Journal of Linguistics 24 (1): 71–106.

Berg, T. and Niemi, J. (2000). Syllabification in Finnish and German: Onset filling vs. Onset maximazation. Journal of Phonetics 28 (2):187–216.

Bertinetto, P. M., Scheuer, S., Dziubalska-Kolaczyk, K. and Agonigi, M. (2007). Intersegmental cohesion and syllable division in Polish. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 1953-1956. University of Saarbrücken.

Bertinetto P. M., Caboara, M., Gaeta, L. and Agonigi, M. (1994). Syllabic division and intersegmental cohesion in Italian. In W. U. Dressler, M. Prinzhorn and J. R. Rennison (Eds), Phonologica 1992: Proceedings of the 7th International Phonology Meeting, 19–33. Torino: Rosenberg and Sellier.

Cebrian, J. (2002). Phonetic similarity, syllabification and phonotactic constraints in the acquisition of a second language contrast. Dissertation, University of Toronto.

Content, A., Kearns, R. K. and Frauenfelder, U. (2001). Boundaries versus onsets in syllabic segmentation. Journal of Memory and Language 45 (2): 177–199.

Côté, M.-H. and Kharlamov, V. (2011). The impact of experimental tasks on syllabification judgments: A case study of Russian. In C. E. Cairns and E. Raimy (Eds) Handbook of the Syllable, 273–294. Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill.

Derwing, B. L. (1992). A ‘pause-break’ task for eliciting syllable boundary judgments from literate and illiterate speakers: Preliminary results for five diverse languages. Language and Speech 35 (1–2): 219–235.

Eddington, D., Treiman, R. and Elzinga, D. (2013). Syllabification of American English: Evidence from a Large-scale Experiment. Part II. Journal of Quantitative Linguistics 20 (2): 45–67.

Fallows, D. (1981). Experimental evidence for English syllabification and syllable structure. Journal of Linguistics 17 (2): 309–317.

Gillis, S. and Sandra, D. (1998). Children’s and Adults’ syllabification: The influence of spelling. In A. Aksu-Koç, E. Erguvanli-Taylan, A. Sumru Özsoy and A. Kuntay (Eds) Perspectives on Language Acquisition, 336–354. Istanbul: Bogazici University Press.

Goslin, J. (2002) A comparison of theoretical and human syllabification. Dissertation, University of Sheffield.

Goslin, J. and Floccia, C. (2007). Comparing French syllabification in preliterate children and adults. Applied Psycholinguistics 28 (2): 341–367.

Grissom, R. J. and Kim, J. J. (2012). Effect Sizes for Research: Univariate and Multivariate Applications, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.

Ishikawa, K. (2002). Syllabification of intervocalic consonants by English and Japanese speakers. Language and Speech 45 (4): 355–385.

McCrary, K. M. (2004). Reassessing the role of the syllable in Italian phonology: An experimental study of consonant cluster syllabification, definite article allomorphy and segment duration. PhD Dissertation, UCLA.

Prinzmetal, W., Treiman, R. and Rho, S. H. (1986). How to see a reading unit. Journal of Memory and Language 25 (4): 461–475.

Rapp, B. C. (1992). The nature of sublexical orthographic organization: The bigram trough hypothesis examined. Journal of Memory and Language 31 (1): 33–53.

Redford, M. A. and Randall, P. (2005). The role of juncture cues and phonological knowledge in English syllabification judgments. Journal of Phonetics 33 (1): 27–46.

Schiller, N. O., Meyer, A. S. and Levelt, W. J. M. (1997). The syllabic structure of spoken words: Evidence from syllabification of intervocalic consonants. Language and Speech 40 (2): 103–140.

Smith, K. L. and Pitt, M. A. (1999). Phonological and morphological influences in the syllabification of spoken words. Journal of Memory and Language 41 (2): 199–222.

Treiman, R. and Zukowski, A. (1990). Toward and understanding of English syllabification. Journal of Memory and Language 29 (1): 66–85.

Treiman, R. and Danis, C. (1988). Syllabification of intervocalic consonants. Journal of Memory and Language 27 (1): 87–104.

Treiman, R., Gross, J. and Cwikiel-Glavin, A. (1992). The syllabification of /s/ clusters in English. Journal of Phonetics 20 (3): 383–402.

Treiman, R., Bowey, J. A. and Bourassa, D. (2002). Segmentation of spoken words into syllables by English-speaking children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 83 (3): 213–238.

Treiman, R., Staub, K. and Lavery, P. (1994). Syllabification of bisyllabic nonwords: Evidence from short-term memory. Language and Speech 37 (1): 45–60.

Zamuner, T. S., and Ohala, D. K. (1999). Preliterate children’s syllabification of intervocalic consonants. In A. Greenhill, H. Littlefield and C. Tano (Eds), Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Boston Conference on Language Development, 753–763. Somerville MA: Cascadilla Press.



How to Cite

Eddington, D., & Cairns, R. J. (2016). The Influence of Experimental Method on English Syllabification. Journal of Research Design and Statistics in Linguistics and Communication Science, 2(1), 37–52.