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Consonant cluster

Consonant cluster

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In linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, a consonant cluster (or consonant blend) is a group of consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s which have no intervening vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

. In English, for example, the groups /spl/ and /ts/ are consonant clusters in the word splits.

Some linguists argue that the term can only be properly applied to those consonant clusters that occur within one syllable
Syllable
A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus with optional initial and final margins .Syllables are often considered the phonological "building...

. Others contend that consonant clusters are more useful as a definition when they may occur across syllable boundaries. According to the former definition, the longest consonant clusters in the word extra would be /ks/ and /tr/, whereas the latter allows /kstr/. The German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 word Angstschweiß (/aŋstʃvaɪs/; "fear sweat") is another good example, with a cluster of five consonants: /ŋstʃv/.

Phonotactics


Languages' phonotactics
Phonotactics
Phonotactics is a branch of phonology that deals with restrictions in a language on the permissible combinations of phonemes...

 differ as to what consonant clusters they permit.

Many languages do not permit consonant clusters at all. Maori
Maori language
Māori or te reo Māori , commonly te reo , is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand...

 and Pirahã
Pirahã language
Pirahã is a language spoken by the Pirahã. The Pirahã are an indigenous people of Amazonas, Brazil, living along the Maici River, a tributary of the Amazon....

, for instance, don't permit any two consecutive consonants in a word. Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 is almost as strict, but it allows clusters of consonant plus /j/ as in Tokyo toːkjoː, the name of Japan's capital city. Across a syllable boundary, it also allows a cluster of a nasal consonant
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

 plus another consonant, as in Honshū [honɕuː] (the name of the largest island) and tempura
Tempura
], is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried.-Batter:A light batter is made of cold water and soft wheat flour . Eggs, baking soda or baking powder, starch, oil, and/or spices may also be added...

[tempuɽa] (a traditional dish). A great many of the languages of the world are more restrictive than English in terms of consonant clusters; almost every Malayo-Polynesian language forbids consonant clusters entirely. Tahitian
Tahitian language
Tahitian is an indigenous language spoken mainly in the Society Islands in French Polynesia. It is an Eastern Polynesian language closely related to the other indigenous languages spoken in French Polynesia: Marquesan, Tuamotuan, Mangarevan, and Austral Islands languages...

, Samoan
Samoan language
Samoan Samoan Samoan (Gagana Sāmoa, is the language of the Samoan Islands, comprising the independent country of Samoa and the United States territory of American Samoa. It is an official language—alongside English—in both jurisdictions. Samoan, a Polynesian language, is the first language for most...

 and Hawaiian
Hawaiian language
The Hawaiian language is a Polynesian language that takes its name from Hawaii, the largest island in the tropical North Pacific archipelago where it developed. Hawaiian, along with English, is an official language of the state of Hawaii...

 are all of this sort. Standard Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 does not permit initial consonant clusters, or more than two consecutive consonants in other positions; neither do most other Semitic languages
Semitic languages
The Semitic languages are a group of related languages whose living representatives are spoken by more than 270 million people across much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa...

, although Modern Israeli Hebrew permits initial two-consonant clusters (e.g. pkak "cap"; dlat "pumpkin"), and Moroccan Arabic
Moroccan Arabic
Moroccan Arabic is the variety of Arabic spoken in the Arabic-speaking areas of Morocco. For official communications, the government and other public bodies use Modern Standard Arabic, as is the case in most Arabic-speaking countries. A mixture of French and Moroccan Arabic is used in business...

, under Berber
Berber languages
The Berber languages are a family of languages indigenous to North Africa, spoken from Siwa Oasis in Egypt to Morocco , and south to the countries of the Sahara Desert...

 influence, allows strings of several consonants. Khmer
Khmer language
Khmer , or Cambodian, is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. It is the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language , with speakers in the tens of millions. Khmer has been considerably influenced by Sanskrit and Pali, especially in the royal and religious...

, as do most Mon–Khmer languages permits only initial consonant clusters with up to three consonants in a row per syllable. Finnish
Finnish language
Finnish is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland Primarily for use by restaurant menus and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the two official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a...

 has initial consonant clusters natively only on South-Western dialects and on foreign loans, and only clusters of three inside the word are allowed. Most spoken languages and dialects, however, are more permissive. In Burmese
Burmese language
The Burmese language is the official language of Burma. Although the constitution officially recognizes it as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese. Burmese is the native language of the Bamar and related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar, as well as...

, consonant clusters of only up to three consonants (the initial and two medials—two written forms of /-j-/, /-w-/) at the initial onset are allowed in writing and only two (the initial and one medial) are pronounced. These clusters are restricted to certain letters. Some Burmese dialects
Burmese dialects
There are a number of mutually intelligible Burmese dialects in the Burmese language, with a largely uniform standard dialect used by most Burmese speakers, who live throughout the Irrawaddy River valley and more distinctive non-standard dialects that emerge as one toward peripheral areas of the...

 allow for clusters of up to four consonants (with the addition of the /-l-/ medial, which can combine with the above-mentioned medials.

At the other end of the scale, the Kartvelian
South Caucasian languages
The Kartvelian languages are spoken primarily in Georgia, with a large group of ethnic Georgian speakers in Russia, the United States, the European Union, and northeastern parts of Turkey. There are approximately 5.2 million speakers of this language family worldwide.It is not known to be related...

 languages of Georgia are drastically more permissive of consonant clustering. Clusters in Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 of four, five or six consonants are not unusual—for instance, /brtʼqʼɛli/ (flat), /mt͡sʼvrtnɛli/ (trainer) and /prt͡skvna/ (peeling)—and if grammatical affixes are used, it allows an eight-consonant cluster: /ɡvbrdɣvnis/ (he's plucking us). Consonants cannot appear as syllable nuclei in Georgian, so this syllable is analysed as CCCCCCCCVC. Some Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

 such as Slovak
Slovak language
Slovak , is an Indo-European language that belongs to the West Slavic languages .Slovak is the official language of Slovakia, where it is spoken by 5 million people...

 may manifest formidable numbers of consecutive consonants, such as in the words štvrť /ʃtvr̩tʲ/, zmrzlina /zmr̩zlɪna/, and žblnknutie /ʒbl̩ŋknutje/, but the liquid consonant
Liquid consonant
In phonetics, liquids or liquid consonants are a class of consonants consisting of lateral consonants together with rhotics.-Description:...

s /r/ and /l/ can form syllable nuclei in Slovak, and behave phonologically as vowels in this case. Another example is the Serbo-Croatian
Serbo-Croatian
Serbo-Croatian or Serbo-Croat, less commonly Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian , is a South Slavic language with multiple standards and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro...

 word opskrbljivanje /ɔpskr̩bʎiʋaɲɛ/, though note that ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ here are digraphs
Digraph (orthography)
A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined...

 representing single consonants: [ʎ] and [ɲ], respectively. Some Salishan languages
Salishan languages
The Salishan languages are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest...

 exhibit long words with no vowels at all, such as the Nuxálk
Nuxálk language
Nuxálk is a Salishan language spoken in the vicinity of the Canadian town Bella Coola, British Columbia by approximately 20-30 elders...

 word /xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ/: he had in his possession a bunchberry plant. It is extremely difficult to accurately classify which of these consonants may be acting as the syllable nucleus, and these languages challenge classical notions of exactly what constitutes a syllable
Syllable
A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus with optional initial and final margins .Syllables are often considered the phonological "building...

.

Loanwords


Consonant clusters occurring in loanword
Loanword
A loanword is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept where the meaning or idiom is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort,...

s do not necessarily follow the cluster limits set by the borrowing language's phonotactics
Phonotactics
Phonotactics is a branch of phonology that deals with restrictions in a language on the permissible combinations of phonemes...

. The Ubykh language
Ubykh language
Ubykh or Ubyx is an extinct language of the Northwestern Caucasian group, spoken by the Ubykh people...

's root psta, a loan from Adyghe
Adyghe language
Adyghe language , also known as West Circassian , is one of the two official languages of the Republic of Adygea in the Russian Federation, the other being Russian. It is spoken by various tribes of the Adyghe people: Abzekh, Adamey, Bzhedugh; Hatukuay, Kemirgoy, Makhosh; Natekuay, Shapsigh; Zhane,...

, violates Ubykh's rule of no more than two initial consonants; also, the English words sphere /ˈsfɪər/ and sphinx /ˈsfɪŋks/, Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 loans, violate the restraint (or constraint, see also optimality theory
Optimality theory
Optimality theory is a linguistic model proposing that the observed forms of language arise from the interaction between conflicting constraints. OT models grammars as systems that provide mappings from inputs to outputs; typically, the inputs are conceived of as underlying representations, and...

) that two fricatives
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

 may not appear adjacently word-initially.

English


In English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, the longest possible initial cluster is three consonants, as in split /ˈsplɪt/ and strudel /ˈʃtruːdəl/, all beginning with /s/ or /ʃ/ and ending with /l/ or /r/; the longest possible final cluster is five consonants, as in angsts /ˈæŋksts/, though that is rare and four, as in twelfths /ˈtwɛlfθs/, sixths /ˈsɪksθs/, bursts /ˈbɜrsts/ and glimpsed /ˈɡlɪmpst/, is more common.

However, it is important to distinguish clusters and digraphs
Digraph (orthography)
A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined...

. Clusters are made of two or more consonant sounds, while a digraph is a group of two consonant letters standing for a single sound. For example, in the word ship, the two letters of the digraph ⟨sh⟩ together represent the single consonant [ʃ]. Also note a combination digraph and cluster as seen in length with two digraphs ⟨ng⟩, ⟨th⟩ representing a cluster of two consonants: /ŋθ/; or even lights with a silent digraph ⟨gh⟩ followed by a cluster ⟨t⟩, ⟨s⟩: /ts/.

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