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What is a syllable and what determines syllables?

A syllable is a vocal sound or set of vocal sounds uttered with a single uninterrupted articulation and is larger than a phoneme (single sound). A syllable either forms a word or an element of a word. A syllable consists of a vowel, diphthong, or syllabic consonant alone, or by any of these sounds preceded, followed, or surrounded by one or more consonants. The word syllable was first used by Chaucer (c. 1384) and is derived from Latin syllaba 'take or put together', which came from an earlier Greek word. In modern English, word syllables are characterized as either accented or unaccented; in non-accentual languages such as classical Greek and Latin, syllables are classified as either long or short, depending on the quantity of time it takes to pronounce them, due to varying vowel lengths and consonant groupings. The general structure of a syllable consists of three parts: the onset, the nucleus, and the coda. The nucleus is usually a vowel or diphthong. The onset is what comes before the nucleus and the coda is what comes after it. The nucleus and the coda, together, are sometimes called the rhyme. Only the nucleus always exists. All languages seem to allow syllables with empty codas (no consonants after the nucleus) and most also allow empty onsets. A syllable of the form CV (consonant + vowel, with an empty coda) is called an open syllable, while a syllable that has a coda (CVC, etc.) is called a closed or checked syllable. As far as how syllables are determined, they are ascertained by sound. Like much of what people know about their native language, knowledge of syllables is implicit: one can follow the rules even though one cannot state them.

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