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Segmental and syllabic structure in the phonology of English


Admission requirements

Introductory (BA-level) courses in (English) phonology.


Our focus in this course is on the internal structure of segments and syllables. In the domain of segmental structure we consider the framework of Element Theory (Backley 2011), which offers a restrictive approach to phonological contrasts in terms of elements, rather than the traditional features. In the domain of syllable structure we consider the framework of Government Phonology (e.g. Harris 1994), in which syllables and higher-level units such as the foot are composed of an internal constituent structure. As we will see, this approach attempts to provide a principled answer to the observation that “positions in phonological strings vary in the extent to which they can support the distribution of a range of sounds” (Harris 1994: 4). In the course we will be mainly concerned with data from English, but we will also examine a range of phonological phenomena from other languages.

Course objectives

  • Insight into a number of recent developments in (generative) phonology

  • Insight into the importance of data in phonological theorising

  • Insight into structural aspects of segments and syllables


The timetable is available on the MA Linguistics website.

Mode of instruction

Weekly two-hour seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 280 hours

  • hours spent on attending seminars: 13 × 2 = 26 hours

  • time for studying the compulsory literature: 214 hours

  • time for preparing the presentation and writing the final research paper: 40 hours

Assessment method

Oral presentation and classroom participation (20%)
Final written essay (80%)

### Exam Review

Students are entitled to view their marked examination within a period of 30 days, following publication of the results of a written examination.


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Harris, John (1994). English Sound Structure. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Backley, Phillip (2011). An Introduction to Element Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • A selection of recent articles (to be made available)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

When registering, students that are registered for the specialisation that this course belongs to, or the Research Master, take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies.

General information about uSis is available in English.


Please contact Student administration van Eyckhof