Syncope (phonology)

Synchronic analysis

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


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

  • In some verbs
imir (to play) should become *imirím (I play). However, the addition of the -ím causes syncope and the second-last syllable vowel i is lost so imirim becomes imrím.
  • In some nouns
inis (island) should become *inise in the genitive case. However, instead of *Baile na hInise, road signs say, Baile na hInse (the town of the island). Once again, there is the loss of the second i.

If the present root form in Irish is the result of diachronic syncope, synchronic syncope for inflection is prevented.

As a poetic device

Sounds may be removed from the interior of a word as a rhetorical or poetic device: 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 ever > poetic e'er, often confused with ere ("before")

Informal speech

Various sorts of colloquial reductions might be called "syncope" or "compression".[1]

Contractions in English such as "didn't" or "can't" are typically cases of syncope.

  • 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 (generally only when unstressed and when expressing intention rather than direction), pronounced /ɡənə/ or, before a vowel, /ɡənu/
  • English every pronounced [ˈɛvɹi]

Diachronic analysis

In historical phonology, the term "syncope" is often limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel, in effect collapsing the syllable that contained it: trisyllabic Latin calidus (stress on first syllable) develops as bisyllabic caldo in several Romance languages.

Loss of any sound

Loss of unstressed vowel

  • Latin cálidum > Italian caldo [ˈkaldo] "hot"
  • Latin óculum > Italian occhio [ˈɔkkjo] "eye"
  • 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 in which the second vowel of a word was deleted unless it was adjacent to a consonant cluster or a final consonant.[2]

See also


    1. Wells, John C. (2000). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (2nd ed.). Longman. pp. 165–6. ISBN 0-582-36467-1.
    2. Hayes, Bruce (2009). Introductory Phonology. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 255.
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