Syllabic Consonants as Peaks of Unstressed Syllables in Isoko English: A Perceptual Approach

by Open Science Repository Language and Linguistics
(February 2013)

Abstract: The use of syllabic consonants in Standard English words is a phenomenon that results from the elision/obscurity of the reduced vowel /ə/ in unstressed syllable positions. This has been observed to be rarely employed in Nigerian English. In this study, a perceptual study was undertaken to confirm whether or not Isoko English (a sub-variety of Nigerian English) is characterised by the use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables where they are found in Standard English.

Thirty speakers of Educated Isoko English (EIE) who encountered English in a second language context (Nigeria) took part in a production test comprising a passage of about 158 words containing 11 instances of syllabic consonants. Variants of the sounds produced by the 30 EIE subjects where syllabic consonants are expected were sorted out into frequencies and converted to percentages. They were then sorted out into cases of the Use of Syllabic Consonants (USC) and Strong Vowel Insertion (SVI).

The findings from the analysis reveal that majority of the EIE subjects did not make use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables. Rather, strong vowels were inserted between the syllabic consonants and the preceding consonants. Out of the 330 expected instances of syllabic consonants as peaks from the 30 EIE subjects, 326 instances or 99% of the expected number of occurrences are cases of vowel insertion. Only in 4 instances i.e. 1% were syllabic consonants used. The vowels that were inserted are all full vowels maintaining their strong qualities. This has been found to have serious implications for the rhythm of Standard English which relies heavily on the alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables and the obscuration of unstressed syllables to achieve its typical stress-timed rhythm.

Keywords: syllabic consonants, unstressed syllables, Isoko English, perceptual approach, stress-timed rhythm.

Full text

doi: 10.7392/Research.70081925.

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