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Syllable contact
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Syllable contact refers to `the sonority relation between adjacent segments across a syllable boundary, that is, between heterosyllabic coda and onset segments' (Seo 2011:1245).

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In an overview article Seo (2011:1245) describes the concept of syllable contact as `the sonority relation between adjacent segments across a syllable boundary, that is, between heterosyllabic coda and onset segments'. Sonority has been defined in various ways - relative loudness of a sound (Ladefoged 1993), relative complexity in terms of number of features (Clements 1990) or phonological strength (Venneman 1988) - a clear definition grounded in phonetic properties or phonological theory, however, is still missing. Nevertheless, there is concensus in the phonological community about a scale of relative sonority among segments:

Sonority hierarchy
vowels > glides > rhotics > laterals > nasals > fricatives > stops (decreasing sonority).

For consonant clusters across syllable boundaries a cross-linguistic preference for falling sonority seems to hold, which means that the coda consonant should be more sonorous than the subsequent onset consonant (Hooper 1976, Murray and Vennemann 1983, Venneman 1988). Thus, heterosyllabic consonant clusters such as /-l.f-/ like in olfactorisch/ɔl.fɑk.to.rɪs/olfactory are cross-linguistically more widespread than its mirror image /-f.l-/ as in teflon/tɛf.lɔn/teflon. This observation has been formulated more generally as the syllable contact law (e.g. Davis and Shin 1999:286 as cited in Seo 2011; see Seo 2011 also for more or less strict versions of the law):

Syllable Contact Law (SCL)
A syllable contact A.B is the more preferred, the greater the sonority of the offset A and the less the sonority of the onset B.

Violations of the syllable contact law have been made responsible for diachronic and synchronic language change. Apparent repair strategies are e.g. stop insertion in sonorant-sonorant clusters (Old Spanish, Old French), assimilation processes (e.g. in Korean nasal+liquid sequences, see Rice and Avery 1991, Davis and Shin 1999) or metathesis (e.g. in Sidamo obstruent+nasal metathesis, see Hudson 1995, Hume 1999) - all of which improve the sonority requirements within the respective languages.

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Seo (2003) discusses two problematic issues connected with the syllable contact law. First, Seo argues that for some languages (e.g. Leti) for which an SCL-motivated assimilation process has been proposed, the assumed syllable boundary might actually be non-existent since such an account would lead to conflicts with minimal word requirements present in the language. Second, Seo points out that the assimilation process found in heterosyllabic nasal+liquid sequences in Korean also takes place in heterosyllabic /ln/ sequences (to the exclusion of /lm/ clusters), a sequence that should comply with the SCL. Based on the symmetric behavior of such consonant clusters, Seo argues that instances of SCL should be analyzed as segment contact phenomena instead.

References:
  • Clements, George N1990The role of the sonority cycle in core syllabificationPapers in Laboratory Phonology1Cambridge University Press283-333
  • Davis, Stuart & Shin, Seung-Hoon1999The syllable contact constraint in Korean: An Optimality-Theoretic analysisJournal of East Asian Linguistics8285-312
  • Davis, Stuart & Shin, Seung-Hoon1999The syllable contact constraint in Korean: An Optimality-Theoretic analysisJournal of East Asian Linguistics8285-312
  • Hooper, Joan B1976An introduction to natural generative phonologyAcademic Press
  • Hudson, Grover1995Phonology of Ethiopian languagesThe Handbook of Phonological TheoryCambridge, MA; OxfordBlackwell782-797
  • Hume, Elizabeth1999The role of perceptibility in consonant/consonant metathesisProceedings of the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics17293-307
  • Ladefoged, Peter1993A course in phoneticsFort WorthHarcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers
  • Misun, Seo2011Syllable contactvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology2: Suprasegmental and prosodic phonologyMaldenWiley-Blackwell1245-1262
  • Misun, Seo2011Syllable contactvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology2: Suprasegmental and prosodic phonologyMaldenWiley-Blackwell1245-1262
  • Misun, Seo2011Syllable contactvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology2: Suprasegmental and prosodic phonologyMaldenWiley-Blackwell1245-1262
  • Misun, Seo2011Syllable contactvan Oostendorp, Marc and Ewen, Colin J and Hume, Elizabeth and Rice, Keren (ed.)The Blackwell Companion to Phonology2: Suprasegmental and prosodic phonologyMaldenWiley-Blackwell1245-1262
  • Murray, R.W. & Vennemann, T1983Sound change and syllable structure in Germanic phonologyLanguage59514-528
  • Rice, Keren & Avery, Peter1991On the relationship between laterality and coronalityThe special status of coronals: Internal and external evidenceSan DiegoAcademic Press
  • Seo, Misun2003A segment contact account of the patterning of sonorants in consonant clustersOhio State UniversityThesis
  • Venneman, Theo1988Preference Laws for Syllable Structure and the Explanation of Sound ChangeBerlinMouton de Gruyter
  • Venneman, Theo1988Preference Laws for Syllable Structure and the Explanation of Sound ChangeBerlinMouton de Gruyter
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