23. Phonotactics V: Exceptions and odd syllable types
(with PC desktop dictionary)

     Note: Make sure that you have the Lucida Sans Unicode font installed in your computer so that the IPA symbols will display correctly.

     Some of the rhymes suggested by "Rhyme" are foreign loans (like raison [French 'reason'] and habenicht [from German Habenichts, a 'have-not']), little-known or rare words (like plake [a decorative cloth] and pleva [a rare skin disorder]), or proper nouns like Plescia or Sven. These should be excluded from your results when doing phonotactics exercises such as those on the preceding page.

Onomatopoeia (擬聲字 ni3sheng1 zi4) also often breaks the usual phonotactic rules of a language e.g. boing (note how the [ɔ] sound moving to an [ɪ] suggests the motion of an object springing upward) and vroom. How many other examples of onomatopoeia can you find that break the usual rules of English phonotactics? Can you think of some Mandarin or Taiwanese examples? (Hint: Comics in any language are a good place to find more examples; here's a page of exclamations from comics; and here's one on onomatopoeia for children.)

      Unusual, if not forbidden, sequences may be created by the formation of contractions. Don't and won't, for example, are the only English words ending in [oʊnt]. Try to find some 'forbidden' syllable types created by Chinese contractions, e.g. say the expression 根本 gen1ben3 as in 根本不要 gen1ben3 bu2yao4
'I don't want it at all' quickly, and you may hear something like ge:m4, although final /m/ is not allowed in Mandarin.

      Abbreviations and acronyms may also result in unusual combinations, e.g. WAP ('Wireless application protocol') is a little odd in English; instead of /w/, we'd expect the underlying phoneme [hw] (or [ʍ]), represented in spelling by wh-. Although many people do not distinguish /w/ and /hw/ in their speech, many do retain /hw/ as an underlying phoneme which affects the following vowel, and a word like wap is odd. wa- at the beginning of a word, e.g. watch, wad, watt, tends to be pronounced as /ɑ/, while the vowel in WAP is usually pronounced /æ/, to rhyme
with rap or tap.

     You may not always agree that a word suggested by "Rhyme" is really a good match, either due to alternate pronunciations (e.g. the first 'a' in patronage can be pronounced either [æ] or [eɪ]), or allophonic variation (e.g. should the first three sounds of plague be matched with plate or plaque?), so don't take all the matches at face value.

      To filter out words that are generally not found in the active or passive vocabularies of an average or even well-educated English speaker, and which thus don't 'count', it is best to double check your results in a regular English-English dictionary, such as the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. For a useful PC desktop dictionary, try the WordWeb thesaurus and dictionary, which you can download (it's 19.1MB) for free at:


     The pay version of WordWeb (WordWeb Pro 2.1), has more features, including search functions which could replace "Rhyme"; but a combination of Rhyme, WordWeb, OneLook Dictionary Search, the Scrabble resources, and some of the Wordplays.com puzzle solving tools will give you many functions useful in phonetics and phonology for free.

     Word games are probably found in all languages and cultures, even ones that do not have their own writing system. There are lots of very popular English word games that play with the phonotactic possibilities of words in many different ways, including "Scrabble", which we've already made a first acquaintance with. You've been working hard – the next page will introduce some games for you to have fun with (as though you needed another reason to spend more time at your PC!). These games mostly rely on spelling rather than just sound, but spelling does reflect pronunciation in an indirect way, so the games can give you some feeling for the ways our brain deals with English phonotactics. Some of them you may already be familiar with, especially if English is your first language or you have lived in an English-speaking country. Others may be new to you, or maybe you didn't know where to find them on the Internet...

Next: Playtime: Phonotactic games

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