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IN THE FIELD OF SUNG DICTION, the linguistic term "phonotactics" is seldom encountered. The discipline, however, is a very practical one that affects us all in everyday life at an applied level. It is of interest to musicians to the extent that it examines many of the most practical challenges involved in the unfolding of text, whether in our first language or one less familiar.

The focus of articulative phonetics must begin at the segmental level, while the branch of phonetics known as phonotactics looks at sounds suprasegmentally--that is, how individual articulations behave when placed in succession. But the discipline of phonotactics is primarily thought of as a branch of phonology, not phonetics--one that deals with the tautosyllabic (within the syllable) combinations of phones as found in language. It examines the constraints that a language or dialect imposes upon adjacent articulations in its native vocabulary, primarily at the syllabic levels (the focus of this article), but also at the morphemic and lexical levels. A phonetic inventory of all articulations in a language of course does not imply that all possible permutations of articulations, when placed in succession, will be found in the lexis of that language.

Linguists have developed notation methods for indicating phonotactic rules. Onset and coda, as employed above, are standard terms indicating the beginning and end of syllables. In CV phonology, the following terms are now considered standard: (1)

CV:      simple onset, no coda
CV:C     simple onset, simple coda
CCV:     complex onset, no coda
CCV:C    complex onset, simple coda
CCCV:    very complex onset, no coda
CCCV:C   very complex onset, simple coda
CCV:CC   complex onset, complex coda

We shall employ this nomenclature here.

Constraints upon successive articulations fall loosely into two categories: those that are unwieldy or impossible physiologically, and those that are simply shunned by the native speakers, and thus the lexis, of a language. For instance, most languages have a maximum of three consonants at the onset of a word or syllable. In English, further constraints exist:

1. the first of these must be an /s/.

2. the second can only be an unvoiced plosive, /p/, /t/, or /k/.

3. the third must be a liquid or a glide, /l/, /r/, /w/, or /j/. Thus, clusters such as /sfl/, /skv/, and /slw/, while phonetically possible, are inadmissible in English. Moreover, the articulations allowed by the rules above are necessary but not sufficient conditions for English onset clusters. Clusters such as /spw/, /skj/, and /stl/ follow the rules, but are gaps in the lexis. (2 ) A cluster such as /pvk/, while not impossible to articulate, is disallowed in most languages, because of the "sandwiching" of a continuant between two plosives, and the awkward combination of unvoiced/voiced/unvoiced. (3) One can imagine /psk/ to be a more likely candidate. Plosive followed by plosive, as in /pks/, is quite possible, and not so unwieldy as one might at first imagine. However, the languages of western Europe fail to employ it.

Other languages will impose their own constraints upon the succession of consonants in onset (syllable-initial) and in coda (syllable-final), which may or may not align with the phonotactic rules of English. For instance, German allows /[integral]/ as well as /s/ in 1. above, and clusters such as /[integral]pr/ are certainly not unwieldy from a purely phonetic standpoint. German allows /mpf/ (Rumpf ) and occasionally also English (humpf ), but the cluster is disallowed in Spanish. Russian goes further, allowing clusters such as /fsl/, /mgl/, and /ps/ as onset sequences. When English disallows onset /ps/, but retains <ps->, the word has migrated from a language allowing /ps/ onsets to one that does not. Pronunciation is more mutable than orthography over time, especially since Gutenberg.

Some linguists posit universal constraints on the phonetic production of sounds in language. For instance, Benware states that it is not possible to have consecutive obstruents in the same syllable that differ in voicing, as in German habt, which inevitably assimilates to /pt/. (4) Across syllable boundaries, adjacent obstruents such as /b.t/ obtuse and /z.f/ as fact are of course common. Indeed, this is one of the criteria for establishing the boundaries between syllables. There are no systemic constraints on the unfolding of consonants across syllable boundaries, as there are within.

Ease of articulation is only one factor in the development of a language's phonotactic rules. For example, onset /st/ is common in Romance languages, but is nonexistent in Japanese, and only found in German in borrowed words. (5) This does not mean, though, that German and Japanese speakers will have equal difficulty in acquiring the articulation /st/. In German it is found on occasion in onset (Statik) in borrowed and technical words, and in coda position (Trost), unlike in Japanese. This smooths the path toward acquisition of the onset cluster for German speakers, and the lingering reflex of /[integral]t/ in onset will be the only challenge to overcome. Individuals, when acquiring a new language, will tend to massage unfamiliar phonotactic features of that language into familiar ones within their native language. Russian allows the onset cluster /fpr/, as in vprog, which invites an intrusive schwa /f[??].pr[??]k/ for those who speak languages where /fpr/ is disallowed. Similar circumlocutions happen with German /pf/, as in Pferd, where the elimination of the /p/ is a more likely "solution" than the insertion of an intrusive /[??]/. Coda /lm/ is found in German Schelm, Ulm, but has been largely eliminated in English calm, alms (although not in helm, realm). Such are the considerations of the discipline of phonotactics.

Phonotactic rules change over long periods of time. Old and Middle English allowed onset /kn/ and /gn/ (thanks to Saxon influence), but they have been dropped, with only the vestigial spelling remaining. Dutch and German retain these onset articulations to the present. In Italian, complex (2-element) onset consonant clusters are limited to

1. /b d f g k p t/ + r

2. /b f g k p/ + l

3. /s/ + /b d [d.sub.[??]] f g k l m n p r t t[integral] v/

and very complex (3-element) onset clusters are limited to /s/ + any of the two-element clusters in 1. and 2. above. (6) Note that /sbr/, /sgr/, etc. are realized as [zbr], [zgr], etc., and [sbr], [sgr], and similar clusters are gaps (i.e., do not exist). (7)

It is tempting to think that universal rules of phonotactics, based solely on articulative phonetic observation, should be possible to devise. And indeed, there are combinations that are physiologically nonintuitive, if not impossible, such as /[integral][??]r/ and /[??]xf/, that appear to belong to no language. This area of study demands both a rigorous articulative phonetic approach and a comprehensive comparative analysis of the grammars of all languages. Assumptions about phonotactic universals are often misleading. The Khoisan, Bantu, and Nguni language groups of sub-Saharan Africa provide a linguistic "culture shock" to anyone unacquainted with clicks. The phonotactic rules that result from the presence of [[??]], [!], [|], and [[??]] in the phonetic inventory of Khoekhoe, Sandawe, !Kung, and other Khoisan languages are bewilderingly unfamiliar to speakers of Indo-European languages. The markedness of the phonotactic features of such languages have forced us to reconsider what phonotactic rules might be considered "normal" in the global spectrum of human utterance.

So far we have been viewing phonotactics in the context of consonants. Vowels have their own set of phonotactic rules. In English, for example, there is a rule that states that lax vowels may not occur in open syllables word-finally. Key /ki:/, coo /ku:/, and caw /k[??]:/ exist, but not /k[IOTA]/, /k[epsilon]/, /kae/, /k[LAMBDA]/, or /k[??]/. Monosyllables may contain diphthongs, but the lexis has gaps with some consonantal finals, as in Table 1.

Thus, languages have rules constraining the possible combinations of CV and VC within a syllable. Contrastive analyses of such combinations are useful in flagging potential problems in sound acquisition in foreign languages. The contrastive behavior of /[??]/ in English/German explains why this vowel in German can be so elusive for English singers (Table 2). A gap in one language that has an entry in the other flags a potential articulation difficulty for language acquisition. Because /d[??]/, /m[??]/, /v[??]/, /j[??]/, /z[??]/, and /ts[??]/ are absent in onset in English, the corresponding model words in German in Table 2 are prone to adjustment of the vowel color to something more familiar, such as /u/, /[LAMBDA]/, or /[??]/. The schwa tends to be a "default guess" for some student singers, when confronted with such unfamiliar phonotactic norms. In coda position, mu[integral], Busch, Fuchs, and Putz are less likely to be compromised in vowel color than Gruft, Sturm, Frucht, and jung, for the same reason: their presence/absence in the English sound system.

This table can be extended to include all possible consonant clusters in both onset and coda, with similar results. For instance, Duft, Brust are likely to assimilate to /u/ or /u:/, as in English roofed, roost--or perhaps /[LAMBDA]/, cuffed, must. In fact, some of the model words in Table 2 involve such clusters, as examples with single consonants do not exist.

In other words, /[??]/ is a most elusive German vowel for many singers, not because the articulation is foreign to English, but because the phonotactic rules that govern its occurrence are more disparate between the two languages than is the case for the other shared vowels. Of the fifteen German environments in Table 1 that have no equivalent in standard English, only three involve consonants not found in English. If similar tables for the other vowels common to English and German were shown, a greater degree of shared environments would be found in them than with /[??]/.

The online World Phonotactics Database ( is a new, valuable tool for linguists, allowing comparative analyses of all aspects of phonotactics among 3700 (at present) languages of the world. Extracting data about the prevalence of a given constraint among the world's major languages becomes a simple matter. For instance, of the 2378 languages surveyed for maximal onset, the three-consonant cluster (very complex) familiar from most of the languages of classical vocal music proves to be a rather marked feature. Less than 10% of languages (235) allow very complex onsets, while 749 allow only complex onsets, and over half (1373) are limited to simple onsets. This means that native speakers of about 90% of the world's languages must learn to articulate very complex onsets as a new skill. Since many of these languages are confined both geographically and demographically, this figure is not a population statistic. But it does mean that singers who possess a linguistic base that is not Indo-European are quite likely to find very complex onsets a challenge--one comparable to English singers who must learn the many unfamiliar consonant clusters of German, for instance.

The balance of this article will involve a comparative description of the phonotactic rules for tautosyllabic consonants in English and German. (8) Challenges for native English (GSL) and native Germans (ESL) when singing in the other language will be reviewed.

1--Simple onset

All consonant phonemes of English can be simple onsets, except for /[??]/. The phoneme /[??]/ is limited to French borrowings ("genre"). Onset phonemes that must be followed by a vowel are /h/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /r/, /[??]/, /z/, /w/, /j/, and, with rare exceptions, /[integral]/ and /v/.

Simple onsets in German include all phonemes except /[??]/ and /x/. Onset [s] is a dialect, or employed for borrowed words. [w] is not an articulation of standard German, and is also found in borrowed words only. Onset phonemes that must be followed by a vowel are /h/, /j/, /s/, and /[??]/.

Contrasting these languages in this environment, it can be seen that the majority of challenges result from the unshared phonemic inventory (i.e., /w/, /[theta]/, /[??]/, /c/, and /x/).

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English /s/+C is common in onset, and liable to be assimilated to /[integral]/ for a German speaker--who must also watch out for onset <v-> and <w->, which are [v] and [w] in English, but [f] and [v] in German. German onset <r> is typically [R] or [??], which must be avoided in both English and German lyric diction, other than in popular styles.

There are four English simple onsets not encountered in German:

/[theta]/, /[??]/, /s/ (except in dialect), and /w/.

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English speakers must learn not only to articulate [c] accurately, but also in onset (China, Chemie). [w] is common in English, but German <w> must never adopt this articulation. German <v> is usually [f], but [v] in several commonly encountered words. English onset <r> is typically [[??]] in speech--an articulation to be avoided in German singing. German onset <z> should always be [ts], not [z]. The only German simple onset not encountered in English is /c/.

2--Simple coda

All English consonants can be found in simple coda position, except /h/. All single consonant phonemes are found in coda in German, except /h/ and /j/, as well as found in coda in German, except /h/ and /j/, as well as the affricates /pf/, /ps/, /p[integral]/, /ts/, and /t[integral]/. Affricates will be considered under complex codas.

The main phonotactic distinction here is that English allows the voiced finals /b/, /d/, /g/, /v/, /[??]/, and /z/, which in German are subject to Auslautverhartung (devoicing). Contrast

lob / Lob
load / Tod
peg / weg
brave / brav
lathe / (Goethe)
is / bis

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A German speaker must counter a highly ingrained reflex in order to acquire the voiced coda consonants of English. The retention of Auslautverhartung is a principal identifier of German cultural heritage in ESL speech. The only English articulations foreign to the German phonemic inventory are /[theta]/ both and /[??]/ tithe. (9)

In total, there are seven English simple codas not found in German:

/b/, /d/, /g/, /[theta]/, /[??]/, /v/, and /z/.

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Conversely, learners of German must guard against the influence of orthography in words ending in <b>, <d>, <g>, etc. Also, many German words end in <-ig>, which introduces an articulation outside the English inventory. Awareness of its equivalence to <-ich> does not guarantee that <-ig> words will not lapse unthinkingly into [g] on occasion. The only German simple coda not found in English is /c/. One might add /r/, since English syllable-final <r> is almost always vocalic, and /x/, which is only found in dialect English (loch).

3--Complex onset

Complex onsets in English involve

1. plosive (voiced or unvoiced) + approximant:
bl    b[??]   (bw)   bj
--    d[??]    dw   [dj--Brit.]
gl    g[??]    gw   (gj)
pl    p[??]   (pw)   pj
--    t[??]    tw   [tj--Brit.]
kl    k[??]    kw    kj

2. /s/ + an unvoiced plosive, or continuant:
sp   st   sk   sf      sl   sm     sn     sw    sv
spy  sty  sky  sphere  sly  small  snare  sway  svelte

3. /f  h  m  v/ + /j/
    fuel,  hue,  mule,  view

4. /f  [theta]  [integral]/ + /[??]/
    free,  three,  shrill

5. /f  ([integral])/ + /l/
    flow,  schlep

6. /[theta]/ + /w/

This inventory in 1. above includes three rare onsets (in parentheses) and four gaps. The gaps are the result of a phonological constraint of English, known as "systematic gaps" (/dl/, /tl/). Gaps that are well formed phonotactically (i.e., they comply with the language's phonotactic rules), but are simply unrepresented in the lexis, are known as "accidental gaps" (/spw/, /stw/). Most forms of American English would add two more gaps in place of /dj/, and /tj/, as in due and tune. Word-initial /gj/ is very rare, but can be found syllable-initially, as in legume. Complex onsets ending in /j/ can only be followed by /u:/. The gaps of English are not the same as those in other languages, as such gaps are not language universals.

Complex onsets in German involve

1. plosive (voiced or unvoiced) + approximant:
   --   bl   br   --    --   --   --
   --   --   dr   --    --   --   --
   --   gl   gr   gn    --   --   --
   pf   pl   pr  (pn)   ps   --   p[integral]
   --   --   tr   --    ts   --  (t[integral])
   --   kl   kr   kn    --   kv   --

2. /s/ + /f k (l) (m) (n) (p) (t)/

3. /f [integral] (v)/ + /r/

4. /b f g k p (s) [integral] (v)/ + /l/

5. /[integral]/ + /(k) l m n p r t v/

Systematic gaps are abundant in 1., in comparison to English, due to the greater number of permissible approximants. The only accidental gaps are arguably /gv/, /kf/, and /k[integral]/. Table 3 renders complex onsets in the standard format. Both English and German have eleven second-element phonemes here. It is perhaps surprising to find that English has more complex onsets than German, thanks mainly to /j/ and /w/. Only English makes use of /j/ in this position, while German employs /j/ only in simple onset, as a semiconsonant. Nor does /w/ exist in German as a second element.

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In addition to the unfamiliar second-element jod /j/ of English, a German singer must acquire the vocalic [[??]] so common in English in this position. This can be a vexing challenge, as the degree of prominence and duration of the vocalic [[??]] is easily exaggerated in the attempt to master it. The German /r/ in this position is typically [??] or [R] in speech, which have no place in the English sound system. The "jod-dropping" found in both American and British English in words such as due and tune is full of uncertainty even for native speakers, and poses the additional challenge for ESL speakers of sorting out in which words the retention of the [j] is expected, appropriate, or avoided. One of the most common first elements in German is /[integral]/, which in English is found only before /[??]/, and substitution of /[integral]/ for initial /s/ is a common tell-tale of a German accent (contrast still in both languages).

There are 26 English complex onsets not encountered in German:

1. the nine ending in /j/.

2. the nine ending in /[??]/.

3. the seven ending in /w/.

4. /sv/.

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The opposite challenge applies here for second-element /r/. The English singer must avoid [[??]] here, substituting the apical trill [r] for most vocal music. She would also do well to acquire a convincing [e] and/or [E] for more popular genres. The [w] must also be avoided in words spelled with <w> or <Qu->, as in schwarz and Quelle.

There are 22 German complex onsets not encountered in English:

1. the three ending in /n/ (/gn/, /kn/, /pn/).

2. the ten ending in /r/.

3. /pf/, /[integral]k/, /vl/, /[integral]p/, /ks/, /ps/, /p[integral]/, /t[integral]/, /[integral]t/.

4--Complex coda

The English and German complex coda inventory is given in Table 4.

German gaps: /kc/ /me/ /pc/ /kf/ /[integral]f/ /fk/ /ck/
/mf/ /mk/ /xk/ /cp/ /[integral]p/ /xp/

It is common in German to find most consonants + /c/ in the diminutive suffix <-chen> (liebchen, Madchen, Glockchen, Lieschen), but as these cross syllable boundaries, they lie outside the present discussion.

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Once again, the principal phonotactic divergence here is the absence of voiced final consonants in German. The ESL singer must learn to eschew the tendency to devoice <b>, <d>, <g>, <v>, etc. in this environment. English complex codas follow the patterns voiced/voiced (bulb), unvoiced/ unvoiced (its), or voiced/unvoiced ([help, dance]), unlike German, which allows only unvoiced/unvoiced (Magd) or, rarely, voiced/unvoiced (rings, Gans). Unvoiced finals will be instinctively correct -elf is pronounced the same in both languages, for instance. Two-element English codas ending in /[theta]/ will only cause problems insofar as the articulation itself is foreign to German.

There are 24 English complex codas not encountered in German:

1. the twelve ending in /b/, /d/, /v/, and /z/ in Table 4.

2. the six ending in /[theta]/.

3. the two ending in /[??]/.

4. /mf/, /zm/, /[theta]s/, and /[theta]t/.

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Of course, /c/ does not end syllables in English, and the GSL (German as a second language) singer must acquire this articulation at the end of all complex coda German clusters (<-nch>, <-lch>, <-rch>). This environment can have a strong tendency to confuse /c/ with /x/.

There are 27 German complex codas not encountered in English:

1. the three ending in /c/.

2. /nf/, /pf/, /ln/, /cs/, /ms/, /m[integral]/, /[??]s/, /[integral]s/, /xs/, /m[integral]/, /p[integral]/, /ct/, /mt/, /[??]t/, /xt/.

3. /rf/, /rk/, /rl/, /rm/, /rn/, /rp/, rs/, /r[integral]/, /rt/, in the sense that English coda <r>s are regularly vocalic, but seldom in German. (10)

5--Very complex onset

In English, 3-element onsets are limited, and involve /s/ + unvoiced plosive + approximant:

spl    sp[??]  --    spj          splendor / spring /
--     st[??]  --   [stj--Brit.]  strong / student
(skl)  sk[??]  skw   skj          sclerosis / scream /
                                  squire / skew

Very complex onsets in German are limited to

pfl             pfr                         Pflanze / Pfropf
([integral]pl)  [integral]pr  [integral]tr  Splitter / sprechen / Strom
[tsv.sup.11]                                Zwerg

To the German list rare, technical and borrowed words can be added, beginning with [s], as with simple onsets.

spl  Spleen
spr  Spray
str  Stre[beta]
sts  Szene, Szientist
skv  Squire
skr  Skrupel
skl  Sklave

This is a straightforward category, in that there are few instances in either language. Note that German examples can begin with [[integral]], [ts], [pf], or [s], in descending order of frequency, while all English examples must begin with [s].

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Disregarding the [r]-[[??]] distinction, there are four English 3-element onset clusters not encountered in German:

[skw] [skj] [spj] [stj]

But the primary difference in this category is once again that initial [[integral]] is the norm for German words, with [s] being a fringe articulation.

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There are eight German 3-element onset clusters not encountered in English. This includes all five of the commonly occurring examples:

[pfl]  [pfr]   ([[integral]pl])  [[integral]pr]  [[integral]tr]  [tsv]
[sts]  [skv]

6--Very complex coda

The situation with 3-element very complex coda clusters is, well, very complex. It is in this category that we find the greatest phonotactic divergence between the two languages. Very complex codas (3- or 4-consonant clusters) abound in both languages, and are often the result of one or more suffix morphemes, such as <-ed>, <-s>, and <-st>. At least 47 English 3-element very complex codas exist, and are listed in Table 5. No less than 70 German codas are listed, although they exhibit less variety in their final two elements than English. It is remarkable that only 26 of the 91 total 3-element codas are shared between both languages. Accidental gaps in German include /rpf/ and /spt/.

The English and German 3-element coda cluster inventories are shown in Table 5. Five nasal/fricative complex codas--/mf m[theta] ms n[theta] ns/--may or may not be pronounced with an "intrusive" (epenthetic) [p] or [t], depending on the speaker. If included, such clusters would require /m/+/p[theta]/ and /n/+/t[theta]/ to be added to the Table 5 English list. The difference between [w[a.sup.[??]]m[theta]] and [w[a.sup.[??]]mp[theta]], [t[epsilon]n[theta]] and [[t[epsilon]nt[theta]], or [daens] and [daents] is a more a matter of reflex individual speech habits than right or wrong. Warmth is perhaps less likely to accommodate a [p] than nymph or glimpse, if only because of the influence of orthography.

Initial [n] and [??] in complex and very complex codas require special consideration. The presence or absence of an epenthetic plosive is not always optional. Note in the following list the distinction between German Gans [gans] and ganz [gants], rings [r[IOTA][??]s] and links [l[IOTA][??]ks], and Angst [a[??]st] and Punkt [p[??][??]kt]. German allows coda [[??]s], which is not found in English. Contrast German rings [r[IOTA][??]s] and English rings [r[IOTA][??]z]. English [[??]gz] is a variant pronunciation for some speakers.

[ns]      prince   Gans
[nts]     prints   ganz
[nz]      cans     --
[ndz]     lands    --
[[??]s]   --       rings/Dings
[[??]ks]  thinks   links
[[??]z]   rings    --
[[??]gz]  (rings)  --
[[??]st]  amongst  Angst
[[??]kt]  thanked  Punkt

A contrastive inventory for very complex codas, with model words, is presented in Table 6. One can see at a glance in this table which clusters are shared, and which belong to one language only. Some of the clusters are quite uncommon, especially in German, where the genitive case of nouns supplies no less than 22 of the examples. Model words are unlikely to be found for these clusters without this grammatical provision. Others are quite common indeed, and the model words in the table form a convenient starting point for the creation of vocal drills to develop a natural fluency in the articulation of such clusters. For instance, the first two words contain a few challenges, even for the more advanced student. The student could sing Du sprichst nichts slowly on a monotone, juxtaposing the double challenge of [[??]st] and [[??]ts], the former containing an unfamiliar articulation with an awkward succession of palatal [??] and alveolar [s] fricatives. The [[??]ts] of "nichts" in itself is a stumbling block for many students, who have yet to master the [??]. Often the result is a reversal of order, or the addition of too many elements.

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Articulations that will prove challenging to German speakers are /ks[theta]/, /lf[theta]/, /[??]k[theta]/, and /n[theta]s/. The need to voice coda [b], [d], and [g] will again be a challenge, as in /dst/, /d[??]d/, /lbz/, /ldz/, /lvz/, and /nd[??]/.

The fact that 26 three-element codas are represented in both languages does not guarantee ease of transfer to the new language. For example, /nts/ in isolation is straightforward, but in German it is preceded by [a], and in English by [a]. In English, /lfs/ and /lft/ can be preceded by [[LAMBDA]], which is not a German articulation. English /lst/ is preceded by a diphthong, [a[IOTA]], in whilst, but in German 3-element codas must be preceded by a pure vowel. A complete contrastive study of phonotactics between a vocalic nucleus and its surrounding consonants is beyond the scope of this article, but was thoroughly described earlier in the restricted context of [[??]] in Table 2.

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In addition to the exercise suggested above, any German model word without a corresponding English sample should be practiced to gain fluency in the new succession of articulations. Some are straightforward, others quite resistant to acquisition. The final [[??]lnt] of "schmeichelnd" is remarkably difficult, and often altered to [l[??]nt] without the singer realizing it.

/lcs/ Elchs and /ncs/ Monchs will require similar drill to sprichst.

/rcs/ Storchs and /rct/ Furcht invite an Ach-Laut for English singers.

/xst/ lachst and /xts/ nachts involve a more distant velar/alveolar juxtaposition, which is easily conflated with [cs]/[ct]. A more likely challenge here is the [st]/[ts] ordering.

Even familiar articulations, if they occur in unpermissible clusters, can be a challenge: /m[integral]s/, /nfs/, /nft/, /pfs/, /[integral]st/, etc. The /m n r/ + /[integral]s/ cluster group is perhaps even more challenging, because of the greater proximity of [[integral]] to [s]. Fortunately, these are uncommon.

/[integral]st/ erlischst is a similar problem, not to be confused with [cst] and [xst].

Distinguishing between [ts] and [st] can be problematic in very complex codas beginning with almost every letter in the table. (12)

The earlier proviso about [r] (not [[??]]) in initial coda position applies here too, in the 18 three-element clusters beginning with /r/ that occur constantly in German.

7--Very complex (4-element) coda

Very complex 4-element onsets do not exist in either language. In coda, we find a similar situation to that with 3-element codas, although they occur less frequently. Eleven 4-element codas exist in English (Table 7), with the possibility of at least five more, if the epenthetic [d], [k], or [t] is considered. In contrast, at least 43 4-element codas are found in German.

The contrastive inventory again is compared in Table 8. As with 3-element codas, one might expect to find a greater rapprochement of the languages, the more consonants that are involved in the cluster. But again, the opposite trend unexpectedly prevails. It is even more remarkable than with 3-element codas that only 3 of the 53 total 4-element codas are shared between both languages (7, if one includes epenthetic examples). Accidental gaps are numerous in this category also, especially in German (/rnts/, /rpts/, /lt[integral]t/, /rt[integral]t/, etc.). (13) One might expect that the frequency of occurrence of very complex codas would trail off, the more elements there are in the cluster. In English this is true, but in German it can be seen that several of the words are quite common (seufzt, hilfst, selbst, tanzt, darfst, wirkst, ernst, Herbst). Others will be encountered rarely, and only under very specific grammatical conditions.

G[right arrow]E:

Examples such as /ks[theta]s/, /if [theta]s/, and /[??][theta]s/ present the greatest ESL challenge in this category. The primary stumbling blocks for German singers with English coda clusters, the interdental fricatives, /[theta]/ and /[??]/, involve a tongue placement quite foreign to most European languages. These articulations play a large role in complex and very complex coda clusters in English, as the inventories above indicate.

E[right arrow]G:

The potential for conflating [st] and [ts] is exacerbated in this category, with its extra consonant. Exercises with pairs of words are again recommended, as in hilfst / hilfts and horchst / horchts. Initial elements in English must be /k/, /l/, /m/, /n/, or /[??]/, but German adds /f/, /p/, /r/, and /t/ to the list.

Unlike English, German also allows 5-element coda clusters, although these are rare. Examples include

/m/ + /pfst/            dampfst
/n/ + /t[integral]st/   plantschst

The reputation of German as a language with seemingly endless consonant clusters derives principally from the coda examples in Tables 6 and 8. German onset clusters, as we have seen, are comparable to English. If one considers that our discussion in this article is confined to tautosyllabic clusters, and that the combinations of clusters across syllable boundaries are virtually limitless, one can imagine successions of up to 7 or 8 consecutive consonant articulations in connected speech. A phrase such as Du dampfst zwei Zigaretten aus houses a 7-cluster, [mpfsthtsw], between words.

In consideration of space we have been investigating in detail only one aspect of phonotactics--that of tautosyllabic consonantal onsets and codas, and some of the lessons we can learn from this approach to lyric diction. There are other ways of analyzing a language phonotactically than that employed here. One might compile a thorough list of constraints in English, for example, that would inspect each phoneme or group, and its relation to all other articulations within the language. In English, we have discussed the constraints on the number of elements in onset and coda, and listed the possible combinations. One might compile a broader list of phonotactic rules for English, such as:

1. /d[??]/, /t[integral]/, /[??]/, and /z/ occur alone in onset, and do not cluster.

2. /l/, /r/, and /w/ occur either alone or as non-initial elements in onset clusters.

3. Only /l/ may occur before /m/ and /n/ tautosyllabically in coda clusters.

4. /[??]/ and /[??]/ may not occur word initially, and /h/ may not occur finally.

5. /e/, /ae/, /[??]/, and /[??]/ may not occur word finally.

6. In 3-element onset clusters, only /s/ may occur initially, and can only be followed by /k/, /p/, or /t/

7. In coda, nasals can only precede unvoiced plosives if they share the same place of articulation.

Many further constraints, both combinatory and distributional, have been devised for English and other languages. Each language will have its unique set of rules. The reader may wish to check each rule above, to determine whether it is valid for German as well. Contrastive analyses of phonotactic rules, such as we have undertaken in this article, are useful in bringing to the surface many of the challenges inherent in second language acquisition, by flagging the specific contexts in which problems may be expected to arise.


(1.) Taken from the World Phonotactics Database (Australian National University), at

(2.) The fact that /skw/ ("squeak") is allowed, but /spw/ and /stw/ are not, is an asymmetry in English phonotactics. Contrast /spr/, /str/, and /skr/, all of which are permissible. A different asymmetry applies with /spl/,/skl/, and /stl/, where the first two are permissible, but /stl/ is not.

(3.) In such clusters one of the voiced elements (here the middle one) is usually considered to be syllabic, just as [n] is syllabic in spoken sudden. Thus, /dn/ remains inadmissible phonotactically in English, because the elements belong to separate syllables.

(4.) Wilbur A. Benware, Phonetics and Phonology of Modern German: An Introduction (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1986), 78.

(5.) Japanese has a maximal onset of 2, but /st/ is not one of them.

(6.) Italian /st[integral]/ exists only at morpheme boundaries, as in scentrato. It is rare to encounter <sci> and <sce> as /st[integral]/.

(7.) This analysis and notation implies that the Italian phoneme /s/ is realized as both [s] and [z], depending on environment. [s] and [z] are the allophones of /s/.

(8.) Some of the data, with model words, for this survey was already published in the author's article "Consonant Clusters in German I," in Journal of Singing 64, no.3 (January/February 2008): 343-353, which can serve as a reference point for the ensuing discussion. The discussion here will review and expand the data presented in that article, from a phonotactic point of view. The opportunity has been taken to revise and expand the tables. Repetition of material will be for convenience only, and kept to a minimum. The reader is advised to take care to distinguish between < > (orthography), / / (phonemic notation), and [ ] (phonetic articulation) in this contrastive analysis. The words "onset" and "coda" are syllabification terms, and will always imply syllable-initial (i.e., not just word-initial) and syllable-final (i.e., not just word-final) respectively.

(9.) The reader may be familiar with Victor Borge's light-hearted spoofs on the difficulty of Europeans in acquiring English interdental articulations. Evidently /[theta]/ and /[??]/ are as challenging to Danish as to German speakers.

(10.) The phonemic slanted brackets have been used here because German /r/ in this environment usually articulates as [x] in speech, such that warten and wachten are homophones. Thus, there is a challenge in both singing (avoid [[??]]) and speech (learn [x]) for English speakers.

(11.) It is partly for phonotactic reasons that some linguistic analyses consider /ts/ an affricate, rather than a double articulation. Accordingly, it is sometimes notated as a t-s ligature, or as a top tie-bar /[??]/. Such an approach removes /sts/ and /tsv/ from the "very complex onset" list, and accords more with this cluster's orthography (Szene, Zwerg).

(12.) This can be much more challenging for some than others, and may have a certain kinship with dyslexia.

(13.) This list makes not claim to being exhaustive, and accidental gaps may have examples in the lexis that the author has not discovered. The reader is invited to submit additional examples.

Leslie De'Ath, Associate Editor


                        /-t/    /-k/    /-[??]/ (a)    /-[integral]/

/i:/           bee      beet    beek    --             leash
/u:/           boo      boot    duke    --             whoosh
/a:/           baa      bought  dock    song           wash
/I/            --       bit     pick    ping           dish
/[epsilon]/    --       bet     peck    -- (b)         flesh
/ae/           --       bat     pack    pang           dash
/[LAMDA]/      (a) (c)  but     puck    sung           mush
/[??]/         --       put     took    (D) (d)        push
/[epsilon]I/   bay      bait    rake    --             --
/o[??]/        bow      boat    spoke   --             (gauche)
/aI/           buy      bite    spike   --             --
/a[??]/        bow      bout    --      --             --
/[??]I/        boy      quoit   --      (boing)        --

(a.) Being and suing come close, but are two-syllable words. Other
<-ing> words involve a diphthong and two syllables, as in paying,
going, flying, ploughing, and cloying.
(b.) /[epsilon][??]/--nonexistent as a monosyllable in English--is of
course very common in Chinese, and a good example of how phonotactic
constraints can be quite arbitrary, and unrelated to articulative
convenience. English speakers have no problem with /[epsilon][??]/ in
Chinese because it is straightforward phonetically, not because it is
encountered in English.
(c.) /[LAMBDA]/ is a weak form of "the" and "a" with some speakers,
more commonly transcribed as /[??]/.
(d.) (D) = dialect.


                     Onset                            Coda

                English    German             English     German

/b/             book       Busch              --          Klub
/k/             cook       Kummer             book        Fuchs
/d/             --         dunkel             good        --
/f/             foot       funkeln            --          Gruft
/g/             good       Gustav             --          suggerieren
/h/             hook       Hund               --          --
/l/             look       Lust, Flu[??]      full        Konsul
/m/             --         mu[??]             (D: room)   zum
/n/             nook       Nummer             (D: fun)    Wunder
/p/             put        Punkt              (D: cup)    Gruppe
/[??]/          rook       --                 --          --
/[??]/          --         Frucht, Brust      --          Sturm
/s/             soot       (zum, Besetzung)   pussy-cat   mu[integral]
/t/             took       Turm, Sturm        foot        kaput
/v/             --         Wunder             --          --
/w/             wood       --                 --          --
/j/             --         jung               --          --
/z/             --         gesund             --          --
/[??]/          shook      Schuld             bush        Busch
/O/             --         --                 --          --
/c/             --         Brechung           --          --
/x/             --         Aufmachung         --          Frucht
/t[integral]/   --         (phrasal only)     butcher     kutschen
/ts/            --         zum                puts        Putz
/d[??]/         (D: jug)   --                 --          --
/[??]/          --         (phrasal only)     --          jung, gesungen
/?/             --         und                --          --



/s/                                 + /f/           sphere
/b (d) f h k m p (t) v/             + /j/           beauty / due / few /
                                                    hue / mews / pew /
                                                    tune / view
/s/                                 + /k/           scar
/b f g k p s ([integral])/          + /l/           black / fly /
                                                    glass / clear /
                                                    please / slip /
/s ([integral])/                    + /m/           smile / schmooze
/s ([integral])/                    + /n/           snake / schnauzer
/s/                                 + /p/           spoon
/b d f g k p [integral] t [theta]/  + /[??]/        break / dream /
                                                    free / greet /
                                                    pride / shrill /
                                                    try / three
/t/                                 + /s/           tsar
/s/                                 + /t/           still
/s/                                 + /v/           svelte
/(b) d g k s t [theta]/             + /w/           bwana / dwindle /
                                                    Gwen / queen /
                                                    swing / twig /


/p s/                               + /f/           Pferd / Sphare
/s ([integral])/                    + /k/           Skat / Schkopau
/b f g k p (s) [integral] (v)       + /l/           bla[integral] /
                                                    Flug / Glanz /
                                                    klein / Platz /
                                                    Slogan / Schlange /
/(g) (s) [integral]/                + /m/           Gmund / Smoking /
/g k (p) (s) [integral]/            + /n/           Gnade / Knecht /
                                                    Pneumatik /
                                                    Snob / Schnee
/(s) [integral]/                    + /p/           Spezies / spielen
/b d f g k p (s) [integral] t (v)/  + /r/           bringen / Druck /
                                                    frei /
                                                    gro[integral] /
                                                    Kraft /
                                                    Pracht / Sri Lanka /
                                                    Schritt / treu /
/(k) p t/                           + /s/           Xylophon / Psalm /
/(p) (t)/                           + /[integral]/  Pschorr / tschus
/(s) [integral]/                    + /t/           Stil / still
/k [integral] (t)/                  + /v/           Quelle / schwarz /



/l/                                    + /b/           bulb
/b g l m n [??][??]v z ([??])/         + /d/           robbed /
                                                       tugged / bold /
                                                       framed / hand /
                                                       hanged /
                                                       soothed / loved /
                                                       prized / rouged
/l m/                                  + /f/           elf / lymph
/l [??] s/                             + /k/           milk / thank /
/l z/                                  + /m/           elm / chasm (a)
/l m s/                                + /p/           help / damp /
/f k l n p t [theta]/                  + /s/           coughs / tax /
                                                       false / dance /
                                                       cups / its /
/l n t/                                + /[integral]/  Welsh / pinch /
/f k l n p s [integral] [theta]/       + /t/           oft / act /
                                                       melt / want /
                                                       rapt / best /
                                                       wished / frothed
/f l m n s t/                          + /[theta]/     fifth / wealth /
                                                       warmth / tenth /
                                                       isthmus / eighth
/l/                                    + /v/           solve
/b d g l m n [??][??]v/                + /z/           robs / words /
                                                       bags / falls /
                                                       lambs / fans /
                                                       sings / soothes /
/d n/                                  + /??/ (b)      large / strange

/l n r/                                + /c/           Milch / manch /
/l n p r/                              + /f/           Hilf / Senf /
                                                       Kopf / scharf
/l [??] r s/                           + /k/           Volk / sank /
                                                       Berg / brusk
/r/                                    + /l/           Kerl
/l r/                                  + /m/           Schelm / Turm
/l r/                                  + /n/           Koln / gern
/l m r (s)/                            + /p/           halb / Lump /
                                                       Korb / Knospe
/c f k l m n [??] p r [integral] t x/  + /s/           Reichs / Kaufs /
                                                       sechs / Hals /
                                                       Wams / Gans /
                                                       rings / Schlips /
                                                       Kurs / Tischs /
                                                       Platz / Dachs
/l m n p r t/                          + /[integral]/  falsch / Ramsch /
                                                       Mensch / hubsch /
                                                       Kirsch / deutsch
/c f k l m n [??] p r s [integral] x/  + /t/           Licht / Luft /
                                                       sagt / strahlt /
                                                       kommt / Freund /
                                                       singt / habt /
                                                       Ort / fast /
                                                       gemischt / Nacht

(a) The rare /zm/ (chasm, prism) is arguably a two-syllable word, with
a syllabic [??].
(b) This list does not include /[??]/, which may precede any of the
English consonants in coda, except /h/ and /[??]/. Its status as a

semivowel in coda position is arguable, as it inflects the end of the
preceding vowel in "hard," "wired," "fears," "sort," but replaces the
syllabic vowel ("vocalic-r") in "earth" and "bird."


English                    German

/l/ + /bz/                 /l n r/ + /cs/
/l n/ + /dz/               /l n r/ + /ct/
/n/ + /d[??]/              /l n p r/ + /fs/
/l m/ + /fs/               /l n p r/ + /ft/
/l m/ + /ft/               /l r / + /ks/
/l/ + /f[theta]/           /l [??]r/ + /kt/
/[??]/ + /gd/              /r/ + /ls/
/l [??] s/ + /ks/          /r/ + /lt/
/l [??]s/ + /kt/           /l r/ + /ms/
/n/ + /k[theta]/           /l r/ + /mt/
/l/ + /mz/                 /l r/ + /ns/
/m/ + /pf/                 /l r/ + /nt/
/l m s/ + /ps/             /m/ + /pf/
/l m s/ + /pt/             /l m r/ + /ps/
/d k l n [??] p t/ + /st/  /l m r/ + /pt/
/k/ + /s[theta]/           /c f k l m n [??]p r [integral] t x/ + /st/
/n t/ + /[integral]t/      /m n r/ + /[integral]s/
/f k l n p s/ + /ts/       /k l m n p r t/ + /[integral]t/
/l n/ + /t[integral]/      /c f k l m n p r s x/ + /ts/
/n/ + /[theta]s/           /n/ + /t[integral]/
/l/ + /vz/
/d n/ + /[??]d/


                    English     German

/cst/                           sprichst
/cts/                           nichts
/dst/               midst
/d[??]d/            trudged
/fst/                           rufst
/fts/               wafs        Dufs
/kst/               mixed       Axt
/ks[theta]/         sixth
/k[integral]t/                  tuckscht
/kts/               acts        Pakts
/lbz/               bulbs
/lcs/                           Elchs
/lct/                           selcht
/ldz/               builds
/lfs/               gulfs       Hilfsmittel
/lft/               engulfed    Delf
/lf[theta]/         twelfh
/lks/               milks       Volkslied
/lkt/               milked      bewolkt
/lms/                           Ulms
/lmt/                           f[IOTA]lmt
/lmz/               elms
/lns/                           Kolns
/lnt/                           schmeichelnd
/lps/               helps       Kalbs
/lpt/               helped      holpt
/lst/               whilst      willst
/l[integral]t/                  falscht
/lts/               melts       Holz
/lt[integral]/      f[IOTA]lch
/lvz/               solves
/mfs/               triumphs
/mft/               triumphed
/mpf/               (lymph)     Kampf
/mps/               camps       Mumps
/mpt/               tempt       prompt
/mst/                           stammst
/m[integral]s/                  Ramschs
/m[integral]t/                  verramscht
/mts/                           Amts
/ncs/                           Monchs
/nct/               hands       tuncht
/ndz/               plunge
/nfs/                           Hanfs
/nft/                           sanf

                    English     German

/nst/               danced      Dienst
/n[integral]s/      Wunschs
/n[integral]t/      clenched    verwunscht
/nts/               wants       Tanz
/nt[integral]/      bunch       Romantsch
/n[theta]s/         tenths
/nOd/               estranged
/[??](g)d/          winged
/[??]ks/            thanks      links
/[??]kt/            thanked     Punkt
/[??](k)[theta]/    strength
/[??]st/            amongst     Angst
/pfs/                           Kopfs
/pft/                           hupft
/pst/               lapsed      Obst
/p[integral]t/                  grapscht
/pts/               scripts     Haupts
/rcs/                           Storchs
/rct/                           Furcht
/rfs/                           Dorfs
/rft/                           wirf
/rks/                           Marx
/rkt/                           wirkt
/rls/                           Kerls
/rlt/                           verquirlt
/rms/                           Darms
/rmt/                           genormt
/rns/                           Dorns
/rnt/                           gelernt
/rps/                           Korbs
/rpt/                           stirbt
/rst/                           erst
/r[integral]s/                  Marschs
/r[integral]t/                  knirscht
/rts/                           Herz
/sks/               asks
/skt/               asked
/sps/               clasps
/spt/               clasped
/sts/               lists       Augusts
/[integral]st/                  erlischst
/tst/               blitzed     gesetzt
/t[integral]t/      watched     klatscht
/xst/                           lachst
/xts/                           nachts


English                   German

/l/ + /d[??]d/            /l n r/ + /cst/
/l/ + /f[theta]s/         /l n r/ + /cts/
/l [??]/ + /kts/          /l n p r/ + /fst/
/m/ + /pst/               /l n p/ + /fts/
/l m/ + /pts/             /l [??] r/ + /kst/
/k/ + /sts/               /[??] r/ + /kts/
/k/ + /s[theta]s/         /r/ + /lst/
/l/ + /tst/               /l r/ + /mst/
/l/ + /t[integral]t/      /r/ + /mts/
/n/ + /(t)st/             /r/ + /nst/
/n/ + /(t)[integral]t/    /m/ + /pfs/
/n/ + /(d)[??]d/          /m/ + /pft/
/[??]/ + /(k)st/          /l m r/ + /pst/
/[??]/ + /(k)[theta]s/    /l/ + /pts/
                          /l r/ + /sts/
                          /l m n p r t/ + /[integral]st/
                          /n r/ + /[integral]ts/
                          /f l n r/ + /tst/
                          /n/ + /t[integral]t/
                          /[??]/ + /(k)st/
                          /v/ + /m(p)t/


/ftst/                              seufzt
/ksts/               texts
/ks[theta]s/         sixths
/lcst/                              erdolchst
/lcts/                              erdolchts
/ldOd/               bulged
/lfst/                              hilfst
/lfts/                              hilfs
/lf[theta]s/         twelfhs
/lkst/                              melkst
/lkts/               mulcts
/lmst/                              flmst
/lpst/                              selbst
/lpts/               sculpts        stulpts
/lsts/                              Wulsts
/l[integral]st/                     falschst
/ltst/               waltzed        schmelzt
/lt[integral]t/      filched
/mpfs/                              Kampfs
/mpft/                              gekampf
/mpst/               glimpsed       lumpst
/mpts/               prompts
/m[integral]st/                     ramschst
/ncst/                              ubertunchst
/ncts/                              ubertunchts
/ndOd/               (impinged)
/nfst/                              funfst
/nfts/                              Herkunfts
/n[integral]st/                     wunschst
/n[integral]ts/                     wunschts
/ntst/               (bounced)      tanzt
/nt[integral]t/      (inched)       plantscht
/[??]kst/            (amongst)      dankst / (Angst)
/[??]kts/            instincts      Standpunkts
/[??]k[theta]s/      (lengths)
/pfst/                              hupfst
/pfts/                              hupfts
/p[integral]st/                     grapschst
/rcst/                              horchst
/rcts/                              horchts
/rfst/                              darfst
/rkst/                              wirkst
/rkts/                              Markts
/rlst/                              verquirlst
/rmpt/                              (warmt)
/rmst/                              warmst
/rmts/                              warmts
/rnst/                              ernst
/rpst/                              Herbst
/rsts/                              Fursts
/r[integral]st/                     erforschst
/r[integral]ts/                     erforschts
/rtst/                              schmerzt
/t[integral]st/                     fetschst
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Title Annotation:Linguistic Lingo and Lyric Diction, part 7; Language and Diction
Author:De'Ath, Leslie
Publication:Journal of Singing
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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