European Conference on Speech Technology

Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
September 1987

The Prosodic Structure of Initial Syllables In English

Anne Cutler (1), David Carter (2)

(1) MRC Applied Psychology Unit; (2) Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Studies of human continuous-speech recognition suggest that listeners use a strategy of postulating a word boundary, and initiating a lexical access procedure, at each metrically strong syllable. The likely success of this strategy was here estimated against the characteristics of the English vocabulary. Computerised dictionaries of English were found to list approximately three times as many words beginning with strong syllables (i.e. syllables containing a full vowel) as beginning with weak syllables (i.e. syllables containing a reduced vowel). Furthermore, the mean frequency of occurrence of words beginning with strong syllables is nearly twice as great as that of words beginning with weak syllables. These findings motivated an estimate for everyday speech recognition that approximately 85% of lexical words (i.e. excluding function words) will begin with strong syllables. In fact, in a large corpus of spontaneous conversation 90% of lexical words were found to begin with strong syllables.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Cutler, Anne / Carter, David (1987): "The prosodic structure of initial syllables in English", In ECST-1987, 1207-1210.