How many syllables in "World Cup"?

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I started to ponder this problem because, over in the comments section of "The value and validity of translation for learning classical languages" (12/9/22) where we are having an energetic discussion about how to pronounce "www", Philip Taylor averred, "I pronounce it as 'World-wide web' (i.e., three syllables)".

That took me a bit aback.  Made me stop and think.

It must mean that Philip, and most people, I suppose, think they pronounce "world" as though it had one syllable.  Fair enough.  That's what all dictionaries and online resources I've consulted hold:  "world" has only one syllable.

Now that's interesting!  I pronounce "world" as though it had two syllables.  It has two liquid consonants jammed together in there, and I want to keep them distinct so "world" doesn't come out sounding like "word" or "wold".

Before you start laughing at VHM's intransigence and obtuseness, please take a look at the long, detailed discussion of this problem on English Language Learners Stack Exchange:  "How many syllables are there in 'world' in American English?"  It's apparent that I'm not the only person on earth who thinks that "world" might have two syllables.

Merriam Webster Dictionary gives the transcription \ˈwər(-ə)ld/, it shows two vowels (2 ə) and two vowels often mean two syllables. And if you listen to the pronunciation, it sounds like two syllables.

Despite a spirited exchange in which one side maintains that most Americans pronounce "world" as if there are two vowels in it, while the other side, represented by a native British English speaker, hold that "US English speakers tend to draw out vowels", making it sound as though "world" has two syllables.

The conclusion of the designated answerer is that "world" is spelled as though it has one syllable, therefore it has one syllable.  As for me, myself, and I, I pronounce "world" as "whir" (without any trace of an "h" sound in it) + "-uld".  In doing so, I am not drawing out the vowel of the first syllable.  I have a second vowel in the second syllable, and it is of different quality from the first vowel:  w[h]ir-uld.  My conclusion is that there's a difference between spelling and pronunciation — but everybody already knew that.

If you want to experience languages whose spellings have a lot of consonants but few vowels, take a look at some words in Polish and Czech (see under "Selected readings").  I remember taking a train through Czechia on my way to Hungary, I was bemused by station names that seemed unpronounceable because they had too many consonants and not enough vowels, but when I asked people how to pronounce them, somehow a sufficient number of vowels got added in to make them utterable.  Even the short name Brno made me wonder how to get it out of one's mouth.  When you hear it, though, the "r" is strongly trilled, and that propels it past the tongue.  In the northwestern part of the city is Brno-Bystrc.  Don't ask me how to say that, though I can give a good guess. 

Returning briefly to "www", the way people pronounce acronyms is important, and it often reveals an in-group pronunciation and an out-group pronunciation.  Here's an example.  I've been aware of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) for at least four decades.  In my mind and aloud, I've always pronounced their acronym as "A-I-I-S".  Now that I've become a formal member of the South Asian Studies Graduate Group at Penn, I've had to change my pronunciation from out-group "A-I-I-S" to in-group "A double I S", because the in-group have told me that "A-I-I-S" sounds ridiculous.

How many syllables in "World Cup"?  Definitely three for me.


Selected readings



  1. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 9:04 am

    To be honest, I probably pronounce "WWW" more as /wɜːl·dwaɪ·dweb/ than /wɜːld·waɪd·web/. But the question of syllable count brings to mind an exchange with my wife (L1 = Vietnamese) earlier this week — she was giving the name of her hotel ("The Westberry Hotel") to an intending guest over the telephone, and spelled out the final two syllables because of the potential confusion with "bury". But she did not spell out the first syllable, and pronounced it clear as /wes/. After she had hung up, I mentioned to her that, like many / ?most? L1 speakers of Vietnamese, final consontal clusters pose a problem for her and are are usually pronounced with the final consonant omitted or, at the very least, severely de-stressed, a point which she immediately understood (this trait is shared by one of her managers, also L1 = Vietnamese). So my question to Victor (and to others who share his view that "World" has two syllables) is « how many syllables does "West" have ? ».

  2. /df said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 9:20 am

    Useful comparison words:
    * twirled
    * whorled
    * wold.

    Ignoring all the variations of the "o" vowel, various Scottish accents seem to trill the "r" of "world" so much that a whole new vowel appears: /wʌrĭld/. Similarly S Irish /wʌrʌ̆ld/. Prof Mair possibly has some ancestry from these areas?

    Of course the phrase "World Cup" has lost its meaning to British English speakers now … is it to do with Rugby?

  3. cliff arroyo said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 9:43 am


    in Czech, y is always a vowel, pronounced (I'm fairly sure) like the Czech i. IINM usually there's usually difference but after some consonants (esp t, d, n) i palatalizes the consonant while y doesn't.

  4. Jenny Chu said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 10:35 am

    My first Czech teacher taught me that r and l were vowels in Czech. Thus: vlk (wolf) and krk (neck).

    Czech also has initial syllable stress. So in Brno, there are two syllables. The Br is the first syllable and is stressed.

  5. Peter B. Golden said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 10:53 am

    Try the well known Czech and Slovak tongue twister: strč prst skrz krk "stick a finger through the neck."

    Kabardinian or Kabardian has 48 consonants and two vowels (about which there is some controversy), see John Colarusso, A Grammar of the Karbardian Language (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1992).

  6. Jerry Packard said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:05 am

    The pronunciation of ‘world’ is really interesting because it really has only one consonant, the final -d. All of the other sounds in the word are really not true obstruents at all, but glides and other types of continuants.

    To decide how strong the syllable break is, one way is to determine whether dividing the syllable would affect its participation in metrical structure. So, would ‘world collapse’ vs ‘World Series’ cause ‘world’ to reduce to one syllable, to avoid having 2 ‘weak’ syllables in a row?

  7. Michael M said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:28 am

    It's always difficult to analyse one's own speech, but I'm pretty sure I (Canadian) pronounce 'world' (and 'whirled') with two syllables, but also pronounce 'world wide web' with three syllables, becoming something more like 'whirl dwide web'. I think it depends on whether d + the onset of the next word is an acceptable syllable onset.

    That said, once I say it enough times I feel like I can pronounce it either way. Funny enough there's actually a similar phonetic misconception with Polish past tenses. People think they pronounce podał ('he gave') as two syllables, ['po.daw], but a lot of phonetic analyses show the final semivowel is more like a vowel, ['po.da.u]. Since Polish is (almost) universally stressed on the penult, this is really difficult for native speakers to accept!

  8. Bépoè^vdljzw said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:32 am

    Just want to bring the Dutch/Afrikaans ‘wereld’/‘wêreld’ to your attention. ☺

    (For me, English ‘world’ has one syllable. I’m not a native speaker, and I pronounce English in a probably weird, but always non-rhotic way.)

  9. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:44 am

    "I think it depends on whether d + the onset of the next word is an acceptable syllable onset" — well, where the onset of the next word is a /w/, there are several well-attested words that start with /dw/ : "Dwight" (Eisenhower), "dweeb" (term of abuse), "dwile" (flonking), "dwarf", "dwell" and so on. With the exception of "dwile", which John Wells omits for some unknown reason, all are monosyllabic in the LPD.

  10. Tom Dawkes said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:47 am

    The discussion on 'world' – one ar two syllables – reminds me of a word game we played with my daughters and granddaughters last year via Zoom. We had to give a list of two-syllable words, and my younger daughter – mid-forties, basically RP pronunciation – gave 'fire'. We all laughed at that but realised that though she doesn't speak with a Welsh accent she had been unconsciously influenced by hearing so many speakers with medium to strong Welsh accents who pronounce it as ['faj:ə].

  11. John F said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:48 am

    Reminds me of film, mirror, power (shower), and even face. Face in Northern Ireland often comes out as fee-iss, film as fill-umm, mirror as murr, and power as either pou-urr or powr. Even towel will end up as ‘tal’ in some towns.

    For me the r and l together are interesting. I’m from an ulster-scots-ish background and for me syllable-final r and l mark a significant difference in pronunciation from mainland England. I wouldn’t trill an r, but -er for me is nothing like the -uh suggested in most dictionaries. Received Pronunciation would probably make world into wehld (Let’s wotch the socca wehld cep old chum)

  12. John F said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:51 am

    Taylor, Philip reminds me that I was thinking recently about l in English often being more like the polish ł

  13. Nathan said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:55 am

    Definitely three for me.
    My wife and I have a longstanding "argument" about words that end in /l/.
    I say the final consonant becomes syllabic in many cases.
    Words like "real", "sail", and "file" all have two syllables for me.
    The same thing happens with /r/ in words like "fire", but not with the other vowels, I think.
    I hadn't thought as much about /l/ after /r/ before, but certainly "girl", "snarl", and "whorl" have two syllables.
    My English is rhotic, which I think is relevant.

  14. RfP said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 12:38 pm


    My English is rhotic, which I think is relevant.

    Agreed. In my rhotic AmE dialect, it’s two syllables, but non-rhotic Americans use one.

    And then there’s Dutch, which solves the problem rather nicely: “de wereld.”

    I wonder what the history behind these cognates is, and why one (closely related) language was more parsimonious in its spelling than the other. Is it just an accident of spelling going one way in English as spelling was regularized, and another in Dutch?

    (Did Dutch even go through a period of contending spellings similar to the one that “Englyshe“ went through?)

  15. Carl said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 12:46 pm

    In my part of the US my name is absolutely 2 syllables (and maybe 3) but a Russian teacher I had pronounced it with just one, and when I lived in Boston the “r” disappeared and it became one syllable there too.

  16. Scott P said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 12:58 pm

    We had to give a list of two-syllable words, and my younger daughter – mid-forties, basically RP pronunciation – gave 'fire'. We all laughed at that but realised that though she doesn't speak with a Welsh accent she had been unconsciously influenced by hearing so many speakers with medium to strong Welsh accents who pronounce it as ['faj:ə].

    Why do you think that has to do with Welsh? Fire certainly does have two syllables in my AmE accent.

  17. Jonathan Smith said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 1:01 pm

    intuitions of this order re: syllabicity are deeper than "how something is pronounced" (let alone spelled); e.g. it seems you could divide English speakers into 1-syllable and 2-syllable camps using "fire" but not be able to reliably distinguish the two camps with say spectrograms. After all it is only threads like this that make people aware of the fact that there are people all around them who conceptualize "fire" as not 1 but 2 (or not 2 but 1) syllables. So re: Michael M's comment, IMO if Polish speakers say it is 2 it is 2 regardless of objectively determined vowel quality, length or what have you. With foreign languages of course our phonotactic intuitions often fail; there are a bunch of say Chinese syllables which native English speakers struggle to grok as one syllable for phonotactic reasons (/lwan/, /dwo/…)

  18. Terry K. said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 1:21 pm

    I feel like "world" is one of those 1 1/2 syllable words, where it's kinda in-between and can be perceived either way. And in "worldwide", it's worl-dwide, with the d moving to the "wide" syllable, which makes it easier to interpret "worl" as one syllable than in "world cup" where the /l/ and the /d/ are in the same syllable. So, "World Wide Web" and "World Cup" could both 3 syllables by the same speaker.

    Thoughts from the comments. Real in real estate is two syllables, but otherwise (except where it's the Spanish word) it's one syllable, rhymes with bill, sill, pill, etc.

    Girl, one syllable. There's some difference that makes girl (for me) firmly one syllable whereas whirl (and world minus the /d/) feel more diphthong-ish or two syllables.

  19. Terry K. said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 1:35 pm

    Actually, thinking about it, I think the er of girl is farther back in the mouth than the er of whirl, because of the place of the starting consonant (/g/ vs /w/) and thus fits differently with with L that follows.

  20. Terry K. said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 1:41 pm

    A question that comes to mind (for which there's probably not a simple answer). Can there be two vowel phonemes in the same syllable? (As distinct from a diphthong where two vowel sounds make a single phoneme.)

  21. David Udin said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 1:43 pm

    Another comparison word: squirrel.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 2:10 pm

    @David Udin:

    A dear Chinese friend of mine pronounced it as "ees-kweer-eel".

  23. Jerry Packard said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 2:54 pm

    “Can there be two vowel phonemes in the same syllable?”

    Probably not, as a second vowel would probably be categorized as an on- or off-glide by definition.

  24. Chris Button said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 4:08 pm

    Why obstruent, sonorant and mora are more useful concepts than consonant, vowel and syllables.

  25. tony prost said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 4:37 pm

    World is one syllable when you are singing it: Around the world I'll search for you….

  26. Kimball Kramer said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 4:48 pm

    I am not in the linguistics field, but it seems to be apparent to me that in the world of rhotic English-speakers there is a quasi-continuum between the pronunciations of “word”, “world”, and “whirled”. I say “quasi-” because the brain does not have literally infinite control of the positions of the muscles necessary to say these words—control to the nanometer or beyond. I will, however, use the world “infinite” to mean “a very large number”, as it is usually used, rather than to mean “mathematically infinite”. From the comments here, I gather that at one end of this infinite continuum, the word “word” is agreed to be a one-syllable word, and at the other end, the word “whirled” is agreed to be two-syllable. The only question then is to establish whether the change from one to two occurs before or after the word “world”. There is no Pronunciation Police nor Pronunciation Dictatorship in the American English world and none to date in the British English world. (Although, admittedly, a significant number of Englishmen with social and political power have tried to establish it, at least de facto, for centuries.) I conclude, then, that any argument to establish where the change occurs relative to the world “world”, is what I call “a grade school argument”, or perhaps, to give you guys some maturity, a “high school argument”. All you can do is state your own personal opinion, forcefully if you think it matters. But even with a very large funding source, and thousands of recordings across the English-speaking world, you might establish the spectrum of the many individual pronunciations of the word “world” and compare it to the pronunciations of “word” and “whirled”, but you would have no power to set the exact position of where “one” switched to “two” and thus determine the percentage of those who pronounced “world” as one syllable, or as two syllables. Terry K. captured this much more succinctly by asking if there can be “two vowel phonemes in the same syllable.” I don’t know how the world of linguistics defines “phonemes” or “syllable” or if the definitions touch on phonemes per syllable, but that might give a definitive answer to “How many syllables in “World Cup”?

  27. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 4:57 pm

    (Non-rhotic speaker who nonetheless clearly sounds final /r/s as in, e.g.,"more") — I do not accept that there is agreement that "whirled" is bi-syllabic. For me, "whirled" is pronounced / hwɜːld /, a variant which the LPD acknowledges and which it shews as monosyllabic.

  28. Charlotte Stinson said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 5:11 pm

    “The world is too much with us; late and soon.”

  29. R. Fenwick said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 5:45 pm

    Others have made most of the points I was going to – especially Chris Button's mention that the mora might be a more useful unit of analysis here – but for my two cents, I also think the notion of sesquisyllabicity that James Matisoff proposed back in the '70s in analysing southeastern Asian languages is one that could be very usefully brought to bear. (For what it's worth, though, the question is pretty much moot in my Australian English, which uniformly has world as a superheavy monosyllable [wɘːld].)

    "As an exercise for the interested reader" one might consider what one thinks the syllable count is for wild or child, which combine the syllabification challenges of both world and fire. In compounds this also gets hairy, and doubly so when the stress is drawn away; I'm not sure how many people would consider the name Fairchild to be properly trisyllabic.

    Tangentially on the word fire: there's a YouTube channel called "Explosions&Fire", run by a chemistry PhD candidate in southern Australia, and LL readers may get a kick out of trying to work out a syllable count and IPA transcription for the host's pronunciation of the word "fire" in his video introductions.

    @Philip Taylor: So my question to Victor (and to others who share his view that "World" has two syllables) is « how many syllables does "West" have ? »

    When dealing between phonologies, as with your Vietnamese-speaking wife's acquisition of English phonology, this is a different question entirely, because you can take the argument to a reductio ad absurdum by looking at languages which permit few to no consonants in the coda. The Maori word for "rugby" is whutupōro, and is a direct loan from English football into a language that refuses syllable-final consonants entirely. An extreme example is Japanese エキストラクト ekisutorakuto (often shortened to simply ekisu), a heptamoraic loan from the English disyllable extract.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 6:04 pm

    One AAS that's very important for me is Association for Asian Studies, to be distinguished from AOS (Association for Oriental Studies), also important for me.

  31. John F said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 6:50 pm

    Our four-year-old has been clapping out syllables in school recently so I asked him how many syllables in ‘world cup’ & almost immediately he very confidently clapped out *wur* – *uld* – *cup*. Hopefully that settles it.

    Though now I wonder how many syllables there are in ‘four’.

  32. Rick Rubenstein said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 7:48 pm

    I'm a bit perplexed that people continue to carry on a debate predicated on the idea that "syllable", "vowel, and "consonant" are well-defined, clean categories, which they patently aren't. It's very similar to the debate over whether Pluto is a "planet".

  33. Bloix said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 8:04 pm

    The commenters hear
    have a lot to say about the number of syllables in many words, including world.

  34. Bloix said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 8:05 pm

    Forgive me. Here. There's nothing there to hear.

  35. R. Fenwick said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 8:43 pm

    Regarding Kabardian, as a Northwest Caucasian specialist I've just got to separate this one out into its own reply. :)

    @Peter B. Golden:

    Kabardinian or Kabardian has 48 consonants and two vowels (about which there is some controversy), see John Colarusso, A Grammar of the Karbardian Language (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1992).

    Colarusso's very much in the minority on this one, though joined also by an earlier proposal by Aert Kuipers. The two-vowel phonological analysis demands that the most open surface vowel of Kabardian is in fact a long vowel in the surface morphology, reflecting an underlying sequence of open vowel plus /h/, but this proposal is problematic in several ways. (To save confusion, here I transcribe the three main surface-phonological vowels of literary Kabardian as /a e ə/, corresponding to the Cyrillic а э ы.) Problems include:

    1) Colarusso's /h/ in these putative cases of /-eh-/ is never voiceless, even in the most careful of speech.

    2) Literary Kabardian otherwise completely lacks /h/ as a segmental phoneme. In some dialects the pluralising morpheme /-xe/ takes an idiosyncratic form /-he/, but this certainly cannot be attributed to the literary language. Compare also the literary West Circassian pluraliser /-xe/. (Indeed, /h/ cannot be attributed to Common Circassian either, being absent from most West Circassian varieties. Shapsygh West Circassian has it only in the single lexeme /həgʲə/ "now", a lexical variant of /jəgʲə/ "id." probably under influence of Ubykh /hənda/ "now".)

    3) Colarusso's /h/ has the peculiar distributional pattern of only being able to close a syllable before another consonant, there being no example of word-final -a from an underlying /-eh/. The only example of surface word-final -a is the verbal past-tense morpheme /-a/, an idiosyncratic simplification of Common Circassian */-eʁV/ (compare literary West Circassian and archaic Kabardian /-aʁ/).

    4) In practice the putative /eh/ differs from /e/ not just in length, but also in quality: the realisations differ in F1 by about 170 Hz on average, corresponding to about the difference between IPA [ə] and [ɐ]. But there is no phonological justification for a purely glottal /h/ to cause phonetic lowering of the vowel /e/, and a pharyngeal or uvular lowering cannot be responsible, as Kabardian possesses both pharyngeals and uvulars phonemically and deploys them as unremarkable consonants otherwise.

    5) Even though Kabardian /a/ and /e/ do differ in average length (about 1.8 to 1), the vowels /e/ and /ə/ also differ in average length by a similar factor (about 1.4 to 1). As such, the differences in average length are probably just a redundancy factor, an exaggeration of the universal tendency for more open vowels to be longer than more close ones.

    6) Kabardian /e/ regularly undergoes ablaut to /a/ in penultimate syllables (e.g. /pɕaɕe/ "girl", /pɕeɕe-daxe/ "beautiful girl", /pɕeɕe-dexe-maxʷe/ "good beautiful girl", etc.) in a manner not conducive to analysis as some sort of /h/-infixation.

    For my part, in Colarusso's /eh/-analysis I struggle to see the presence vs. absence of /h/ as comprising anything other than a distinctive feature [±low], which is a straightforward violation of Occam's razor that'd be better treated as simply one more distinctive feature of the vocalic nucleus itself.

    Some good further references for Kabardian vowel phonetics include:

    Catford, J. C. 1997 Some questions of North-West Caucasian phonetics and phonology. In: Özsöy, A. S. (ed.). Proceedings of the Conference on Northwest Caucasian Linguistics, 10-12 October 1994, pp. 99-113. Novus Forlag: Oslo.
    Choi, J. D. 1991 An acoustic study of Kabardian vowels. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 21 (1): 4-12.
    Applebaum, A., and M. Gordon. 2013 A comparative phonetic study of the Circassian languages. Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: Special Session on Languages of the Caucasus: 3-17.

  36. Chas Belov said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 9:52 pm

    Hmmm, I pronounce "www" as "dub-ə-yu dub-ə-yu dub-ə-yu". I'd say I pronounce "world" as one-and-a-half syllables.

  37. Gary Miller said,

    December 11, 2022 @ 11:50 pm

    Well dang, this shoots my cherished notion that the rhyming word 'squirreled' is the longest word with only one syllable.

  38. John Swindle said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 3:05 am

    @Philip: I don't know how many syllables "world" has, although I have an opinion, and I don't know to what extent actual differences in pronunciation are involved. But I'd say "West" has one syllable except when pronounced "WEH-yust."

  39. maidhc said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 3:57 am

    Bumpersticker: "Visualize whirled peas". Although I pronounce "peas" and "peace" differently.

    tony prost: World is one syllable when you are singing it
    OK, maybe

    You're my world, my everything…
    I can't stay in a world without love…

    but how about

    Don't they know it's the end of the world…
    He's got the whole world in his hands…

    which even assign a different note to the second syllable?

    I think the best pronunciation of "www" is "triple dub". Following the example of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which is universally called "I triple E".

    A lot of Americans say "dubby", especially in set phrases like the name of the popular penetrating oil, "dubbydee 40". (A friend of mine who worked in an auto shop always reminds me, "it's not a lubricant".) That may be a bit regional, but I haven't taken a serious look at it.

  40. maidhc said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 4:05 am

    Correction: I realized that "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands" actually has both one and two syllable versions of "world" in it.

    Compare the first verse to the rest of the song:

  41. Sean Purdy said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 7:48 am

    In the early days of the internets I worked with numerous web developers, most of whom spoke “www” as “double-you double-you double-you”.

    But then I met one who said “wuh wuh wuh” which I immediately adopted and have used ever since.

    (Sorry, can’t do the phonetic notation thing.)

  42. Robot Therapist said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 9:03 am

    Yes, when speaking with a Scottish accent, I say wurrald. Two syllables.

    I was going to ask how many syllables in "mirror" (in the US) but John F beat me to that one.

  43. jhh said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:02 am

    Others have already touched on this but it seems to me that the number of syllables would depend on 1) speed and 2) prosody of the utterance. With speed, there's more reduction in the pronunciation. Why focus on individual words out of context?

  44. Sagi said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:29 am

    The correct answer is obviously 1.5.

    (Also interesting to compare to Germanic cognates, e.g. welt, wereld)

  45. Jerry Packard said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:55 am

    ‘this shoots my cherished notion that the rhyming word 'squirreled' is the longest word with only one syllable’

    To my knowledge, the word ‘strengths’ is phonetically the longest English word (most phonemes) with one syllable.

  46. Rodger Cunningham said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 11:24 am

    I can immediately think of several monosyllabic English words with seven phonemes. Sprints. Splints. etc.

  47. Doug said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 12:27 pm

    Some time ago, some relatives and I were playing "Poetry For Neanderthals", a game that involves giving your partner clues that are restricted to one-syllable words. We had some disagreement on how many syllables certain words have, especially words involving L or R. One that came up was "Biles" (as in the gymnast Simone Biles). The kids tended to view that as a 2-syllable word, going by the sound. Adults tended to think it was really one syllable — after all, it's just like "bites", which has one syllable, except for the consonant switch of L for T, which doesn't seem like the sort of thing that ought to affect the syllable count. (Other examples would include "child" and "fire":)

  48. Jerry Packard said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 1:24 pm

    @Rodger – right you are.

  49. Scott P. said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 1:29 pm

    Hmmm, I pronounce "www" as "dub-ə-yu dub-ə-yu dub-ə-yu".

    Whereas for me it's "dub-ya dub=ya dub-ya", especially in sequence like that.

  50. Terry K. said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 2:27 pm

    There's some words that when singing, if the word has a single note it's easy enough to sing it as one syllable. Hold the most open vowel, do everything after it at the end. But then the same word, if it goes across two notes, especially two short notes, it's most natural to sing it as two syllables. Pow'r is one of those. Sometimes, it gets written that way at a spot where there's two different short notes instead of one. (Like on the -zing of "Amazing Grace", for a straight forward one-syllable on two notes example.) And in those places, it comes out as two syllables, pow- on the first note -wer on the 2nd.

  51. John Colarusso said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 3:55 pm

    The Kabardian notation referred to by Fenwick is from earlier work by the late Aert Kuipers. The sequence /eh/ is simply "open vowel-open glide." [h] is in fact an open glide. /he/ is in fac t the Kabardian plural. Ask a Kabardian. In West Circassian and for some Kabardian speakers it comes out as a palatal fricative. For some dialects it is aspirated.

    In general the comments here fail to distinguish between the phonetic productiin of a word and its phonemic perception. For example, most speakers of English standard can say a [kw] (phonetically), as in "liquid," but many say [linguwistiks] with a [guw] for phonemic /gw/ (/…/ are "phoneme brackets"). While the word is said with 4 syllables, psychologically or perceptually, that is phonemically, it has only three. At the phonemic level syllables have structure, with an onset and a nucleus, which latter can be further elaborated into a peak and a coda. Phonetics tends to follow, but not always. Take Bzhedukh West Circassian /w-pq-he-r/ your(singular)-bone-plural-absolutive "your body (as a framework)", which comes out as [ppqxher] with something like three syllables simply because the two [p]s have onsets, but it surely is not a "normal" set of three. One of my teachers saud it had "one and a half syllables." Google "Bella Coola" if you would like to see more of such stuff.

    As to World Cup, perhaps some of you say it with three syllables, but phonologically it is likely built into your grammar with only two. Try playing with the word "film." One or two? When you uncover hidden vowels you should know that they are called epenthetic vowels.

  52. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 4:03 pm

    In my mind, the "zing" of "Amazing Grace" falls on three notes, not two, and this recording, to my ear at least, bears testimony to that. But the singer, as I do when I sing it, splits "zing" into three syllables, so what I hear is something like /ə hə ə ə ˈmeɪ zɪŋ ŋ ŋ ɡreɪs/.

  53. Quinn C said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 4:59 pm

    The pronunciation on the Merriam-Webster web page clearly sounds like one syllable to me, not inserting the optional schwa.

    The recording of Amazing Grace splits the vowel, not the ng, over the three notes, as it should be, so /ə ˈmeɪ zɪ ə əŋ ɡreɪs/.

  54. Victor Mair said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 6:57 pm

    Quinn C:

    "The pronunciation on the Merriam-Webster web page clearly sounds like one syllable to me…".

    Not to me, nor to most people I asked about it.

    And Merriam-Webster does add a second schwa.

  55. Victor Mair said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 7:04 pm

    @Rick Rubenstein:

    Are you suggesting that "syllable", "vowel", and "consonant" are useless concepts and that we should stop talking about them?

  56. Jonathan Smith said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 7:36 pm

    Hmm, even after John Colarusso's comment, debate about what a particular recording "sounds like"? Again, we are dealing here with contrasting *phonological* analyses of *similar or identical* phonetic strings.

    However, contra one of his points, it seems clear to me given this thread etc. that words like "world" are truly analyzed as two syllables by many speakers. This surprises people like me, but that's the point.

    re: Rick Rubenstein's comment I think "syllable" might be the most psychologically meaningful unit of language there is. Children have clear and strong intuitions here, for instance.

  57. Terry K. said,

    December 14, 2022 @ 8:42 am

    The audio pronunciation on the Merriam Webster website sounds to me like one that I can see some people interpreting as one syllable, and some as two.

    (Note that the stress mark in the written pronunciation does not indicate it's a multiple syllable word. One syllable words have them too, except where it gives both stressed an unstressed pronunciations, such as with the words to, that, and her.)

  58. Scott P. said,

    December 14, 2022 @ 4:51 pm

    To my knowledge, the word ‘strengths’ is phonetically the longest English word (most phonemes) with one syllable.

    I had a friend once that argued the longest English word of one syllable was 'broughamed' — the act of being driven in a brougham.

  59. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 15, 2022 @ 5:17 am

    "broughamed" — interesting. Never having heard "Brougham" used in speech, I have always assumed that it would be pronounced /brʌf əm/, but on consulting the LPD I see that I was wrong and that it is correctly pronounced /brʊm/. Nonetheless, the verb "[to] "Brougham" is given as /ˈbruː‿əm/, so this would make "broughamed" bi-, if not tri-, syllabic. Incidentally, I believe that in British English we would add an "m" to "broughamed" to make "Broughammed", to indicate that the "a" is short.

    There is, incidentally, evidence that the word "Brougham" was originally bi-syllabic — « [from] the name of Lord Brougham, of which the native northern pronunciation was /ˈbrʊxəm/ also /ˈbrʊfɛm/, and /ˈbruːhəm/; this became in London /ˈbruːəm/, and /bruːm/ » [OED]. The NED (1888) « For the vehicle (brūm) /bruːm/ was the accepted London pronunciation, as seen in society verses, etc., and is still widely prevalent, especially among elderly people; (brū·əm) /ˈbruːəm/ is somewhat less frequent; but an extensive collection of evidence shows (brōu·əm) /ˈbrəʊəm/ to be now the most common in educated use. (Brōum) /brəʊm/ is heard from the vulgar«». I love the "from the vulgar" !

    Apologies for the alternation between lower- and upper-case initial "B", but as I know that the word is derived from the name of Lord Brougham I feel obliged to upper-case it when writing original text but equally obliged to retain the original case when quoting others …

  60. R. Fenwick said,

    December 17, 2022 @ 9:43 am

    @John Colarusso:

    The sequence /eh/ is simply "open vowel-open glide." [h] is in fact an open glide.

    As you note yourself in your grammar (p.12), the putative /h/ is never voiceless in such sequences even in careful speech, and lowers /e/ into the bargain, such that there is no offglide element in the phonetic realisation. Even an analysis of surface /a/ as a diphthong /eª/ (producing surface /ɑˑ/) introduces more complexity than it resolves; I don't see any phonological behaviour in Kabardian that's more usefully explained by introducing a segmental consonant /h/ than is possible with a simple tripartite vocalic analysis using just the distinctive features either [±high] [±low] or [±high] [±long].

    And then there are the additional problems of why /h/ never appears intervocalically, why /C(C)Vh/ is permitted word-medially but not word-finally, why only /C(C)eh/ is permitted and /C(C)əh/ is not, why /h/ causes phonetic lowering of a preceding vowel but /ħ/ does not, and how treating orthographic a as a sequence of segments squares with the automatic lowering of penultimate /e/ to /a/ under stress. Especially given that /a/ remains a vital part of Kabardian phonology even after all possible instances of /a/ ← */eh/ are dispensed with. Apart from a variety of lexical instances including the classic example of бащ "stick, cane", another such example is the verbal third-person plural index /a-/. You've claimed (p.33 of your grammar) that this /a-/ is underlyingly /eh-/, metathesised from */he-/ and thence cognate with the nominal plural /-he/, but there are no etymological grounds for that. In West Circassian /h/ is not phonemic and the nominal plural marker remains /-xe/, but in those varieties the verbal plural index is also /a-/. In fact, this morpheme is a pluraliser that's remained an onsetless open vowel since the Proto-North-West Caucasian era, and is cognate with an Ubykh pluraliser and plural pronominal prefix that's also of the form /-ɐ-/: Ø-ɐ-bɨjɜ-n "they see him", jɨ-Ø-bɨj[ɜ]-ɐ-n "she sees them", Ø-ɐ-bɨj[ɜ]-ɐ-n "they see them" (compare jɨ-Ø-bɨjɜ-n "she sees him").

    (FWIW, on the basis of a couple of interesting traces in Ubykh I believe there might be grounds for considering that the Proto-NWC pluralising element might originally have been an open front vowel that merged with the open back vowel when Late Proto-NWC underwent the shift of [±front] [±round] from the nucleus to the onset. But that's another story for another time.)

    /he/ is in fact the Kabardian plural. Ask a Kabardian. In West Circassian and for some Kabardian speakers it comes out as a palatal fricative.

    Even by that logic it must depends upon which Kabardian one asks. In any case, I freely admit that I'm not relying on my own first-hand experience here, but upon Ian Catford's 1997 paper that I cited above; that literary Kabardian has /-xe/ as the pluraliser is his assertion, not mine.

    For some dialects it is aspirated.

    Is it not simpler, then, to explain /h/ in the pluraliser /-he/ as a single idiosyncratic sound change, a simple debuccalisation of an ancestral phonetically aspirated */-x-/ [-çʰ-]? Under phonetic aspiration such a shift would be particularly straightforward. And there'd be no need to involve this segment with the vowel system.

    It also wouldn't be the first phonetic idiosyncrasy involving Circassian /x/. The remarkable bidental fricative realisation in some Black Sea Shapsygh lects comes to mind. Nor, for that matter, would it be the only NWC lect in which a particular consonantal phoneme exists in only a single morpheme despite there being a robust NWC heritage for the morpheme involved; I know of at least two such examples in the Abkhaz-Abaza continuum as well as one in Turkish Abdzakh.

  61. Victor Mair said,

    December 17, 2022 @ 10:55 pm

    Pronunciation key for "wild": WHY uld.

    see here

  62. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 18, 2022 @ 4:33 am

    Doesn't work in my idiolect, Victor — "WHY uld" ≈ /hwaɪ ʊld/. "wild" ≈ /waɪ${}^{ə}$ld/.

  63. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 18, 2022 @ 4:34 am

    D@mn — how does one insert a raised schwa here ?

  64. Kai Dainichi Christensen said,

    December 30, 2022 @ 3:05 am

    > re: Rick Rubenstein's comment I think "syllable" might be the most psychologically meaningful unit of language there is. Children have clear and strong intuitions here, for instance.

    If it's _psychologically_ meaningful, that could be because we've taught them it is. I believe native speakers' intuitions aren't necessarily very good indicators of whether it's linguistically meaningful or not.

    Returning to the topic, it seems to me that velarized /l/s and rhotic /r/s (of at least some dialects) tend to inject hints of schwas before them, which some reanalyze as phonemic, thus suggesting another syllable.

    real/reel, homophones, and if so how many syllables?

    About /ˈwərəld/, I believe for some AmE speakers this could also be analyzed as /wɝəld/, which raises the question of whether you can classify /ɝə/ as some kind of diphthong.

    > I can immediately think of several monosyllabic English words with seven phonemes.

    Some pronounce "strengths" with 8, /stɹɛŋkθs/.

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