Syncope (phonology)

For other uses, see Syncope.
Sound change and alternation

In phonology, syncope (/ˈsɪŋkəpi/; Greek: syn- + koptein "to strike, cut off") is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word, especially the loss of an unstressed vowel. It is found both in synchronic analysis of languages and diachronics. Its opposite, whereby sounds are added, is epenthesis.

Synchronic analysis

Synchronic analysis studies linguistic phenomena at one moment, usually the present. In modern languages, syncope occurs in inflection, poetry, and informal speech.

In inflections

In languages such as Irish, the process of inflection can cause syncope.

For example :

Imir (to play) should become *"imirím" (I play). However, the addition of the "-ím" causes syncope and the second to last syllable vowel "i" is lost so Imirim becomes Imrím.
Inis (island) should become *inise in the genitive case. However, if one looks at road signs, one finds not *"Baile na hInise" but "Baile na hInse" (the town of the island). Once again there is the loss of the second "i".

It is interesting that if the present root form in Irish is the result of diachronic syncope, there is a resistance to synchronic syncope for inflection.

As a poetic device

Sounds may be removed from the interior of a word as a rhetorical or poetic device, whether for embellishment or for the sake of the meter.

In informal speech

Various sorts of colloquial reductions might be called "syncope". It is also called compression.[1]

Forms such as "didn't" that are written with an apostrophe are, however, generally called contractions:

Found diachronically as a historical sound change

In historical phonetics, the term "syncope" is often but not always limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel:

Loss of any sound

Loss of an unstressed vowel

A syncope rule has been identified in Tonkawa, an extinct American Indian language, whereby the second vowel of a word deletes if it is not adjacent to a consonant cluster or final consonant.[2]

See also


  1. Wells, John C. (2000). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (2nd ed.). Longman. pp. 165–6. ISBN 0-582-36467-1.
  2. Hayes, Bruce (2009). Introductory Phonology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 255.
  • Crowley, Terry (1997). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558378-7. 
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