Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 259-267
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 259
Cairne Arabic Syllable Structure though
Different Phonological Theories
Rajaa Aquil
School of Modern Languages, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA
Received March 27th, 2013; revised April 30th, 2013; accepted May 10th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Rajaa Aquil. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
Since the times of the old Arab grammarians, the syllable has played a major role in the phonology of
classical as well as colloquial Arabic. In the 1970s, phonologists investigated Cairene Arabic (CA) sylla-
ble structure and found it to be the domain of some phonological processes, such as emphatic spread,
CVC syllables light word final but heavy word internally, limitations on consonant clusters in certain po-
sitions of a word, and epenthesis of a vowel to break consonant clusters if there happen to be more than
two consonants in word concatenation. This paper discusses some CA phonological phenomena investi-
gated through different theories in generative phonology, i.e. rule based, autosegmental and Optimality
Theory (OT). An overview of early theories is given. Early generative theories contributed substantially
to the theory of the syllable of CA; however, each theory was able to explain a given phonological phe-
nomenon. It is through the generative Optimality Theoretic approach that more than one phenomenon can
be described and analyzed. The paper’s aim is not to compare between the different theories, but to de-
scribe the progression CA syllable structure analysis took in generative phonology. Unlike earlier re-
search which based conclusions on some CA words mixed with some other classical Arabic words pro-
nounced by CA native speakers, this paper presents an Optimality Theoretic analysis that is based on
uniquely CA phonetic outputs. The analysis finds that some syllable structure constraints are high ranked
and inviolable such as ONSET, and *[µ µ µ]σ. The study also shows that OT analysis can illustrate and ex-
plain in one representation, i.e. tableau two different phonological phenomena, insertion and deletion of a
vowel in consonant clusters, despite their relatedness to separate prosodic domains, the syllable, the pro-
sodic word, and the phrase. This is carried out by analyzing the ranking, relationship and interaction be-
tween the following constraints, ONSET MAX-IO, *[µ µ µ], *COMPLEX CODA, DEP-IO >> NOCODA,
*APPENDIX; -*V,+hi]$:, ALIGNR (σ, PrWd), and LINEARITY. The study analyzes data that is mainly from
Cairene spoken Arabic, attempting to fill a gap created by one of the contentious issues related to studies
of the phonology of CA, and that is mixing between colloquial Cairene and classical Arabic.
Keywords: Cairene Arabic Syllable Structure; Optimality Theory; Consonant Clusters; Epenthesis;
Deletion; Colloquial Cairene Spoken Arabic
A syllable is a universal unit found in all languages and per-
ceptually accessible to preschool children and illiterate adults.
The syllable plays an important role in the phonology of classi-
cal as well as colloquial Arabic (Bird & Blackburn, 1990; Kay,
1987; McCarthy, 1981). The description and analysis of the syl-
lable in Arabic has been deeply rooted since old Arab gramma-
rians studied it (ElSaaran, 1951). The metrics of Arabic have
been described in terms of consecutive vowels and consonants
or, in other words, in syllables (Maling, 1973; Prince, 1989).
Additionally, assignment of stress interacts not only with the
number of the syllables in a word but also with the internal
prosodic structure of the syllable. An analysis of stress must de-
pend on the analysis of the syllable (Hayes, 1995; McCarthy,
1979; Mitchell, 1960; Watson, 2002; Welden, 1980).
I discuss the syllable in Cairene Arabic (referred henceforth
as CA). I particularly focus on the importance of well-formed-
ness in syllable structure and the phonological process of vowel
epenthesis and deletion to secure syllable well-formedness. I
present different generative phonological theories which ana-
lyzed and represented the syllable, e.g., the rule-based approach,
the autosegmental approach and the Optimality Theoretic ap-
proach (referred henceforth as OT). All these approaches added
to the theory of the syllable. The aim of the present paper is not
to compare between the different phonological theories. Each
theory contributed substantially to the theory of the syllable
structure of Arabic classical as well as colloquial. The focus is
on Optimality Theoretic approach because it is the most mod-
ern theory and also because the theory is able to illustrate pho-
nological phenomena related to the syllable and beyond in one
representation, i.e., a tableau, demonstrating the constraints at
play and their ranking in the language.
However, I focus in this paper on colloquial Egyptian Arabic,
i.e., data from spoken CA1. Most of the phonological investiga-
1The data is the author’s, a native speaker of CA, checked and consolidated
in (Badawi & Hinds, 1986).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
tion of CA (Aljarah, 2008; De Lacy, 1998; Halle & Vergnaud,
1987; Hayes, 1995; Kenstowicz, 1980; McCarthy, 1979; Sel-
kirk, 1981, 1982; Youssef & Mazurkewich, 1998) are based on
data from (Mitchell, 1956, 1960) which is classical rather than
colloquial. It is referred to in the literature as Cairene classical
Arabic. These linguists claimed they analyzed CA prosody, but
more precisely they looked at Cairene pronunciation norms of
classical forms. Only few studies looked into colloquial Arabic
per se (Broselow, 1979; Watson, 2002; Welden, 1980).
I personally consider basing conclusions on data that is not
mainly CA rather confusing. My aim is to give a theoretical ex-
planation to generalizations in CA data rather than to validate a
theory through certain generalizations in some data. I claim that
CA has its own systematic prosodic pattern and I present a
number of uniquely CA phonetic output buttressing the analysis
presented in this paper.
The paper is organized as follows: Section 1 discusses the
data used in the literature and syllable structure in CA as well
as CA-specific syllable structure phenomena, i.e., closed sylla-
bles CVC weight in word final position versus that in word
internal and the theory of the appendix. Section 2 gives an over-
view of some of the theories in generative phonology, e.g., rule-
based and autosegmental representations of the syllable in CA.
Section 3 examines Optimality Theoretic framework and pre-
sents constraints at play in securing licit syllables. The section
ends with an analysis of CA syllable structure demonstrating
syllable structure constraints hierarchy for CA.
Cairene Classical Arabic vs. Cairene Arabic
Studies conducted on CA have often used data from (Mitchell,
1956) Cairene Classical Arabic (Aljarah, 2008; De Lacy, 1998;
Halle & Vergnaud, 1987; Harrell, 1957; Hayes, 1995; Kiprasky,
2003; McCarthy, 1979; Selkirk, 1984). I consider the data used
a point of contention because this is a variety of classical Ara-
bic pronounced by Azhar-trained Egyptians or Cairene Arabic
native speakers. Data in (Aljarah, 2008: p. 6), (ka.ta)(BA).ha
he wrote it”, (ka.ta)(BAA).ha, “they wrote it”, (mak)(TUU)
bun, “a letter”, (mar)(suu)(MAA)tun2, “they are drawn” are
classical Arabic words3.
The same applies to the data used in (De Lacy, 1998, foot-
note 1: p. 1), where he states that the data is from Mitchell
(1960), a study on words as pronounced by Azhar-trained Egy-
ptians of Classical Arabic. The famous data, e.g.
[ʔadwiyatuhu] “his medicine” and [šajaratuhuma] “their (dual)
trees”, is totally Classical Arabic, because for the former word
the CA version is [ʔadwiytu] and for the latter is [šagarithum]
since the dual form exists only for the nominal in CA and not
for the genitive or accusative4 (Brustad, 2000; Holes, 2004).
In addition, the syllable structure Aljarah (2008) assumes for
stress assignment does not represent important phonological
alternations CA undergoes, e.g. shortening of a long vowel. The
actual CA word for “he wrote it” is /(ka.táb.ha)/ and not /(ka.ta)
(BA).ha/ because CA does not allow two open syllables (Bro-
selow, 1979). Moreover, the above words have their CA equi-
valent which are /(mak)(túub)/ “a letter”, and /íin/
they are drawn”. As observed the syllable structures of these
words are completely different from the ones maintained by Al-
jarah (2008).
Based on the above assumed syllable structure which is not
CA, Aljarah’s (2008) claims that the following constraints in
the given ranking are responsible for CA stress: LX=Pr, TRO-
in spite of the fact that the data he used to support the con-
straints and their ranking is partly classical Arabic pronounced
by CA native speakers. In contrast to the Aljarah’s (2008) con-
straints and their ranking, Aquil (2012b) arrived at a different
set and ranking of prosodic constraints: FTBIN, ALIGN Hd/R >>
TR >>WSP >> PARSEσ, PARSE SG >> AFL. See Aquil (2012)
where she analyzed a number of uniquely CA phonetic outputs.
Syllable Structure in CA
Syllables in CA fall into three categories: light CV, heavy
CVC and CVV, and super-heavy CVCC and CVVC, which
only occur word and phrase finally. A CA syllable contains an
obligatory onset and nucleus, and an optional coda. Consonant
clusters (CC) are allowed but only word and phrase final. This
is represented by a consonant in parenthesis (c), as illustrated in
the representation of a core syllable in structure (1)
1) CA Syllable Structure
Arabic in general disallows onsetless syllables, and so does
CA. Syllables in Arabic in general must start with a consonant.
If a syllable happens to start with a vowel then a glottal stop
must be inserted and precede the vowel. Onsetless syllables are
forbidden in Arabic, a language specific rule. For example,
words like “America” whose initial syllable starts with a vowel
in English are not permissible in CA and a glottal stop is in-
serted [ʔam.rii.ka]. In OT terms, the insertion takes place to
obey the ONSET constraint, which stipulates that syllables must
have onsets and vowels cannot start a syllable (Prince & Smolen-
sky, 1993, 2004). Sections 2 and 3 expand this discussion.
However, when words are concatenated in connected speech,
the concatenation could result in series of consonant clusters.
Since consonant clusters are disallowed word- or phrase-inter-
nally, re-syllabification of the second coda element must take
place. Re-syllabification is discussed below.
CVC Word Finally
It is generally accepted that the difference between CV and
CVC syllables is in weight, as illustrated in structure (2, adapted
from Hayes (1995).
2) CV Light vs. CVC
2According to Aljarah’s (2008) the words /(ka.ta)(BA).ha/ and /(mak)(TUU)
bun/, have two foots the first and the second, while the last syllable is not
footed. The main stress falls on the penultimate, represented here in capital
letters. The same applies to the word /(mar)(suu)(MAA)tun/ in which the
first, second and third syllables are footed, whereas the last is not. The pe-
nult syllables have the main stress of the word represented here as (MAA).
3Hayes specifically mentions that data used is from Classical Arabic (1995:
p. 67).
4CA has the dual form only for the nominal, e.g. [ʔilbanaat] “the girls”,
[ʔirriggaala] “the men” but [ʔilbinteen] “the two girls” [ʔirragleen]. See
Clive Holes (2004: p. 121).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 261
However, the position of a CVC syllable in CA word inter-
feres in interpreting the syllable as heavy or light. If the CVC
syllable is word-internal it is heavy, but if it is in word-final
position then it is not heavy. Consider structure (3).
The theoretical justification for considering CVC in the final
position as light is the extra-syllabic or extra-prosodic nature of
the coda consonant in the syllable. The extra-prosodic conso-
nant in CVC, CVCC, and CVVC is regarded as an appendix.
Vaux (2004) following Kiparsky (2003: p. 156) contends that
an appendix or an extra-prosodic element is prosodically in-
visible, and is attached directly to a higher-level prosodic node
(usually a PrWd), as shown in structure (4) for the CA word
/bint/ “girl5. Vaux (2004) provides evidence for the appendix
from facts that range from the phonological, such as sonority
sequencing, epenthesis and prosodic phenomena like stress as-
signment, lengthening and shortening, reduplication and infixa-
tion, to morphological processes like syllable-counting rules
and truncation to other external linguistic phenomena.
4) A word-final appendix (adapted from Kiparsky (2003: pp.
157, 162))
Kiparsky (2003) postulates that the stray consonant /t/ in
structure (4) constitutes a mora, and in order to avoid gratuitous
Prosodic Licensing (Ito, 1986, 1989)6 this mora is affiliated
with the prosodic word. As shown in structure (4), not only
does a mora become affiliated with the prosodic word, but a
stray consonant and syllable do as well. Studies that analyzed
other Arabic dialects have also considered the second conso-
nant of the coda consonant cluster a stray unsyllabified conso-
nant (Abu-Mansour, 1991).
The above phonological phenomenon is considered an inter-
nal proof for the appendix and, in turn, explains the process that
re-syllabifies the second element of the coda to avoid illicit
syllables resulting from multiple consonant clusters when words
concatenate in connected speech (see data in (1) & (2) below).
Resyllabification and Vowel Epenthesis
Unlike English, where the domain of syllabification is the
phonological word (Nespor & Vogel, 1986), the domain of the
syllabification in CA is the utterance. Syllabification and resyl-
labification in CA, as seen in data (1), occurs across words, and
is in fact obligatory across words if a sequence of more than
two consonants results due to morpheme or word concatenation.
Note the presence of the epenthetic vowel represented here as
[ɨ]7, in the phonological word, clitic group, phonological phrase,
and utterance.
1.ka táb t lu [katábtɨlu]ω8
write (past 1st), to-him I wrote to him
kálb + na [kalb́na]9c
dog-our our dog
ʕamr batt [ʕamrɨbatt]ɸ10
ʕamr resolve (3rdsg, past)
fi xusaarit ʔimbaarıħ [fixsartɨmbaariħ]
In, loss, yesterday
in yesterday’s loss
ʕamr batt fi xusaarit ʔimbaariħ
ʕamr-resolved (3rd sg, past) yesterday’s loss
As mentioned above, CA does not allow a cluster of three
consonants; therefore, if such a cluster is generated through
concatenation of words, an epenthetic vowel is inserted (Broselow,
1979, 1988).The following examples illustrate the re-syllabifi-
cation cum epenthesis process. Data is adapted from (Broselow,
5See Vaux (2004) for external (e.g., psycholinguistic experiments, child
language acquisition, aphasic speech, and language games) and internal
evidence (e.g., phonological rules, phonotactics and sonority, syllable weight,
reduplication and infixation).
6The Prosodic Licensing Principle requires that every segment be assigned
to a higher-level prosodic constituent.
7Barred [ɨ] is used here to differentiate it from the short [i] which is a pho-
neme in the language. This vowel (barred [ɨ]) is not psychologically real and
CA native speakers are not aware of inserting it. See (Aquil, 2012a) where
the vowel is acoustically investigated and found inserted in CA native
speakers’ output of English compound words that have clusters of three and
more consonants to break consonant clusters.
8This is the sign used for a prosodic word.
9This is the sign used for a clitic group.
10This is the sign used for a phonological phrase.
11This is the sign used for an utterance.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
2. Words in isolation Words concatenated
a) bínt simíina bintɨsmíina
girl fat a fat girl
b) ka táb t lu katabt́lu
write (past 1st) to him I wrote to him
c) katábt gawá:b katabtɨgawá:b
write (past 2ndsg, m) letter you wrote a letter
d) katábti gawá:b katabtigawá:b
write (past 2ndsg, fem) letter you wrote a letter
No epenthetic vowel is added in (d) since the word katábti
already ends with a vowel.
CA Syllable Structure in Generative Phonology
Syllable structure rules factor a word intro trees correspond-
ing to syllables12. The formulation successfully illustrates that
the syllable is the domain of emphatic13 distribution in CA. As
observed in (d), emphatic spread does not take place beyond the
5) a) lʕa tʕiif ʕnice” (mas)
σ σ
b) lʕa tʕii fa “nice” (fem)
σ σ σ
6) c) rʕag ʕleen “two men
σ σ
d) rʕaagil “a man
σ σ
One of the main contributions of generative phonology is the
specification of prosodic domains. In the above examples, the
domain of emphatic spread is illustrated. Emphasis spread is a
phonological phenomenon where an emphatic phoneme spreads
its emphatic phonetic nature and alters the pronunciation of
adjacent sounds. The psychologically real emphatic sounds in
CA are (tʕ, dʕ, sʕ, zʕ, qʕ), in addition, CA has some emphatic
allophones (lʕ and rʕ). From the examples above, we witness
that spread takes place in the domain of the syllable and not
beyond. For example, the (f) sound in (5a) is emphatic, whereas
it is not in (5b). In (5a) the emphatic spreads to the second syl-
lable and, hence, the [f] becomes emphatic [fʕ], whereas in (5b)
the [f] is not emphatic. The same applies in (6c & d), where the
[gʕ] is emphatic in (6c) but is not in (6d). These rules give evi-
dence that the domain of emphasis in CA is the syllable. Al-
though the process described here is a segmental process and is
not discussed further in this paper through OT framework,
however, it is necessary to give credit to early theories that
captured important processes related to the syllable in CA.
However, rules could not capture many phonological proc-
esses, such as epenthesis between consonant clusters, for ex-
ample; in some cases two distinct rules are required to account
for this single process, namely epenthesis (Spencer, 1996). This
is because rules based formulations can describe all relevant
phonological information about a word in a linear representa-
tion where the strings of segments are grouped together. This
led researchers to adopt non-linear phonological theories such
as autosegmental phonology (Goldsmith, 1976), as illustrated in
(7) [ʔultɨlu<h>] “I told him” Adapted from (Watson, 2002: p.
65). Through autosegmental phonology phenomenon such as
extramtricality is successfully explained and represented.
7)a)Domain-final consonant extrametricality/appendix
b)Onset formation
d)Unsyllabified tmapped to onset of epenthetic syllable
and projection of mora
e)Default rules and association of the default vowel [ɨ]
with the projected mora
σ σ σ
µ µ µ µ
ʔ u l t ɨ l u <h>
As demonstrated, these approaches successfully represented
an intricate phonological phenomenon serially and in steps.
However, no single approach was able to represent all relevant
processes and phenomena concerning CA structure in a parallel
way. In other words, each theory was able to describe a certain
phenomenon. To explain intricate information related to the
syllable such as, onsetless syllables are forbidden, extrametri-
cality/appendix, syllable weight by position, epenthesis and dele-
tion of vowels generative phonology has produced OT approach.
OT approach discusses, analyzes and represents phonological
phenomena and processes in parallel through invoking the con-
cept of constraints, violability of constraints, and constraints’
ranking. It is parallel because in one tableau candidates are exa-
mined against certain constraints ranked according to a lan-
guage specific ranking. The candidate that fulfills and obeys
high ranking constraint is the optimal candidate as evidenced
by phonetic outputs in the language. I discuss OT below.
Optimality Theory and Constraints
OT (McCarthy & Prince, 1993; Prince & Smolensky, 1993,
2004) is a constraint-based approach to phonological well-for-
medness. It posits that Universal Grammar has a set of violable
universal constraints (CON). These constraints encompass uni-
12Adapted from (Broselow, 1979: p. 347).
13Emphatic sounds are stops, fricatives and laterals [tʕ, dʕ, sʕ, zʕ, lʕ, rʕ]
which are acoustically illustrated with a lowered second formant and articu-
latorily with a constriction in the pharyngeal cavity due to the retraction o
the tongue root.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 263
versal properties of languages. All universal constraints are
available in every language in the world. However, each lan-
guage has its particular ranking of these constraints, i.e., a cer-
tain hierarchy. Some languages may rank a certain constraint
high in the hierarchy while others may rank the same constraint
very low. This difference in constraint ranking explains the va-
riation that arises between languages. In addition, OT adopts a
representational format, i.e. tableau in which the candidate that
optimally satisfies a given constraint ranking wins over all other
candidates produced by GEN (the generator that creates lingui-
stic candidates). The grammar decides on the winner through
EVAL, which selects the best candidate that satisfies the high-
ranked constraints. Note that a given language may have high
ranked but yet violable constraints. The most important issue is
that the number of violations occurring to a given high con-
straint should be minimal.
OT offers an approach to linguistic theory that aims to com-
bine universality and markedness. In terms of universality, Uni-
versal Grammar provides the theory with a set of constraints
that are universal and universally present in all grammars. As
for markedness, it aims to present a precise formal sense of
what it means to be “unmarked.” In OT, forms are marked with
respect to some constraint if they violate it. These forms are
literally marked in that they incur violation marks for the con-
straint as part of their grammatical derivation. In other words,
OT postulates that both Constraint-unmarked-structure and the
Constraint-marked-structure are present in the grammar of a
language. Constraint ranking decides which of these structures
surfaces in the language. Low ranked constraints are dominated
by other high ranked constraints.
Syllable Structure Constraints
The constraints that are at play in CA syllable structure are
the following.
3. Syllable structure constraints
Input segments must have output correspondents. No dele-
tion. Every segment in the input should correspond to a seg-
ment in the output (McCarthy & Prince, 1995).
Output segment must have input correspondents. No epen-
thesis. Every segment in the output should correspond to a
segment in the input (McCarthy & Prince, 1995).
Syllables must have onsets.
A syllable must start with consonant (Prince & Smolensky,
1993, 2004).
*[µ µ µ]σ
Syllables are maximally CVC or CVV
Assign one violation mark for superheavy (trimoraic) sylla-
ble (McCarthy, 2008: p. 224).
Syllables must not have codas (Prince & Smolensky, 1993,
Syllables can have coda, but no more than one may associate
to syllable node (Prince & Smolensky, 1993, 2004).
Unsyllabified segment is forbidden (Prince & Smolensky,
1993, 2004).
ALIGNR (σ, PrWd)
Align the right edge of each syllable with the right edge of
some prosodic word (McCarthy & Prince, 1993, 2004).
*[v, +hi]$
No unstressed high vowel in an open syllable (Abu-Mansour,
No metathesis, no movement
Let input = output = o1o2o3…om
Assign one violation mark for every pair iw and iy if iw R ox
and iy R oz, iw precedes iy and oz precedes ox (McCarthy, 2008a).
As discussed above, syllable structures in CA are of three
categories: light CV, heavy CVC and CVV and super-heavy
CVCC and CVVC, which only occur word- and phrase-finally.
However, based on the premise that the final coda consonant of
a word is an appendix (see structure 4), I propose that syllable
structures are maximally CVC and CVV. Consider the follow-
ing generalizations.
4. Syllable structure generalizations
a) Syllable structures are maximally CVC and CVV.
b) Complex codas are not allowed at the syllable final posi-
c) Consonant clusters of more than two consonants are pro-
hibited, not only tautosyllabically, but also over a syllable
d) A vowel is epenthesized to break a consonant cluster re-
sulting from morpheme or word concatenation.
e) A vowel is deleted if it is high and in two-sided open syl-
f) A vowel never starts a syllable, and hence an onsetless-
lable is forbidden.
Tableaux 1-16 exemplify the above generalizations by
means of constraint ranking and interaction determining opti-
mal syllables structures.
I adopt Prince (2002) comparative and McCarthy (2008) com-
bination tableau14. The combination tableau illustrates the rank-
ing between constraints, as well as violation marks. In the tab-
leau, each losing candidate is compared to the winning candi-
date in regards to each constraint. (W) denotes that the con-
straint in question prefers the winner rather than the losing can-
didate. This is because the winner satisfies the constraint but
the losing candidate does not, as specified by the violation mark
14This tableau is a combination tableau adapted from McCarthy (2008a: pp.
46-47). According to McCarthy, the tableau ensures that the first two re-
quirements of a valid ranking are met, which are constraint conflict and a
winner. The cells with W and L show that these constraints compete over the
choice of the winner. For the winner to win the constraint with the W must
be higher than the one with the L. According to McCarthy: “The compara-
tive or combination format is best for the ranking problem.” (2008a:p. 48).
McCarthy advocates the combination tableau since it includes violations as
well as W and L annotations of the comparative tableau.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
(*).Whereas the (L) denotes that the given constraint prefers the
losing candidate rather than the winner. Observe the relation-
ship between ONSET MAX-IO and DEP-IO in Tableaux 1 and 2.
Tableau 1.
/asad/ “lion ONSET MAX-IO
a. ʔasad
b. asad *W
Candidate (a) in Tableau 1 is the winner because it obeys
ONSET by supplying a consonant to the onset of the first sylla-
ble [ʔa.sad]. Candidate (b) loses because it does not satisfy
ONSET, despite obeying MAX-IO. MAX-IO does not have a pref-
erence between the winner and the loser, hence, the blank cell,
(see footnote15). Tableau 1 demonstrates that we cannot estab-
lish a direct ranking between ONSET and MAX-IO, hence the da-
shed lines.
Tableau 2.
a. ʔasad *
b. asad *W L
In Tableau 2 candidate (a) wins at the expense of DEP-IO,
which stipulates that the output (i.e., surface form) should cor-
respond to the input (i.e., underlying form), thus nothing be
inserted. The competition between MAX-IO and DEP-IO is won
by MAX-IO, as illustrated in Tableau 3. Candidate (a) is the
optimal candidate, as it satisfies MAX-IO but violates DEP-IO,
because it inserts a vowel to syllabify the consonants [t.l].
Tableau 3.
he wrote to her MAX-IO DEP-IO
a. *
b. ka.tabl.ha **W L
Coda consonants are optional, as demonstrated by structure
(1) above. This suggests that NOCODA constraint must be low
ranked. Tableau 4 demonstrates the ranking of NOCODA in re-
lation to DEP-IO. Relationship between NOCODA and the rest of
the constraints is discussed below.
Tableau 4.
/fihim/ “he understood DEP-IO NOCODA
a. fi.him *
b. fi.hi.mi *W L
Tableau 4 demonstrates that DEP-IO, which is a faithfulness
constraint, dominates NOCODA, which is a syllable structure mark-
edness constraint. The winning candidate (a) obeys DEP-IO and
does not add anything to the coda, however, violating NOCODA.
Candidate (b) satisfies NOCODA, but violates DEP-IO, by insert-
ing a vowel. This tableau shows a direct ranking between the
two constraints: DEP-IO >> NOCODA.
Based on the analysis so far, we can conclude the following
proposed hierarchy.
Syllables in CA Are Maximally CVC or CVV
Analysis of CA syllables demonstrates that syllables are
maximally CVC or CVV. In OT *[µ µ µ]σ is a high-ranked
constraint and dominates the following constraints, i.e. *App
and Nocoda, as demonstrated in Tableaux 5-7.
Tableau 5.
*[µ µ µ]σ >> *APP.
/bint/”girl” *[µ µ µ]σ *APP
a. bin <t> *
b. bint *W L
Tableau 6.
*[µ µ µ]σ >> *APP.
/miin/ “who *[µ µ µ]σ *APP
a. mii<n> *
b. miin *W L
Tableau 7.
*[µ µ µ]σ >> NOCODA.
/min/ “from *[µ µ µ]σ NOCODA
a. min *
b. mi *W L
As for the relationship between *[µ µ µ]σ and the rest of the
constraints, Tableau 8 demonstrates that *[µ µ µ]σ dominates
DEP-IO, whereas no direct ranking relationship is found be-
tween *[µ µ µ]σ and MAX-IO, or between *[µ µ µ]σ and ONSET.
See Tableaux 9 and 10. A direct ranking relationship is found
between NOCODA and *APP as shown in Tableau 11.
Tableau 8.
*[µ µ µ]σ >> DEP-IO.
/katab- t-l-h a/ he wrote to her” *[ µ µ µ]σ DEP-IO
a. *
b. ka.tabl.ha *W L
Tableau 9.
MAX-IO, *[µ µ µ]σ.
/asad/ MAX-IO *[ µ µ µ]σ
a. Ɂa.sad
b. sadd *W
Tableau 10.
ONSET, *[µ µ µ]σ.
/asad/ ONSET *[ µ µ µ]σ
a. Ɂa.sad
b. asdd *W *W
c. asd *W
15According to McCarthy (2008a: p. 57) blank cells in a combination tableau
denote that the constraint in question does not have a preference between the
candidate and the winner, and that no preference does not undermine the
established ranking between the constraints.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 265
Tableau 11.
/fi.him/ NOCODA *APP
a. fi.hi<m> *
b. fi.him *W L
The proposed hierarchy so far is:
6. ONSET, MAX-IO, *[µ µ µ]σ >> DEP-IO >> NOCODA >> *APP
CVCC, CVVC Complex Codas
Complex codas (CVCC), as mentioned earlier, are not al-
lowed word- or phrase-medially because, as established above,
CA syllables are maximally CVC or CVV. However, word and
phrase finally, CVCC and CVVC syllables are allowed, but at
the expense of violating *APP, yet satisfying other high-ranked
constraints namely *COMPLEX CODA. See the following tableau.
Tableau 12.
/baraband/ “fluent *COMPLEX CODA *APP
a. ba.ra.ban<d> *
b. *W L
/masakiin/ “poor (plu)
a.<n> *
b. *W L
*COMPLEX CODA has to be highly ranked because complex
codas are never permitted. NOCODA, on the other hand, has
been shown to be low ranked (see 11 above) DEP-IO has to be
ranked lower than *COMPLEX CODA but higher than NOCODA,
as shown in Tableau 4. Tableaux 13 and 14 demonstrate the
interaction between MAX-IO, *COMPLEX-CODA, and DEP-IO.
Tableau 13.
/katab-t-l-ha/ *COMPLEX-CODA DEP-IO
a. *
b. ka.tabl.ha *W L
Tableau 14.
/katab-t-l-ha// MAX-IO *COMPLEX-CODA
a. **W L
In word and morpheme concatenation, a repair strategy oc-
curs where vowels are inserted and also deleted in order to
achieve a licit syllable structure. The following data illustrates
that, if there is a cluster of three (CCC) or four consonants
(CCCC), a vowel is inserted between the second and third con-
sonant (Davis & Zawaydeh, 1997: p. 47, as in 7a), and deleted
(Broselow, 1979: p. 349, as in 7b).
7.a)/bint-na/ [bintɨna]
daughter - our our daughter
/ʔul-t-l-u <h>/ [ʔultɨlu<h>]
say (1st sg. past)- to- him I told him
bint-ha/ [bintaha]
girl - her her daughter
/bint gamiila/ [bintɨgamiila]
girl - beautiful
a beautiful girl
/ʔul-t-l-ha/ [ʔultɨlha]
tell(1st sg. past)- to her I told her
b)/bint kibiira [bintikbiira]
girl-big a big girl
To account for the above data, syllable alignment constraints
(McCarthy & Prince, 1993) and correspondence constraints
(McCarthy & Prince, 1995) are invoked to supplement the syl-
lable structure constraints mentioned above.
8. ALIGNR (σ, Prwd) (ALIGNR)
Align the right edge of each syllable with the right edge of
some prosodic word (McCarthy & Prince, 1993).
Epenthesis and Deletion of Vowels in OT in the
Syllable, Prosodic Word and Phrase
Tableau 15 shows the role of ALIGNR (σ, PrWd) in accounting
for epenthesis in CA. No direct relationship is found for this
constraint and the rest of the constraints. The mora symbol,
Greek mu [μ], is used to represent violations against ALIGNR.
Tableau 15.
*Complex-coda >> NoCoda; AlignR (σ, PrWd) (Alignr)16.
[σ1 σ2 σ3]
a. * * µ µ µ
b. *W **W µ L
Candidate (a) is the winner, despite’s the violations of
ALIGNR. The candidate has three mora violations because the
right edge of its first syllable is two moras away from the right
edge of the word and the right edge of its second syllable is one
mora away from the right edge of the word. Candidate (a) wins
because it obeys *COMPLEX-CODA. Candidate (b) violates
As for the deletion of the vowel in /bint kibiira/ [bintik-
biira], I would like to invoke a phrasal syncope rule noted by
Broselow (1976: p. 3; reported by McCarthy, 2008: p. 18). This
rule deletes unstressed high vowels in two-sided open syllables.
I would also like to use the definition of the constraint as pos-
tulated by Abu-Mansour (1991) and reported by Mahfoudhi
(2005, p. 41). In addition, LINEARITY has a role as demonstrated
in Tableau 16.
9. *[v, +hi]$
No unstressed high vowel in an open syllable (Abu-Mansour,
10. linearity (lin)
No metathesis, no movement
16The double lines separating the *App constraint from the Alignr-(σ, PrWd
in the tableau illustrate that these two constraints deal with completely
different properties, one is related to the syllable and the other to the pro-
sodic word (McCarthy, 2008a: p. 71).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Let input = output = o1o2o3…om
Assign one violation mark for every pair iw and iy if iw R ox
and iy R oz, iw precedes iy and oz precedes ox (McCarthy, 2008a,
p. 198)
Tableau 16.
[σ1 σ2 σ3]
a. * * µ µ µ
b. *W **W µ L
Candidate (a) wins because it satisfies high-ranked con-
straints, i.e., *COMPLEX-CODA, NOCODA, and -*V, +hi]$: de-
spite its violations in ALIGNR and LIN17. Notice that the se-
quences of the vowels are metathesized in the winning candi-
date /bint ki- biira/ [bintikbiira].
To conclude this section, I provide in Tableau 17 a summary
of syllables structure constraints and their ranking within the
spoken Cairene Arabic data set, followed by a hierarchy of
constraint ranking in 11.
Tableau 17.
/bint kibiira/ *COMPLEX-
[σ1 σ2 σ3 σ4.σn]LIN
a. bin.tik.bii.ra * µ µ µ µ µ µ*
b. bin.tiki.bii.ra * *W µ µ µ µ µ µL
c. *W **W µµ µ µµ µL
11. Syllable structure contraint hierarchy
ONSET, MAX-IO, *[µ µ µ] >> *COMPLEX CODA >> DEP-IO >>
CA syllable structure has been the focus of investigation and
analysis in generative phonology since the 1970s. Theories
have investigated several phonological phenomena specific to
the syllable in CA. For example, as discussed in this paper,
emphatic spread takes the syllable as its domain, CVC syllables
are considered heavy word internally but not finally, more than
two-consonant clusters are forbidden word internally, and ep-
enthesis is across the board, to make certain syllable well-form-
edness is obeyed. Theories of generative phonology analyzed
these phenomena piecemeal. No theory was able to capture all
these phenomena in parallel representation like Optimality
Theory. In this paper, OT formulations explain the following: 1)
why CA syllables are maximally of two moras, and that is be-
cause *[µ µ µ] is ranked high; 2) why CVC syllables are con-
sidered heavy word internally but not finally, and that is be-
cause of the interaction between *[µ µ µ], NOCODA, and *APP,
and finally 3) how to account for epenthesis and deletion of
vowels in one representation, and that is by invoking constraints
such as -*V,+hi]$:, (ALIGNR), LIN. This paper joins the few
studies ((Broselow, 1976, 1979, 1988; Watson, 2002; Welden,
1980) that analyze mainly CA data without referring to data
mixed with classical Arabic. As mentioned above, analyses
presented in the literature are largely based on data from (Mitchell,
1956) referred to as Cairene classical Arabic. OT analysis and
formulations presented in this paper are provided to explain the
spoken CA data rather than the reverse, i.e., to explain formula-
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