A Syllabic Consonant is a consonant that replaces the vowel [ə] in a syllable. They make it possible to make some short syllables shorter and simpler. Learn about the four syllabic consonants and how to make them.
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to talk about syllabic consonants.
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Thanks so much for this question. It’s an important one. A syllabic consonant is a consonant that replaces a vowel in a syllable. We have four consonants in American English that can do this: L, R, M, and N. This is good news: it simplifies syllables where the schwa is followed by one of these sounds.
Let’s start with the R consonant and the sample word ‘father’. This is how it looks in IPA. The tongue position for the TH is thh, with the tip through the teeth. The position for the R is rr, with the tongue tip pulled back. And the tongue position for the schwa is the tongue tip down, lightly touching the back of the bottom front teeth, uh, uh. But we don’t have to put the tongue tip down into the position for the schwa between these two sounds. The R overtakes the schwa. So just go straight from the position for the TH to the position for the R, th-rr, th-rr. Not th-uh-rr. If I tried to make the schwa, it would sound something like this: fath-uh-r, fath-uh-r. We don’t want that. Just ‘father’, -thr [3x], father.
So any time you see the schwa followed by the R in the same syllable, just go straight into the position for the R.
Now let’s look at the M and the example word ‘bottom’. We have a Flap T followed by the schwa-M. But you don’t need to try to make a schwa before the M. As your tongue bounces against the roof of the mouth for the Flap T, t, you can start closing your lips for the M. If I tried to make the schwa sound first, it would sound something like this: bott-uhm, bott-uhm. We don’t need that. Bottom, bottom. Simpler, quicker.
Any time you see the schwa followed by the M in the same syllable, just go straight into the position for the M.
N is the same. Let’s look at the example word ‘human’. As I part my lips for the M, I start to lift my tongue for the N: -man, -man. If I tried to make a schwa sound first, it would sound like this: hum-uhn, hum-uhn. Not necessary – just go straight into the N sound, -man [3x]. Human.
Any time you see the schwa followed by the N in the same syllable, just go straight into the position for the N.
Finally, the L sound. This is a little trickier because the L after a vowel in a syllable is a Dark L. The Dark L has a vowel-like sound in it anyway. To make the Dark L, pull the back of the tongue back. Uhl, uhl. Leave the tongue tip forward and down, the middle down too. Uhl, -uhl. So that’s the sound we want when we see schwa-L. Let’s take, for example, the word ‘people’. We want to go from the P straight into the Dark sound, where the tongue is pulling back. Not a schwa. In a schwa, the tongue is neutral. Uh, but we want uhl, -ple, -ple, -ple. People.
Any time you see the schwa followed by the L in the same syllable, just make this dark sound, pulling the back part of the tongue back, -ple. People.
All of these syllabic consonants make it possible to make these unstressed syllables even shorter. That’s a good thing.
I hope this video has cleared up what a syllabic consonant is and how to use them in your speech.
If there’s a concept you need help with, please put it in the comments below.
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That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.
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