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Minor syllable is a term used primarily in the description of Mon-Khmer languages, where a word typically consists of a reduced (minor) syllable followed by a full tonic or stressed syllable. The minor syllable may be of the form /Cə/ or /CəN/, with a reduced vowel, as in colloquial Khmer, or of the form /CC/ with no vowel at all, as in Mlabri /kn̩diːŋ/ "navel" (minor syllable /kn̩/) and /br̩poːŋ/ "underneath" (minor syllable /br̩/), and Khasi kyndon /kn̩dɔːn/ "rule" (minor syllable /kn̩/), syrwet /sr̩wɛt̚/ "sign" (minor syllable /sr̩/), kylla /kl̩la/ "transform" (minor syllable /kl̩/), symboh /sm̩bɔːʔ/ "seed" (minor syllable /sm̩/) and tyngkai /tŋ̩kaːɪ/ "conserve" (minor syllable /tŋ̩/). This iambic pattern is sometimes called sesquisyllabic (lit. 'one and a half syllables'), a term coined by the American linguist James Matisoff in 1973:86. Outside Mon-Khmer, minor syllables are found in Burmese, where in contrast to full syllables they have the form /Cə/, with no consonant clusters allowed in the syllable onset, no syllable coda, and no tone. Recent reconstructions of Proto-Tai and Old Chinese also include sesquisyllabic roots with minor syllables, as transitional forms between fully disyllabic words and the monosyllabic words found in modern Tai languages and modern Chinese.


  • Matisoff, James A. (1973). 'Tonogenesis in Southeast Asia'. In Larry M. Hyman (ed.), Consonant Types and Tone (Southern California Occasional Papers in Linguistics No. 1), pp. 73–95. Los Angeles: Linguistics Program, University of Southern California.
  • Thomas, David (1992). 'On Sesquisyllabic Structure'. The Mon-Khmer Studies Journal, Vol. 21, pp. 206–210.

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