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Presented by Riza A. Sangkula
B L IK
Arrange these cards to form all the
possible words that these four
phonemes could form.
You might order them as follows:
B L I K
K L I B
B I L K
K I L B
LBKI, ILBK, BKIL, and ILKB are not
possible words in the language.
If you heard someone say:
“I just bought a beautiful new blick.”
You might ask: “What’s a blick?”
If you heard someone say:
“I just bought a beautiful new bkli.”
You would probably reply, “What did you
After a consonant like /b/, /g/, /k/, or /p/,
another *stop consonant is not
permitted by the rules of the grammar.
*Stop Consonant or
plosive is the sound
made by completely
blocking the air and
then releasing it.
/p/ /t/ /k/ - voiceless
/b/ /d/ g/- voiced stops
If a word begins
with an /l/ or /r/,
must be a vowel.
That is why /lbrk/
does not sound
like an English
Phonotactic Constraints define
what sound sequences are possible
and what other sound sequences are
not possible in a given language.
Native speakers of English
know not only that there
does not happen to be a
word tne, but also that there
could not be such a word in
English, since plosive +
nasal clusters do not occur
at the beginning of any word
in this language.
Nasal + Plosive clusters
English has three nasal stops (m n ŋ),
three voiceless plosives (p t k) and
three voiced plosives (b d g). Each set
consists of a labial (m p b), an alveolar
(n t d), and a velar (ŋ k g) consonant.
The clusters in red occur only across a
morpheme boundary, e.g. dreamt, dreamed,
tomcat, home-grown, chickenpox, cranberry,
pancake, downgrade, ping pong, dingbat,
Washington, banged, etc. Within a morpheme
only the ones in green are possible, that is, only
nasal+plosive clusters where the two share
their place of articulation temper, timber,
winter, panda, anchor (aŋkə), finger (fɪŋgə).
Every language has its own unique set of
phonotactic constraints. Sound
combinations that could not possibly be
English words might very well be words in
For instance both English and Georgian
have the sound segments [t], [A], [m].
In English we have Tom but no mot, mta
or tma; although mot could be a word.
In Georgian we have mta, mountain;
and tma hair, but no tom or mot.
German allows /kn/ in words like
'Knoten', meaning 'knot' - we can see
from the spelling that English used to
allow this sequence as well.
Another important point about
phonotactic constraints is that they
vary from language to language, as
this example of English and German
has just shown.
Why do languages have
The main reason has to do with the
limits on the talker's ability to
pronounce sequences of sounds as
one syllable, and the listener's
perception of how many syllables he
or she hears from a given sequence of
For example a sequence like /pʁ/ i.e. a
voiceless bilabial followed by a voiced uvular
fricative. Most of us with some training can
produce this sequence (e.g. /pʁa pʁit/ etc.) as a
monosyllabic word even though it doesn't occur
One of the main reasons why
languages have phonotactic constraints
is because their sequential arrangement
is itself a cue to the number of syllables
in a word.
Have you ever searched your
brain for a word to describe what
you are trying to express, but
you just couldn’t find one?
Maybe it’s because there’s not a
word for it at all.
A lexical gap, also known as a “lacuna” or
“accidental gap,” is a word in a language
that could exist because it follows the
grammatical rules of the language but is
For example, the Indonesian
word mencolek describes the trick of tapping
from behind on the opposite shoulder of
another person to confuse them. Sadly,
there is no English equivalent for the word,
1. The act of jumping out to scare
someone (vbyafnout in Czech)
2. The extra weight people gain from
emotional binge eating (kummerspeck,
3. If someone loses a spouse, they’re a
widow; if someone loses a parent,
they’re an orphan; but there is no word
for a parent who loses a child.
4. The act of gazing in to the distance
Some examples of Lexical Gaps in English
1. The act of scratching the head to
help remember something (pana
2. There is no word for to not look.
3. When teeth chatter from the cold or
from anger (zhaghzhagh, Persian)
4. The squeaking/kissing sound made
by sucking air past lips to gain the
attention of a dog or child (faamiti,
5. A person who asks a LOT of
questions (pochemuchka, German)
a non-existing word which is expected to
exist given the hypothesized
morphological rules of a particular
In English it is possible to derive nouns
from verbs by adding the suffixes -al and -
tion to the verbal stem. However, some
such derivations do not exist, although
there are no grammatical reasons for their
A gap in semantics occurs when a
particular meaning distinction visible
elsewhere in the lexicon is absent.
male female neutral
father mother parent
son daughter child
brother sister sibling
For example, English words describing
family members generally show gender