Primarily in Austroasiatic languages (also known as Mon–Khmer), in a typical word a minor syllable is 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 language, 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.
- Brunelle, Marc; Kirby, James; Michaud, Alexis; Watkins, Justin. (2017). Prosodic systems: Mainland Southeast Asia. HAL 01617182.
- Butler, Becky Ann. (2014). Deconstructing the Southeast Asian sesquisyllable: A gestural account (Doctoral dissertation). Cornell University.
- Ferlus, Michel. (2004). The origin of tones in Viet-Muong. In Papers from the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (pp. 297-313). HAL 00927222v2.
- Ferlus, Michel. (2009). What were the four Divisions of Middle Chinese?. Diachronica, 26(2), 184-213. HAL 01581138v2.
- 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.
- Kirby, James & Brunelle, Marc. (2017). Southeast Asian tone in areal perspective. In R. Hickey (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics (pp. 703-731).
- Michaud, Alexis. (2012). Monosyllabicization: patterns of evolution in Asian languages. In Monosyllables: From phonology to typology (pp. 115-130). HAL 00436432v3.
- Svantesson, J.-O. & Karlsson, A. M. (2004). Minor syllable tones in Kammu. In International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages (TAL 2004).
- Thomas, David (1992). 'On Sesquisyllabic Structure'. The Mon-Khmer Studies Journal, 21, pp. 206–210.
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