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I looked it up and most forums link to http://semarch.linguistics.fas.nyu.edu/barker/Syllables/index.txt, an NYU site that no longer works. I would like to know how many unique syllables are used in the English dictionary (not possible syllables, but actually used syllables).

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  • 1
    The "bonus" question has been asked and answered here: Do you use “a” or “an” before acronyms? I don't know the answer to the main question; I'm looking forward to learning it!
    – herisson
    Dec 28, 2016 at 6:52
  • Related, but answers have invalid links: Is there a list of syllables contained in US English?
    – herisson
    Dec 28, 2016 at 6:55
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    I'd imagine you've thought of this already, but the answer will vary depending on how one defines a syllable. For example, the phonetician John Wells, IIRC, has proposed syllabifying words like "mattress" as "mattr.ess". A more well-known syllabification problem in British English is how to divide words like "barrel".
    – herisson
    Dec 28, 2016 at 7:03
  • You might email Chris Barker, the owner of that web page, to ask him if its contents are still available somehow.
    – herisson
    Dec 28, 2016 at 10:42
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    Why do you want to know, and how accurate does the number need to be?
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 2, 2017 at 2:13

2 Answers 2

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To answer you question, according to that paper on that URL: How many unique phonemes single syllables are used in the English language? 15,831

I've visited that URL 5yrs ago in a wild search of a syllabary of the English language.

Anyways, you can view the paper still using the WayBackMachine one Archive.org. It went offline somewhere between Sept 23 - Oct 8th 2016.

Here's a link to the last snapshot.

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The main question is only really answerable for a specific dialect and accent of English. "American English" has a lot of regional variations, and also variations by register.

The basic reason for this is that English is a pluricentric language, and even within a supposedly standardised version, it is very much permissible to borrow words from other languages and coin new words (often from roots in other languages). These new words often have pronunciations that are mangled versions of the original word or root, so the inventory of syllables is subject to random enlargement by users of the language.

English dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive.

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  • +1. In addition to borrowings and coinages, we also have proper nouns like Dwight and Clint and so on. I don't know how we'd decide which ones should count.
    – ruakh
    Oct 29, 2017 at 16:31

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