English sounds sound complex for me as a non-native speaker, because of vowel reduction. English vowels in words can take a wide range of form in natural speech due to vowel reduction and whether you can draw lines on these sound into smaller units is unclear for me. So I wonder if English sound is completely divided into sub-elements which compose any word. For example, any Japanese word is thought for native Japanese to be composed of some units in basically 46 sound units, which are unit of timbre, and relative pitch relation between these units. These are combination of elements in Japanese natives' eyes. So my question is simply, whether do most of English natives see English words as a combination of their sub-units?

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    Native speakers of English more or less ignore exactly which vowel is pronounced in unstressed syllables. So you shouldn't worry about reproducing the exact vowels of English speakers in unstressed syllables ... concentrate on getting the vowels in stressed syllables correct. – Peter Shor Apr 12 '17 at 12:45
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    @PeterShor has the most important advice -- and get used to stress-timing, as well. Those unstressed syllables are increased in rapid speech groups. That makes English sound like it's all being collapsed into one unpronounceable syllable sometimes. The hardest thing to hear is where one word ends and another begins; you can't recognize a word if you only hear a stream of things coming at you. – John Lawler Apr 12 '17 at 15:20

Three things make English very different from Japanese in relation to this issue. Firstly, Japanese syllable rules allow for just a single consonant at the beginning of a syllable (with the exception of plosives followed by /j/), and a vowel in the nucleus. Japanese syllables don't allow consonants at all at the end of the syllable, apart from /N/ and /K/. So even though Japanese has a phoneme /t/ and a vowel /u/, the word /tut/ would be impossible in Japanese. English, in contrast, allows for consonants at the end of the syllable. This automatically means that there are a far greater number of possible syllables in English than in Japanese.

The second point is that English also allows for broad variety of consonant clusters whereas Japanese only allows a glide /j/ after an initial plosive. So for example we see syllables beginning with /kw/, /pr/ or even with three consonants such as /spl/ in English. The ends of English syllables allow for even longer clusters than that. For example the plural of the word angst may be realised as /æŋksts/ which includes the five-consonant cluster /ŋksts/. So this potential for a wide variety of different types of cluster both at the beginning and ends of syllables exponentially increases the number of well-formed syllables in English.

Lastly, Japanese has a small number of vowels, whereas non-rhotic English has around twenty or so, depending on how you count them. So again, this further increases the number of possible syllables in English. To illustrate, the English equivalent of Japanese's /ta, ti, tu, te, to/ would be /ti: tɪ tæ tɑ: tɒ tɔ tʊ tu: tə tɜ: te tʌ teɪ taɪ tɔɪ təʊ taʊ tɪə teə/!

So, in short, the constraints on how Japanese syllables are formed means that there is a small number of possible syllables, and for that reason it is possible for students to learn all of them and even to be able to list them effortlessly. In contrast English has so many possible syllables that this would be almost impossible. It also means that there is no possibility of using a syllabary writing system for English. English speakers, therefore, do not recognise or name individual syllables in the same way that Japanese speakers do.

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    Some nitpicks: Typically the Coda Constraint in Japanese is given as allowing both /N/ and /Q/ (corresponding to and in Japanese orthography) in coda position, not just /N/. Here, /Q/ represents the moraic obstruent archiphoneme. Although /N/ may be realized phonetically as a nasalized vowel, phonemically it is always a consonant. Japanese phonotactics also allows for a glide following an initial non-glide consonant. – snailboat Apr 12 '17 at 17:18
  • @snailplane Would /Q/ not constitute a mora in itself (i.e. it doesn't really occur in the previous syllab/mora?) Different question: does the post say that N is phonologically a consonant but phonetically a vowel? – Araucaria Apr 12 '17 at 20:54
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    @Araucaria Yes, it would be a mora in itself. Just like /N/, it would typically be the second mora in a heavy syllable. The post says that it is "often in reality not a true consonant, but a nasalized vowel" which is certainly true phonetically, but as a phoneme it is still a consonant because it patterns like one. – snailboat Apr 12 '17 at 21:00
  • @snailplane If you have the time and inclination only: if Japanese doesn't have consonants, in general, in the coda of their syllables, and certain syllables have nasalised-vowels/N's at the end, how do we know it's an /N/ there? And how do we know it's really in the coda? Might we just have phonemic nasalised vowels? That may seem a bit "out-there", but so does giving codas to a language whose syllables otherwise seems to lack them ... [These are probably a load of dumb questions ..., sorry] And I clearly don't know any of the answers to those questions!!! – Araucaria Apr 12 '17 at 22:41
  • @Araucaria: I believe /N/ is generally analyzed as a consonant because it is realized as a homorganic nasal consonant before plosives, and even word-finally, where it is commonly realized as a nasalized glide/nasalization on the preceding vowel, I believe realizations as an uvular stop [ɴ] or labial stop [m] are possible. I found this article that gives some phonetic evidence for /N/ being a phonological stop: linguistics.ubc.ca/files/2014/03/… – sumelic Apr 13 '17 at 11:59

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