I want to write an algorithm to calculate the number of syllables in a word. This process is an automated one that will be run on an entire dictionary so manually counting the number of breaths, chin movements etc. as mentioned in other questions won't scale. I also don't want to visit a website like howmanysyllables to input the word because I don't want to depend on a non free and open source system.

To get around tricky words like "Wednesday", I thought it would be easier to use the IPA transcription of words instead. I have the IPA transcription for all words in my downloaded dictionary but to my dismay I discovered there seems to be no surefire method of counting syllables.

Consider these two transcriptions to IPA:

pronunciation: pɹəˌnʌn.siˈeɪ.ʃən
conscientious: ˌkɒnʃiˈɛnʃəs

For the IPA word "pronunciation", lower apostrophe, upper apostrophe and period can be used to tell where the syllable breaks occur. The IPA word for "conscientious" only seems to strictly indicate a single break. You could say the "ʃ" indicates a syllable break but I worry this isn't the case for all words.

Is there a list of rules that define syllable breaks in US English for IPA transcriptions?

  • You're not going to be able to find rules for splitting syllables. You will need to find a different set of IPA transcriptions. Dictionaries like Dictionary.com use IPA and mark all the syllables with a combo of stress marks + spaces. You may not be able to find an IPA list/API for free, so maybe you should consider using a different transcription system. – Laurel Jun 4 '17 at 20:58
  • That's disheartening. I'm new to this area but I thought this would have been a solved problem. Thanks for the heads up. – Phlox Midas Jun 4 '17 at 21:02
  • Bear in mind that some words have a different number of syllables for different speakers. – oerkelens Jun 4 '17 at 21:18
  • Make a list of vowels, diphthongs, and syllable nuclei, and count those. Wiktionary (where it seems you got the two pronunciations from) is clearly not using a consistent IPA transcription scheme, so they might not be the best choice to get IPA from. But generally, you should be able to come up with a finite list of things like /n̩/, /a/, /aɪ/, /ɛ/, etc. There should be one per syllable. – Peter Shor Jun 4 '17 at 21:28
  • You don't need to know syllable breaks in most cases to calculate the number of syllables in a word; "pretty" has two syllables whether you syllabify it "pre-tty" or "prett-y". – sumelic Jun 4 '17 at 21:28

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