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Is "gravity" pronounced /'græ.vɪ.ti/ or /'græv.ɪ.ti/? I had always assumed that it was the former, but the latter is shown in most dictionaries. Is there variation between accents?

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The Maximal Onset Principle states that where there is a choice over the syllable in which a consonant, in this case /v/, is to be placed, it goes into the onset rather than the coda, that is to say, at the beginning of the following syllable, rather than the end of the preceding syllable, but this applies only within certain phonotactic constraints. One such constraint is that a syllable may not end with a vowel such as /æ/, and this will almost certainly explain why you have seen it as /'græv.ɪ.ti/ in most dictionaries.

Syllable boundaries are of interest to the phonetician, but they don’t normally have as much bearing on actual pronunciation as the stress, which in this case is correctly shown as being on the first syllable.

  • Is this Maximal Onset Principle specific to English or a choice made by individual languages? – Mitch Nov 8 '11 at 22:25
  • @Mitch: I've only ever read of it with reference to English, but it could, I suppose, be applied at least to other European languages. – Barrie England Nov 9 '11 at 8:24
  • So, you're saying that English generally doesn't end syllables with /æ/, and that is why the /v/ is placed after it, in the same syllable. I'm usually fine ending syllables with /æ/, or it might be that I change it to /ə/. – James Wood Dec 3 '11 at 12:39
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    @JamesWood: It seems, rather, that English generally doesn't end syllables with a short vowel. – Barrie England Dec 3 '11 at 12:49
  • @JamesWood: But there are at least three exceptions: 'the', 'a' and 'to'. – Barrie England Dec 3 '11 at 15:30

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