The title says it all. I noticed some dictionaries (for reference Merriam-Webster and Cambridge) describe the word 'technology' as being divided /tekˈnɒl.ə.dʒi/ (or ⟨tech·​nol·​o·​gy⟩). However, in my mind the /l/ is very much linked to the /ə/ in 'lo', and not an extention of the preceding syllable. Even if you think about usage, 'techno' (as in the music genre) is a word derived from 'technology' and doesn't include the 'l'. When thinking etymologically it also wouldn't make sense for the 'l' to be incorporated into the 'nol', as they are part of different roots.

I know pronunciation evolves and varies, and is not always linked to the etymology of a word. So I am curious whether that is how people actually pronounce this word and I have been thinking about it wrong this whole time or it is just some quirk of how linguists choose to divide syllables.

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    Listen for the different accents in techno, technology, and technological. Jun 5 at 16:00
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    Isn't it just because the /l/ is stressed, and thus needs to be part of the stressed syllable? Prosodic boundaries need not correspond to morpheme ones.
    – alphabet
    Jun 5 at 16:01
  • The derivation of the word may be techno + logy, but we think of the suffix as being -ology and always put the stress on NOL. Jun 5 at 16:08
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    Above my pay grade, I fear. phonetics is a whole other universe to me. You are right to note that the root words are 'technē' (τεχνη) - a skill or expertise, and 'logia' (λογια - the abstract form derived from 'logos', meaning not just 'word' but also 'reason' or 'explanation': which escapes most translations of the opening sentence of St John's gospel). The 'y' is doing the job of the 'ia' ending of 'logia'. But the explanation of the phonetics layout is for phoneticists, not a hellenist.
    – Tuffy
    Jun 5 at 16:09
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    Words aren't pronounced according to their etymology, and pronunciations change in time. You don't seem to be disputing that M-W and Cambridge are correct as to how it's pronounced. There are a lot of similar questions - geo, heroine, country, etc, but often no real answer.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 5 at 16:43

2 Answers 2


Don't worry about it. There is no consensus on how to divide words into syllables in English. See Correct syllabification in (American) English on Linguistics Stack Exchange. The reason there is debate is because syllable divisions are not a directly visible phonetic fact, and people disagree about how to interpret indirect phonetic evidence of syllable structure.

The syllabification of sequences of stressed vowel + consonant + unstressed vowel in English is particularly disputed: taking yellow as an example, some linguists analyze the /l/ as coming at the end of the first syllable (such as Wells, cited in LPH's answer), others analyze it as coming at the start of the second syllable (look up "maximal onset principle"), and a third group says that it is in both syllables at once (look up "ambisyllabicity"). Each group of linguists has theories that can account for the phonetic facts that are alleged to prove one syllabification or the other.

If you know what theory of syllabification is used by the author of a transcription (as in the case of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, which follows Wells' theory), then where the transcription puts the dots may be useful information. But if you don't know this, you might as well ignore them. They rarely provide vital information: all theories of English syllabification agree that syllable division is generally predictable, not contrastive, as long as the overall structure of the word is taken into account (e.g. some pronunciation rules treat compound words differently from simple words).

Cambridge's transcription /tekˈnɒl.ə.dʒi/ is based on some principle along the lines of "/ɒ/ cannot occur at the end of a stressed syllable in English", but the justifications for principles like this are fairly circular.

  • There is no perfect consensus, but there are general directives shared by the various schools, and there is for most specialists an evaluation to be made of the various systems. Moreover, the student will always do well to keep to one system: it makes studying easier and gives better results.
    – LPH
    Jun 5 at 17:58
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    Pronunciations are not based on principle. They're based on pronunciation. There is a clear difference in how the word would be pronounced if the /l/ is the end of the second syllable or the beginning of the third. Maybe someone has created a rule that explains that pronunciation, but, at the end of the day, pronunciation guides tell you how speakers actually say the word.
    – trlkly
    Jun 6 at 3:00
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    @trlkly: Whatever contrast you're thinking of, the idea that it consists solely of a difference in syllabification isn't clear. There are other types of boundaries that can separate parts of words or phrases.
    – herisson
    Jun 6 at 3:07
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    @trlkly: For example, the use of "dark l", which you mentioned in a separate comment, follows different rules in different accents of English, and some accents are analyzed as using the position of /l/ in the foot--rather than or in addition to the syllable--as a criterion. I made a post about this here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/480863
    – herisson
    Jun 6 at 3:09

There are two types of syllabification in English, the first is orthographic and the second is phonetic. The following references are have been extracted from JC Wells' Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 3rd edition 2008 (LPD).

(LPD, p. 801) Phonetic (spoken) syllables must not be confused with orthographic (written) syllables. An orthographic syllable is a group of letters in spelling.When a word is plit across two lines of witing, it should be broken at an orthographic syllable boundary. (Word processors do this autoatically with a hyphenation program.) In some cases an orthographic boundary may not correspond exactly to a phonetic syllable boundary. For example, in the word happen the spelling includes two ps, and the orthographic syllabification is hap.pen. But the pronunciation has only a single p, and the syllables are /ˈhæp.ən/.

(LPD, p. XXIII 3 The English phonemic system and its notation
3.5 Syllabification) […]
It is generally agreed that phonetic syllable divisions must as far as possible avoid creating consonant clusters which are not found at the edges of words. This is the phonotactic constraint. Thus windy might be ˈwɪn.di or ˈwɪnd.i, but it could not be ˈwɪ.ndi (because English words could not begin with "nd"). LPD takes the view that the syllabification of this word actually parallels its morphology: wind+y, /ˈwɪnd.i/. For the same reason language must be /ˈlæŋ.gwɪdʒ/, not /ˈlæŋg.wɪdʒ/ or /ˈlæ.ŋgwɪdʒ/.

The principle that LPD adopts is that consonants are syllabified with whichever of the two adjacent vowels is more strongly stressed. If they are both unstressed, it goes with the leftward one. A weak vowel counts as less stressed than an unstressed strong one.

In general this principle is subject to the phonotactic constraint. However, there are some cases where accurate prediction of allophones requires us to override it.

(i) Certain unstressed syllables end in a strong short vowel, even though words cannot. In nostalgia the t is unaspirated (as in stack (stæk), not as in tack), so the syllabification is (BrE) nɒsˈtældʒ.ə.
(ii) […]
(iii) […]

The differences are resolved in relation to a particular variety of the language at a particular time in its evolution.

Note that the pronunciation in the Cambridge dictionary is /nɒs ˈtæl.dʒə/ for the UK and /nɑːˈstæl.dʒə/ for the US. So, the stressed consonant t is (rather abnormally) not aspirated in this pronunciation in the UK case, but in the US case it is normally unaspirated since s precedes. In both cases the syllabification of "dʒ" with shwa diverges from more traditional English as the syllabification with the strong syllable has been disregarded.

/tekˈnɒl.ə.dʒi/ is correct according to LPD as both the phonotactic constraint and the principle of more strongly stressed vowel agree with making l part of the syllable with the ɒ nucleus, but is not correct as pertains to the principle of syllabification with the leftward syllable in the case of unstressed adjacent syllables (In LPD, the pronunciation is /tekˈnɒl.ədʒ.i/; both ə and i are weak vowels, and so are equally unstressed; it is admitted that a certain degree of stress has to be associated with strong vowels.).

  • "Note that the pronunciation in the Cambridge dictionary is /nɒs ˈtæl.dʒə/ for the UK and /nɑːˈstæl.dʒə/ for the US. So, the stressed consonant t is not aspirated in this pronunciation in the UK case, but in the US case it is normally unaspirated since s precedes." As written, this doesn't really make sense, and if you meant to say "the stressed consonant t is aspirated in this pronunciation in the UK case", I don't think that is correct. The Cambridge dictionary doesn't adhere to Wells' principles, as we can see by its transcriptions /ˈwɪn.di/ and /ˈgʌs.ti/.
    – herisson
    Jun 5 at 18:03
  • @herisson I take it as unusual, as in both varieties stressed t's are aspirated when found as first sound in a stressed syllable. // Yes, but this is found still acceptable according to Wells; the variant treated in Wells dictionary is not British English, but more particularly, RP.
    – LPH
    Jun 5 at 18:13
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    What I'm saying is, I don't think the Cambridge dictionary's transcriptions of British English pronunciation respect the principle that stressed t's are aspirated when found as the first sound in a stressed syllable. I think they just put /s/ in the same syllable as any preceding unreduced "lax"/"short"/"checked" vowel, regardless of whether the following plosive is aspirated or unaspirated. Consider the transcription of "gastronomy" as /gæsˈtrɒn.ə.mi/, "ostentatious" as /ˌɒs.tenˈteɪ.ʃəs/ and "festivity" as /fesˈtɪv.ə.ti/: these words don't have aspirated /t/ in the second syllable.
    – herisson
    Jun 5 at 18:16
  • @herisson It is difficult to assert whether they do or not since this is an allophonic feature of the sounds of English which has no transcription. One has to learn the principle. They probably do because this aspiration is a solid feature of English pronunciation. // In "gastronomy" there is no aspiration as the usal aspiration is "absorbed" in a devoicing of r. Possibly, they neglect to acknowledge this aspiration in unstressed syllables containing a strong syllable, but that is mere speculation on my part.
    – LPH
    Jun 5 at 18:38
  • I don't know about the syllabification of Cambridge's US "nostalgia," but that first vowel is certainly wrong. I don't know anybody who pronounces that word with /ɑː/. It's always /ʌ/, and often a long /æː/ in the second syllable.
    – A. R.
    Jun 6 at 13:02

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