This paper investigates the phonetic correlates of syllable structure, focusing on syllabic consonants. Cross-linguistically, syllables containing consonantal nuclei are often subject to a number of restrictions compared to their vocalic counterparts. However, some languages, like Slovak, allow relatively freely distributed syllabic liquids. Phonetic studies of syllable structure have shown that the vowel provides the basis for the articulatory coordination relationships within a syllable, and consonant–vowel timing patterns have been identified as a primary phonetic correlate of syllable structure. However, how coordination relationships within a syllable are organized when a consonant occupies the nucleus is largely unknown. We investigate whether in Slovak, syllabic consonants change their consonantal kinematics to approach a more vowel-like articulation and whether vowel-less syllables differ in their articulatory timing characteristics from canonical syllables containing vowels. Our results show that a consonant does not change to be more like a vowel in its articulatory dynamics when occupying the nucleus position. However, we find consistent effects in articulatory timing in that consonantal syllables show less overlap on a variety of measures compared to vocalic syllables. We argue that the typological possibility for syllabic consonants may be related to the general consonant timing pattern of a language.
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