Consonant Clusters

Consonant Clusters which are also known as consonant blends, are a group of two or more consonants without the interjection of a vowel. An example of consonant clusters can be found in the word Skirt.

  • /sk/ (Initial Cluster)
  • /rt/ (Final Cluster)

As shown in the above example, consonant clusters can be in the word initial position (beginning of the word) or in the word final position (end of the word), when refering to the English Language. The longest word without a vowel is rhythms. The longest word initial consonant cluster is 3 letters and the longest word final consonant cluster is 4 letters. Examples:

  • Strength /strɛŋkθ/
  • Texts /tɛksts/

Although consonant clusters are common in the English language, Engish speakers have some trouble producing them. Here are some examples of how English speakers pronouce the following 3-letter word final consonant clusters:

WORD OMITTED SOUND ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION
Florists /t/ Floriss
Tenths /th/ Tens
Tasked /k/ Tast

As shown above, the /t/ /th/ and /k/ sounds are often omitted if they are the middle consonant in the word-final cluster. Consonants are higher in frequency and lower in intensity which means that they are harder to hear. This is important to the relation of sound perception because if someone learning how to say these sounds is hard of hearing to high frequency sounds, he or she will have difficulty producing consonants such as /t/ /th/ and /k/. These sounds are also voiceless which are harder to produce in comparison to voiced consonants; therefore, it is easier to omit these sounds when saying certain words that contain them.

Consonant-Vowel-Consonant

Consonant-Vowel-Consonant words/sounds begin with a consonant, have a vowel (usually a short vowel) in the middle, and end with a consonant. These words or sounds are usually learned during the Pre-K and Kindergarten ages. Here are some examples of CVC words:

  • Bug /bəg/
  • Cat /kæt/
  • Hit /hɪt
  • Toy /tɔj/
  • Pet /pɛt/

Below are examples of CVC sounds. These sounds are different from CVC words because the sounds cannot stand alone as words.

  • Partner /pɑrtnər/
  • Ginger /dʒɪndʒər/
  • Locket /locket/
  • Weapon /wɛpən/
  • Under /əndər/

Consonant-Vowel-Consonant sounds/words and Consonant clusters are very common in the English languages. CVC words and sounds are slightly used more often than CC, but this is rarely noticed to the English speaker beacause a word can have a consonant cluster and a CVC sound. Word example: “Phonetic” /fənɛtɪk/. Other languages, such as Czech and Spanish, use consonant clusters and CVC words/sounds differently. Lets explore how!

Spanish

In the Spanish language, most words are written in CVCV form and consonant clusters are rare. One interesting difference between English and Spanish is that in English when two L's follow each other in a word (Example: “Yellow”), they are recognized seperately as letters. Spanish recognizes the double L as one letter in their alphabet. The same goes for the letter R and the consonant cluster Ch.

Spanish words with CVCV form:

  • el barco /ɛl bɑrko/ “The ship”
  • la casa /lɑ kɑsə/ “The house”
  • el gato / ɛl gato/ “The cat”
  • la taza /lɑ taza/ “The cup”

This CVCV form is used to represent open syllable words which are words that end in vowels. There are some words in spanish that in CVC form, including el mar “the sea” and el fin “the end.”

When talking about consonant clusters in spanish, one must understand that this element is very rare in the word final position. The cluster “tl” is the only word final position consonant cluster in the Spanish language, according to most researchers. Other sources say that consonant + L is another word final consonant cluster; however, examples of this is hard to find. There are only six consonants that are allowed in the word final position in spanish. They are : n, r, l, s, z, and d. These consonants are found in word final position more commonly in words that have word initial consonant clusters. Example:

  • Flan
  • Clamar
  • Bracil
  • Plausibilidad

There are an abundant amount of word initial consonant clusters that end in vowels as well. In contrast with English, there are no “th” or “sh” consonant clusters in the spanish language. Spanish speakers have a hard time mastering this sound because it does not exist. Some common mistakes that a Spanish speaker usually makes include saying “mous” for mouth or “dey” for they. The majority of consonant clusters that do exist in Spanish are also common in English (pl-, gr-, dr- etc.)

Spanish is a language that embraces the vowel sounds which is why the pronunciation of more than two consonant clusters is hard to grasp; especially when learning how to speak a language that uses longer CC.

Czech

Czech is a Slovic language and is part of the Indo-European language subgroup. Unlike Spanish, Czech has words that only have consonants in them. For example, “čtvrtka”, meaning quater, fourth or paperboard, consists only of consonants. More examples of vowel-less words are

  • Smrt “Death”
  • Vlk “Wolf”

There are also sentences that can be produced that consist only of consonants. One popular example is this tongue twister: “Strč prst skrz krk” (Stick your finger through your throat). The longest consonant cluster in Czech is sevent letters. Pronouncing a word with seven consonants as an English or Spanish speaker would be difficult because neither language has a CC with that length. Czech does use vowels and CVC structure in their words:

  • růžová “Pink”
  • šedá “Gray”
  • tyrkysová “Turquoise”

In the third example the consonant cluster tyrkys is something that cannont be found in English or Spanish.

So What Does This Mean?

Why is it important to understand CC and CVC words/sounds of language? Recognizing the way language is structured determines whether or not we are familiar with it. If an Englsih speaker was to look at three “made up English words between dzlcha qtah and flurm the speaker would most likely agree that the word flurm is more likely to be an English word. This is because in English there are word initial consonant clusters of “fl.” The other examples contain consonants blends that do not exist in English. Consonant clusters and CVC words/sounds help speakers to understand what works in a language and what does not. These elements of phonetic contrasts are important when learning a new language.