Definitions

Mora_(linguistics)

Mora (linguistics)

Mora (plural moras or morae) is a unit of sound used in phonology that determines syllable weight (which in turn determines stress or timing) in some languages. Like many technical linguistics terms, the exact definition of mora is debated. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D. McCawley in 1968: a mora is “[S]omething of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one.” The term comes from the Latin word for “linger, delay”, which was also used to translate the Greek word chronos (time) in its metrical sense.

A syllable containing one mora is said to be monomoraic; one with two moras is called bimoraic.

In general, moras are formed as follows:

  1. A syllable onset (the first consonant[s] of the syllable) does not represent any mora.
  2. The syllable nucleus represents one mora in the case of a short vowel, and two moras in the case of a long vowel or diphthong. Consonants serving as syllable nuclei also represent one mora if short and two if long. (Slovak is an example of a language that has both long and short consonantal nuclei.)
  3. In some languages (for example, Japanese), the coda represents one mora, and in others (for example, Irish) it does not. In English, the codas of stressed syllables represent a mora (thus, the word cat is bimoraic), but for unstressed syllables it is not clear whether the codas do (the second syllable of the word rabbit might be monomoraic).
  4. In some languages, a syllable with a long vowel or diphthong in the nucleus and one or more consonants in the coda is said to be trimoraic (see pluti).

In general, monomoraic syllables are said to be light syllables, bimoraic syllables are said to be heavy syllables, and trimoraic syllables (in languages that have them) are said to be superheavy syllables. Most linguists believe that no language uses syllables containing four or more moras.

Japanese is a language famous for its moraic qualities. Most dialects, including the standard, use moras (in Japanese, onji) as the basis of the sound system rather than syllables. For example, haiku in modern Japanese do not follow the pattern 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, as commonly believed, but rather the pattern 5 moras/7 moras/5 moras. As one example, the Japanese syllable-final n is moraic, as is the first part of a geminate consonant. For example, the word Nippon (one of the pronunciations of 日本, the name for "Japan" in Japanese) has four moras (ni-p-po-n); the four characters used in the hiragana spelling にっぽん match these four moras one to one. Thus, in Japanese, the words Tōkyō (to-o-kyo-o とうきょう), Ōsaka (o-o-sa-ka おおさか), and Nagasaki (na-ga-sa-ki ながさき) all have four moras, even though they have two, three, and four syllables, respectively.

In Hawaiian, both syllables and moras are important. Stress falls on the penultimate mora, though in words long enough to have two stresses, only the final stress is predictable. However, although a diphthong, such as oi, consists of two moras, stress may only fall on the first, a restriction not found with other vowel sequences such as io. That is, there is a distinction between oi, a bimoraic syllable, and io, which is two syllables.

See also

References

  • Clark, John; Collin Yallop, and Janet Fletcher (2007). Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology. 3rd edition, Oxford: Blackwell.

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