When creating syllables we basically require an onset, nucleus, and a coda. Now, usually, all language have an onset, and the coda is fairly optional. Before creating a phonetic system, we first decide the word order, and rules about what sounds are allowed in the onset, nucleus and coda positions.

My question is focused on the 2nd part. For example, in English, the sound [ŋ] isn’t allowed to begin a word, but it can begin a syllable; and in Dothraki, the consonants [ɡ], [q], and [w] can’t end a word.

So these restrictions, do they arrive because of some IPA rule? Or is it the developer that creates these rules?

  • "In English, the sound [ŋ] ... can begin a syllable." Do you have any examples of this?
    – A. R.
    Jun 9, 2021 at 18:50
  • It's from the book, "The art of language creation."
    – Momobear
    Jun 13, 2021 at 16:40
  • I couldn't find the passage you quote, else I'd insert your mystery symbol for you. Do you see it here? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet_chart Jul 12, 2021 at 23:10
  • @AntonSherwood yes I can, thanks a lot, buddy.
    – Momobear
    Jul 13, 2021 at 10:55
  • @AntonSherwood the passage is from the book which is written by David Peterson
    – Momobear
    Jul 13, 2021 at 10:57

1 Answer 1


The phonotactics of a language, what you have described, is the silent partner of phonology. The analogy I like to use is that a language's phonology is its periodic table (with individual phonemes as individual elements), while its phonotactics are the entire rest of its chemistry. Higher level stuff, like morphology, semantics, pragmatics, are things like biology, psychology, sociology.

Just like every language has its own phonology, every language has its own phonotactics. There are languages that can put /ŋ/ in onset (for example, Vietnamese) or /h/ in coda (Arabic). There are languages that can't make /s/ clusters, or any clusters for that matter (Hawaiian).

The IPA is the "Grand Unified Periodic Table of Linguistics"; it's stated purpose is to label every sound used in a human language, and does not restrict their arrangement in anyway. There is no "Grand Unified Chemistry of Linguistics"; phonotactic laws are usually described in plain language, although there is a notation to succinctly describe allophonic variation (that is, how phonemes are realized as phones in different environments) and phonemic evolution (how a language's phonemes evolve over time).

  • 2
    Indeed -- the IPA attempts to DESCRIBE sounds, not PRESCRIBE anything. There are no IPA rules that prohibit anything. May 10, 2021 at 10:32
  • in fact, restriction of /ŋ/ to coda position only is sometimes considered an Indo-Europeanism as most other languages with it as a distinct phoneme are perfectly happy including it in the onset (although many Sinitic languages either have or are in the process of losing it in onset position too)
    – Tristan
    Jul 26, 2021 at 9:59
  • @Tristan And of course there are plenty of (modern) Indo-European languages that are fine with initial /ŋ/ as well. Dec 9, 2021 at 0:52
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I didn't know that! Do you have any examples?
    – Tristan
    Dec 9, 2021 at 10:07
  • 1
    @Tristan I just randomly saw your comment here now, nearly two years late. You could argue that things like possessive determiners, prepositions and negators are essentially proclitics and /ŋ/ thus not true onsets; but there are other words that cause nasalisation that would be harder to consider proclitic; e.g., Irish seacht/ocht/naoi/deich ngairdín ‘seven/eight/nine/ten gardens’, cá ngabhfaidh tú? ‘where will you go?’ In older Irish, adjectives after the gen.pl. were also nasalised (na ngealaí ngeala ‘of the bright moons’), but not anymore. Oct 30, 2023 at 21:44

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