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In the study of phonology in linguistics, the rime or rhyme of a syllable consists of a nucleus and an optional coda. In the study of Chinese languages, rimes are better known as finals or in Chinese, yunmu (PY: yùnmǔ, TC: 韻母, SC: 韵母).

"Rime" and "rhyme" are variants of the same word, but the rarer form "rime" is sometimes used to mean specifically "syllable rime" to differentiate it from the concept of poetic rhyme. This distinction is not made by all linguists and does not appear in most dictionaries.

Syllable structure[edit | edit source]

The segmental structure of a syllable may begin with an optional onset or initial (shengmu), followed by a compulsory rime.

syllable: C1(C2)V1(V2)(C3)(C4) = onset: C1(C2) + rime: V1(V2)(C3)(C4)
syllable: V1(V2)(C3)(C4) = onset: Ø (null) + rime: V1(V2)(C3)(C4)
(C = consonant, V = vowel, optional components are in parentheses.)

The rime is usually the portion of a syllable from the first vowel to the end. For example, /æt/ is the rime of all of the words at, sat, and flat. However, the nucleus does not necessarily need to be a vowel in some languages. For instance, the rime of the second syllables of the words bottle and fiddle is just /l/, a liquid consonant.

Chinese language studies[edit | edit source]

See also: Rime table and Rime dictionary

Rimes are particularly significant in research through the use of rime tables on historical Chinese phonology and the origins of Chinese characters. The concept of yùn (TC: 韻, SC: 韵), meaning "rhyme", has been important in phonological studies since the Jin Dynasty.

Some confusion arises from the translation of Chinese terms. Traditional Chinese philology tends to break up a syllable into four parts:

  1. Shēngmǔ (TC: 聲母, SC: 声母): "initial" or "onset," the initial consonant. There are no consonant clusters in Standard Mandarin.
  2. Yùntóu (TC: 韻頭, SC: 韵头) or Jièyīn (介音): "final-head" or "medial," the glide before the center vowel. It can be i, u or ü in Standard Mandarin.
  3. Yùnfù (TC: 韻腹, SC: 韵腹): "final-center" or "nucleus," the center of a syllable where the volume is the highest. Notice that it differs from the standard definition of syllable nucleus, which typically includes the medial. In addition to this, many Chinese phonologists will group the final diphthong glide, i and u (o) in Standard Mandarin, as part of the coda instead of the nucleus.
  4. Yùnwěi (TC: 韻尾, SC: 韵尾): "final-tail" or "coda," the part after center vowel. For the phonologists who group the diphthong glide as part of the coda, it can be i or u (o), as well as -n or -ng, in Standard Mandarin. The rhotic er is usually discussed separately. Notice that this differs from the standard definition of syllable coda, which does not typically include glides. Still other phonologists may agree with the standard definition of syllable coda and will group the diphthong glides with the nucleus instead of the coda, leaving only n and ng as the only possible codas in Standard Mandarin.

Some Chinese phonologists even group yùnfù and yùnwěi into yùnshēn (TC: 韻身, SC: 韵身) and call it "rime". So the medial may be separate from the rime but still be part of the final.

The following examples of Standard Mandarin syllables illustrate the differences between conventional western phonology and the two interpretations of Chinese phonology:

Syllable   Western phonology   Chinese phonology 1   Chinese phonology 2
Onset Rime Shēngmǔ
Pinyin IPA Nucleus Coda Yùnfù
e ɤ   ɤ       ɤ       ɤ  
ai         a ɪ      
yue       y ɛ     y ɛ  
wang uɑŋ   ŋ   u ɑ ŋ   u ɑ ŋ
yao iaʊ   iaʊ     i a ʊ   i  
ma m ɑ   m   ɑ   m   ɑ  
pin pʰin i n   i n   i n
xuan ɕyɛn ɕ n ɕ y ɛ n ɕ y ɛ n
guo kuo k uo   k u o   k u o  
liu liɤʊ l iɤʊ   l i ɤ ʊ l i ɤʊ  

es:Rima (silábica) fr:Rime syllabique en mandarin nn:Stavingsrim zh:韵母

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