The objective of the paper is to use the model of Complexity Scales and Licensing (Cyran 2003, 2010) to account for the existence of two prosodic types: ‘syllable’ and ‘word’ languages (Auer 1993, Szczepaniak 2007), which roughly correspond to syllable-timed and stress-timed languages. We will postulate that these categories are not primitive and that many of their phonological characteristics can be derived from simpler mechanisms of licensing. It will be also argued that the phenomenon of contrast plays an important role in prosodic typology and may infl uence syllable structure. Languages use more marked syllabic confi gurations in order to optimise contrast expression. We will carry out an analysis on a simple hypothetical language in order to demonstrate the interdependence of syllabic complexity and the contrastive potential of a syllabic unit.