Home Random Page





A word, as a meaningful language unit, has a definite phonetic structure. The phonetic structure of a word comprises not only the sounds that the word is composed of and not only the syllabic structure that these sounds form, it also has a definite stress pattern.

The auditory impression of stress is that of prominence. And if a word contains more than one syllable, the relative prominence of those syllables differs. There may be one prominent syllable in a word as compared to the rest of the syllables of the same word (as in imˈportant), there may be two equally prominent syllables (as in ˈmisbeˈhave), two unequally prominent syllables (as in eˌxamiˈnation) or more prominent syllables (as in ˈunreˌliaˈbility" And this correlation of degrees of prominence of the syllables in a word forms the stress pattern of the word, which is often called the a c centual structure of a word.

Word stress is not used in all languages. Some languages, Japanese or French for example, pronounce each syllable with equal emphasis. Other languages, English for example, use word stress. Word stress is not an optional extra that you can add to the English language if you want. It is part of the language. English speakers use word stress to communicate rapidly and accurately, even in difficult conditions. If, for example, you do not hear a word clearly, you can still understand the word because of the position of the stress.


The stress patterns of different words may coincide. Thus the words "mother", "table", "happy", "after" have an identical stress pattern (ˈ-), though their sound structures have nothing in common. The stress pattern of these words differs from that of "analyse", "prominent", "syllable", "character", which is ˈ--.

Monosyllabic words have no stress pattern, because there can be established no correlation of prominence within it. Yet as lexical units monosyllables are regarded as stressed.

The stress patterns of words are generally perceived without difficulty. People easily distinguish between ˈsubject and sub ˈject.

Actual speech does not consist of isolated words. And the stress pattern of a word is deduced from how the word is accented in connected speech. On the other hand, the stress pattern of a word is only its potential pattern in an utterance. Though English words generally retain their stress patterns in connected speech, there occur numerous instances when the stress pattern of a word is altered:

unˈhappy — He was 'so unˎhappy. — He reˈmembered those 'unhappy ˎ̖days.


Word stress should not be confused with utterance stress. Word stress belongs to the word when said in isolation, whereas utterance stress belongs to the utterance.

The placement of utterance stress is primarily conditioned by the situational and linguistic context. It is also conditioned by subjective factors: by the speaker's intention to bring out words which are considered by him to be semantically important in the situational context. As for the stress pattern of a word, it is conditioned only by objective factors: pronunciation tendencies and the orthoepic norm. One cannot distort the stress pattern of a word on one's own, because such a distortion will make speech unintelligible.

As stated above, the auditory impression of stress is that of prominence. So a stressed syllable on the auditory level is a syllable that has special prominence. The effect of prominence may be produced by a greater degree of loudness, greater length of the stressed syllable, some modifications in its pitch and quality.

Acoustic analysis shows that the perception of prominence may be due to definite variations of the following acoustic parameters: intensity, duration, frequency, formant structure. All these parameters generally interact to produce the effect of prominence.

In different languages stress may be achieved by various combinations of these parameters. Depending upon which parameter is the principal one in producing the effect of stress, word stress in languages may be of different types.

1. There are languages with dynamic (or force) word stress. Stress in such languages is mainly achieved by a greater force of articulation which results in greater loudness, on the auditory level, and greater intensity on the acoustic level. The stressed syllables are louder than the unstressed ones. All the other parameters play a less important role in producing the effect of stress in such languages.

2. In languages with musical word stress prominence is mainly achieved by variations in pitch level, the main acoustic parameter being fundamental frequency. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and other oriental languages are languages with musical word stress (or tonic word stress). The meaning of the words in those languages depends on the pitch levels of their syllables.

Swedish word stress is characterized as dynamic and musical, because both loudness and pitch variations are relevant factors in producing prominence. For instance, the Swedish word "Anden" with falls in pitch on both syllables means "soul", but when pronounced with a fall in pitch on the first syllable and low pitch on the second syllable means "duck".

3. In languages with quantitative word stress the effect of stress is mainly based on the quantity of the sound, i.e. its duration. In such languages vowels in the stressed syllables are always longer than vowels in unstressed syllables. Russian word stress is considered to be mainly quantitative though it has been proved that duration is not the only parameter that produces the effect of stress in Russian.

4. Besides those types of word stress, linguists distinguish qualitative word stresses. In many languages the quality of vowels in stressed syllables is unobscured and consequently differs greatly from the quality of vowels in unstressed syllables.

What type of word stress is English word stress? What is its acoustic nature?

Until recently, English word stress was considered to be dynamic, as stress was generally correlated with loudness. But numerous investigations of the acoustic nature of English word stress have made it clear that stress in English does not depend on intensity alone, and that English word stress is of a complex nature.

As far as English word stress is concerned, relative prominence in the listener's mind is created by an interaction of four acoustic parameters: intensity, fundamental frequency, duration and formant structure. In other words, the special prominence of the stressed syllables is manifested in the En­glish language not only through the increase of intensity, but also through the changes in the vowel quantity, consonant and vowel quality and pitch of the voice. (In stressed syllables English stops have complete closure, fricatives have full friction, features of strong/weak distinction are clearly defined).

The peculiarity of this interaction still remains a controversial problem and a very complicated one.

What complicates the matter is that in English a vowel in an unstressed syllable may be non-reduced and longer than in a stressed syllable (as in ˈpillow, ˈcompound). Vowels differ in their intensity as well; for example, the intensity of /ɪ/ is much lower than that of /ɑ:/ or /ɔ:/. Besides that, the quantity of English vowels also differs: in identical phonetic environment an open vowel is longer than a close vowel. Moreover, a vowel following a lenis voiced consonant tends to have lower pitch than one which follows a fortis voiceless consonant (cf. "dear" - "tear", "bee" - "tea"). Yet an Englishman easily distinguishes a stressed syllable from among the unstressed despite the diversity in the acoustic characteristics of stressed syllables.

Therefore stress in English manifests itself in various ways, either the intensity, or duration of the stressed syllable may increase, or the spectrum of the stressed vowel may be sharpened, or the fundamental frequency may show a distinct rise (or fall). There may also be a combination of any of these parameters.

As for Russian word stress, it is considered to be primarily quantitative (because in Russian a stressed syllable is about 1.5 times longer than an unstressed syllable) and, secondarily, it is qualitative and dynamic.





One of the main questions for the linguist is to determine the number of contrastive degrees of word stress in a language.

How many contrastive degrees of word stress exist in English? How many degrees of word stress are linguistically relevant in English?

Instrumental investigations show that a polysyllabic word has as many degrees of prominence as there are syllables in it.

But not all these degrees of prominence are linguistically relevant. The problem is to determine which of these degrees are linguistically relevant.

There are two views of the matter. Some (e.g. D. Jones, R. Kingdon, V. Vassilyev) consider that there are three degrees of word stress in English: primary (or strong stress), secondary (or partial stress) and weak (the socalled "unstressed" syllables have weak stress). Secondary stress is chiefly needed to define the stress pattern of words containing four or more syllables, and compound words.

E.g. eˌxamiˈnation, ˌqualifiˈcation, ' hair-ˌdresser

All these degrees of stress are linguistically relevant as there are words in English the meanings of which depend upon the occurrence of either of the three degrees in their stress patterns.

E.g. ˈimport — imˈport, certification — ˌcertifiˈcation

But auditory analysis shows that there are certain positions in the stress patterns of English words where the vowel generally remains unobscured and its duration is considerable, though the syllable it occurs in does not actually bear primary or secondary stress. This can be clearly seen in verbs ending in "-ate", "-ize", "-y" (e.g. "elevate", "recognize", "occupy") and in such words as "portray", "canteen", "austere". Besides, this can also be observed in General American nouns ending in "-ary", "-ory", "-ony" (e.g., "dictionary", "territory", "ceremony"). On this account some American linguists (G. Trager, A. Hill) distinguish four degrees of word stress:

primary stress (as in "cupboard"),

secondary stress (as in "discrimination"),

tertiary stress (as in "analyse"),

weak stress (as in "cupboard", but very often the weakly stressed syllable is left unmarked).

American phoneticians consider that secondary stress generally occurs before the primary stress (as in "examination"), while tertiary stress occurs after the primary stress (as in "handbook", "specialize").

Though the second view seems to be more exact, the distinction between secondary and tertiary degrees of stress is too subtle to be noticed by an untrained ear.

Linguistically, tertiary word stress can be taken for a variant of secondary word stress, as there are no words in English the meanings of which depend on whether their stress pattern is characterized by either secondary or tertiary stress.

That is why the stress pattern of English words may be defined as a correlation of three degrees of stress.




There are languages in which stress always falls on the first syllable (as in Czech and Finnish), or on the last syllable (as in French and Turkish). Word stress in such languages is said to be fixed. The stress patterns of the bulk of English words are regular and stable. Yet English word stress is said to be free. It is free in the sense that stress is not fixed to any particular syllable in all the words of the language.

G. Torsuyev, who has made a special analysis of the English stress patterns, distinguishes more than 100 stress patterns, which he groups into 11 main types. The most common among them are:

They are the most productive types of stress patterns too, as borrowings and new words that appear in English are generally stressed accordingly.

Though word stress in English is called free, there are certain tendencies in English which to a certain extent regulate the accentuation of words. The linguists who have made a thorough analysis of English stress patterns have agreed upon the existence of two main accentuation tendencies in English: the recessive tendency and the rhythmic tendency.

According to the recessive tendency, stress falls on the first syllable which is generally the root syllable (e.g. "mother", "father", "sister", "brother" , "ready", "window") or on the second syllable in words which have a prefix of no special meaning (e.g., "be'come", inˈbeed, forˈgive, beˈhind").

The recessive tendency in stressing words is characteristic of words of Anglo-Saxon origin, but the tendency has also influenced many borrowings (e.g. "excellent, garage").

In the English language a considerable part of the vocabulary consists of monosyllabic words, some of which are stressed, others not (in connected speech). This created the rhythmic tendency to alternate stressed and unstressed syllables. According to the rhythmic tendency, stress is on the 3rd syllable from the end (‘'in’tensity", possiˈbility"). It is the usual way of stressing four-syllable words (e.g. "political, democracy, identify, comparison").

In words with more than four syllables we very often find the influence of both the rhythmic and the recessive tendencies (e.g. ˌindiˈvisible, ˌineˌfficiency, ˌphysiˈology, ˌphonoˈlogical).

In a running text of a conversational kind, the following approximate percentages of occurrence of words containing different numbers of syllables are to be expected: 1 syllable - 84%; 2 syllables - 12%; 3 syllables - 3%. The remaining 1% of words have 4 syllables or more.

In rapid colloquial speech the two tendencies very often coincide as one of the vowels is elided (e.g. ˈterit(o) ry, 'diction (a) ry, 'lit (e) rature, ˈtemp(e) rature).

The rhythmic tendency remains a strong one and it affects the stress patterns of a large number of words in modern English. Thus, in some polysyllabic words there is a tendency nowadays to avoid a succession of weak syllables, especially if these have /ǝ/ or /i/. As a result, there appears a stress shift with a rhythmic alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables. This tendency is clearly evident in the new pronunciation of the following words:

'exquisit or exˈquisite

'precedence or preˈcedence

ˈsonorous or soˈnorous

ˈcapitalist or caˈpitalist

ˈcontroversy or conˈtroversy

ˈhospitably or hosˈpitably

ˈarticulatory or articuˈlatory

The new variants of pronunciation of these words and many more English words have been accepted and included in Everyman's English Pronouncing Dictionary by D. Jones as either second or even first variants of pronunciation.

In sentences words with two stresses can be pronounced with one single stress under the influence of rhythm, e.g. ,thir'teen, but: Her 'num­ber is 'thirteen ,hundred.

Under the influence of rhythm a shifting of word-stress can be ob­served in words with secondary stress, e. g.: ,qualifi'cation 'just 'qualif'ication (emphatic variant).

The rhythmic stress affects the stress pattern of a great number of words in the English language. This results in the secondary accent, e.g. refu'gee, emplo’yee, ˌengi'neer, occu'pation, ,recommen'dation, etc.

Under the influence of rhythm compounds of three elements may have a strong stress on the second element; e. g. hot 'water bottle, waste 'paper basket (,hot 'water bottle, ,waste 'paper basket may also occur).


It has also been noticed that the stress of the parent word is often retained in the derivatives.

Cf. 'personal — ˌpersoˈnality, ˈnation — ˌnatioˈnality.

This regularity is sometimes called the retentive tendency in English.

There is one more tendency in English: the tendency to stress the most important elements in words. Such meaningful prominence is given to negative prefixes "un-", "in-", "mis-" (e.g. "unknown", "inartistic", "misbehave"), such prefixes as "ex-", "vice-", "sub-", "under-", (e.g. "ex-president”, "vice-president", "sub-editor", "under-mine"), suffix "-teen" (e.g. "thirteen", "fourteen"), semantically important elements in compound words (e.g. well-known", "red-hot", "bad-tempered").

In everyday speech the following variants of stress patterns can also be observed:

1. stylistically conditioned accentual variants, e. g. territory /'terətərI/ (full style) — /'terətrI/ (rapid colloquial style);

2. individual, free accentual variants, e. g. hospitable /'hɒspItəbəl/, /'ha:spItəbəl/.

Free accentual variants should not be confused with orthoepically in­correct accentuation.


These are the tendencies that to some extent regulate the placement of stress in English words and condition their stress patterns.



Word stress has a constitutive function, as it moulds syllables into a word by forming its stress pattern. Without a definite stress pattern a word ceases to be a word and becomes a sequence of syllables.

Word stress has a distinctive function in English, because there exist different words in English with analogous sound structure which are differentiated in speech only by their stress patterns. E.g.:

Noun/Adjective Verb

'insult in’sult

'abstract ab’stract or abs’tract

'accent ac'cent


Is it the different degrees of stress or rather the stress patterns that distinguish one word from another?

There exist different views of the problem. Some linguists (G. Trager, A. Hill) regard degrees of word stress as phonological units, which can distinguish words. They consider degrees of word stress to be separate phonemes. They have introduced 4 stress phonemes: primary (or loud), secondary (or reduced loud), tertiary (or medial) and weak stress phonemes. But it may be argued that degrees of stress can be treated as phonemes, because they are not segments into which speech may be divided. Degrees of stress are superimposed on syllables just as other prosodic phenomena.

V. Vassilyev states that in minimal pairs as ˈimport - im'port primary stress and weak stress form phonological oppositions (primary stress vs. weak stress). The distinction in the meaning of the words "certification— certification", according to V. Vassilyev, is based on the phonological opposition of secondary stress vs. weak stress. On this account he treats the degrees of stress as phonological units, which he calls "accentemes". He distinguishes three word accentemes in English: primary accenteme, secondary accenteme, weak accenteme. Accentemes differ from phonemes, because accentemes are prosodic phonological units.

Another view is expressed by G. Torsuyev, H. Kurath, A. Gimson and others. They think that it is the stress patterns of words that contrast with each other rather than degrees of stress. This viewpoint appears to be wellgrounded. It is evident that degrees of stress can be perceived only in stress patterns as relatively strong, medium or weak stress, i.e. one syllable has stronger stress than any other, another syllable is less strong but stronger than the weak ones. Moreover, in one stress pattern secondary stress may be stronger than primary stress in another stress pattern.

Therefore, it is the stress patterns "primary stress + weak stress" and "weak stress + primary stress" that distinguish words as "ˈimport" – "imˈport", "ˈinsult" – "in'sult".

On this account a stress pattern can be treated as a relevant prosodic unit.

Word stress has an identifiñatîãó function as well, because the stress patterns of words enable people to identify definite combinations of sounds as meaningful linguistic units. A distortion of the stress patterns may hamper understanding or produce a strange accent.

Thus, it is obvious that word stress performs its linguistic functions only as a structural element of a word. It is actually the stress pattern of a word that performs both the distinctive and the identificatory functions. And it is in the stress pattern of a word that the degrees of stress can be differentiated and opposed one to another.


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 3500

<== previous page | next page ==>
Test for self-control | Communicating effectively is one of the most underrated, yet most powerful skills you can develop.
doclecture.net - lectures - 2014-2021 year. Copyright infringement or personal data (0.008 sec.)