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David Taylor_ Compound Words Stress

David Taylor_ Compound Words Stress

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Published by Walid Anglais
Phonetics and Phonology
Phonetics and Phonology

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Published by: Walid Anglais on Feb 17, 2013
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Compound word stress
David Taylor
Stress in English compound words poses difficult problems for foreignlearners. English does not seem to be at all consistent in the way it treatscompounds, either from the point of view of writing or from the point ofview of pronunciation and especially stress. If we look at how this uncer-tainty and inconsistency arises we can perhaps understand better the diffi-culties. And if we look beyond the principles of word stress to the principlesof accent placement, and in so doing pay attention to the information struc-ture of compounds, we can obtain valuable guidance about stress place-ment in these words.
A difficulty It is notoriously difficult to know how to stress English compound words.This is partly because we cannot easily define what a compound word is,and partly because it is not simply a question of stress but also of accent.The latter involves a significant combination of both stress and tone andserves to highlight what is regarded as ‘new’ or important information in aparticular group of words or tone group. If we look beyond the principlesof stress to the principles of accent as well, we are in a better position totry and explain the stress of compound words in English.
We shall look at accent in a little more detail later, but first let us deal with
the question of what compound words are. In one sense, it is easy todefine a compound word. It is simply a word which itself consists of two ormore independent words. But this begs the question, ‘How do we knowwhen we are dealing with two or more independent words and when weare dealing with a compound?’ We cannot always be sure. Our confusionon this point is reflected in the way we write and pronounce so-calledcompound words. Sometimes we write two words as one and pronouncethem as one, for example:
‘doorstep, ‘earthquake, ‘hairbrush.
Sometimeswe write two words separately but pronounce them as if they were one,for example,
‘bus conductor, ‘engine driver, ‘dining room.
At other times,we write two words together as if they were one but pronounce them as ifthey were two separate words. Examples are
‘loud’speaker, ‘hard’work-ing, ‘home’made.
We also find words written separately and pronouncedseparately, with two stresses, but which from the lexical and semanticpoint of view, are clearly regarded as one word, for example:
‘prime ‘minister, ‘red ‘herring,‘town ‘hall.
Sometimes we use ahyphen when writing so-called compound words:
‘old-‘fashioned, ‘heart-shaped, ‘make-believe.
Occasionally, we find words written in several dif-ferent ways; sometimes with a hyphen, sometimes without, sometimes
45/1 January 1991
© Oxford University Press 1991 67
as one word, sometimes as two, for example, ‘no one or ‘no-one,
‘tea-pot, ‘trademark
‘trade mark.
We even find words written in allthree possible ways, for example: ‘egg
cup, ‘eggcup,
As we can see, the variability in writing is reflected to some extent in pro-nunciation, in that some compound words have a single stress whileothers have so-called double stress, not to mention more elaborate com-pounds which may have several stresses. This variability both in writingand in pronunciation is the cause of severe problems for the learner or forthe non-native speaker generally. The spelling, as we have seen, is of verylittle help. First, it cannot always indicate whether or not we are dealingwith a compound. In the case of two-word compounds where each word iswritten separately, there is no way of telling whether these form a com-pound or are simply two words that happen to occur together. As Roach(1983: 83) says:There is no clear dividing line between two-word compounds and pairsof words that simply happen to occur together quite frequently.Second, even if it is clear that a compound is involved, there is no indica-tion of how it should be stressed. It is not surprising that wrong stressingof compounds is one of the commonest errors, even among those whootherwise approach a native-speaker standard of pronunciation. The fol-lowing are some common examples that I have frequently heard from mystudents and others. The normal native-speaker pronunciation is given inparentheses.
‘fountain ‘pen (‘fountain pen)‘hose’pipe (‘hosepipe)
‘finding (‘faultfinding)‘grand’mother (‘grandmother)‘make-‘believe (‘make-believe)‘English ‘teacher (‘English teacher)
As far as this last example is concerned, both stress patterns are possible,but there is a difference in meaning.
‘English ‘teacher
means a teacherwho is English, while
‘English teacher
means a teacher of English, whomay or may not be English. To go back to previous examples, I find thatmy students, when asked to mark stress, almost invariably put
‘bus conductor), ‘engine ‘driver
‘engine driver),
‘dining ‘room
‘dining room).
One way of explaining the apparent variability in the way we pronounceand write compound words is to look at them as part of a process of wordformation in English. Historically, what seems to happen is that when acompound is first used it is felt still to consist of two separate words. Later,as it becomes more firmly incorporated in the language, it comes to beregarded as one word. Several intermediate stages may be passedthrough, where the status of the compound is ambiguous. Furthermore,this process may take place at different speeds as far as speech and writingare concerned. This would explain some of the examples above, whichseem to behave differently in speech and writing.We can say, then, that many compound words seem to occupy an uneasyintermediate status between single words and phrases or groups of words.
David Taylor
From the point of view of stress, there seems to be an interaction betweenthe principles of lexical stress, that is stress as a lexical property of thesingle word, and the principles of accent, which apply to phrases andgroups of words. To put it a little differently, we could say that compoundword stress provides us with a case of lexical stress, that is, stress as aproperty of a word, whose place in the word is decided on the basis of theprinciples of accent placement. If it is true, as we have suggested, thatcompound words occupy an intermediate position between single wordsand phrases, then it is not surprising that they should be affected by prin-ciples that apply to single words and also by principles that apply tophrases.
‘Double’ stress and
This recognition that accent is involved may help us in deciding how to
‘single’ stress
stress compounds. But before exploring this possibility, let us first look atanother principle which has been proposed to explain stress placement incompounds. Consider the following examples:
‘steel con’tainer
‘steel container)‘plastic ‘bag
‘plastic factory)‘metal ‘box
‘metal company)‘fish ‘pie
‘fish shop)
In these examples, there seems to be a difference in the relationshipbetween the two elements making up the compound, and this results in adifferent stress pattern, so that, for instance when
steel container
means‘container made of steel’, it has double stress
(‘steel con’tainer);
but whenit means ‘container for keeping steel’ it has single stress
We also have examples like the following:
‘woman hater)‘player ‘manager
‘player power)‘child ‘actor
‘child minder)
Here also there seems to be a different relationship between the two ele-ments of the compound, so that we get double stress when the two ele-ments refer to different aspects of the same person, and single stress inother cases (a
woman doctor
is both a woman and a doctor, but a
is presumably not normally a woman). Further similar examplesare:
‘family ‘size
‘family size)‘city ‘wall
‘city people)
where in the double-stressed examples there seems to be an ‘of or ‘geni-tive’ relationship, as can be seen in the following contrasting sentences:Poverty seems to be related to family size
(‘family ‘size).
When buying washing powder I always buy the family size
In the first case, we are talking about the size
a family, and in the secondcase, about the size
a family.
Compound word stress69

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