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Published by callura

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Published by: callura on Jan 03, 2011
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Chapter 8:
 Suprasegmental Phonology
:
 Stress, Rhythm, Intonation
 
8.7. Rhythm
In order to better explain the notion of 
rhythm
we should go back to our previousreferences to poetry and to metric units. A metric foot in poetry was, we will remember, asequence of syllables including a stressed one and a couple of other syllables that werenot stressed. The skillful combination of such structures results into different rhythmic patterns. Rhythm, then, as in music, is based on combinations of louder and weaker segments, strong beats which occur at regular intervals of time. Anyone listening torecordings of spoken English and spoken Romanian will immediately notice an importantand striking difference between the two languages. They actually typify two differentcategories of languages. In Romanian, syllables, whether stressed or not, tend to haveroughly the same duration. In English, unstressed syllables not only have their vowelsreduced as we saw above, but their duration is severely shortened. A stressed syllable hasroughly the same duration as the several unstressed syllable following it until the nextaccentual peak follows. The acoustic impression that an English utterance gives is one of a sequence having some strong, heavily marked units (the stressed syllables) aroundwhich the much less important unstressed syllables are clustered. While in Romanianthere is a certain feeling of monotony, equally long syllables coming one after another inhumdrum succession, in English, the transition from stressed segments to a number of unstressed segments that have together the same duration as the stressed one, giving thefeeling that they have been compressed, conveys the language a certain musicalcharacter. Since languages like Romanian have rhythmic patterns based on the syllable,that has an equal duration, irrespective of its stressed/unstressed character, the type of rhythm that they display is called
 syllable-timed 
. In the other type of language – of whichEnglish is illustrative – the time unit is not the syllable, but the stressed syllable. Such atype of rhythm is consequently called
 stress-timed 
. It is this type of rhythm – and notstress alone – that is also largely responsible for the reduction of vowels in Englishunstressed syllable which are thus shortened to fit the narrow time slots left for them. Thecorrect use of these rhythmic patterns is one of the things that are most difficult to acquirefor a foreign learner of English and the improper extension to English of different

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