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Universidad de Los Andes
Facultad de Humanidades y Educaci\u00f3n
Escuela de Idiomas Modernos

Stress and Rhythm

We can define stress as the relative degree of force or emphasis given to a particular syllable or word to make it stand out (i.e., be easily noticed) from other syllables or words in an utterance. If syllables have stress, they are said to be stressed syllables (or accented syllables

). If syllables do not have stress, they are considered to be unstressed syllables (or
unaccented syllables
). We will study two types of stress: word stress and sentence stress.

Word stress (or accent) is the stress that words have when they are considered (or spoken) individually or in isolation (as in a dictionary). In our transcriptions, we will mark only two levels of word stress: primary stress ["] and secondary stress [\u00c6]. The syllable that is pronounced loudest or with the greatest emphasis in a word receives the primary stress. Likewise, the syllable that is pronounced with a little less emphasis than the one which has the primary stress receives the secondary stress.

For example, the monosyllabic wordsbook andspea k have primary stress: /"bUk/, /"spi\u2026k/. Similarly, the syllablespa- and-cause of the dissyllabic wordspap er andb ec au se have primary stress: /"peIp\u00b4r/, /bI"k\u00c5z/. In a like manner, the syllables-ten-,-a- andsec- of the polysyllabic wordsattent ion,p ro nun cia tion andseco nda ry have primary stress, while the syllables-ary and-nun - have secondary stress: /\u00b4"tenSn`/, /pr\u00b4\u00c6n\u00f8nsi"eISn`/, /"sek\u00b4n\u00c6deri/.

Notice that the stress mark is placed just before the syllable that carries the stress or before /s/, when this sound is followed by another consonant (e.g.,s t ruc tu r e /"str\u00f8ktS\u00b4r/). In isolation, every word has a primary stress; however, pronouncing dictionaries do not usually mark the primary stress in the transcription of monosyllabic words. Likewise, only words of two or more syllables can have primary stress and secondary stress at the same time. Again, pronouncing dictionaries do not often mark the secondary stress in their transcriptions of dissyllabic words, but we will always do it in ours.

On the other hand, sentence stress is the stress that words have when they are used in
connected speech, that is, in combination with other words forming phrases and sentences.
For example:
a. The teacher read the sentences.
[D\u00b4 "t\u00d3itS\u00b4r "red D\u00b4\sentn`sIz9]

Prof. Argenis A. Zapata
Idioma A: Fon\u00e9tica y Fonolog\u00eda Inglesa I
Semestre B-2005


b. Are you tired? ["A\u2026r j\u00b4/t \u00d3aI \u00b4r d9]
c. A cup of coffee. [\u00b4 "k\u00d3\u00f8p \u2022 \u00b4\k\u00d3 Afi]
d. Don't do it! [\ d9\u00b4Un \u00c6du\u2026 \u2022It]

In our transcriptions, we will consider two levels of sentence stress: primary stress
and secondary stress. Primary sentence stress (or tonic stress

) is marked just before the word or syllable with maximum emphasis. It will be indicated by the mark [\] when we have rising-falling intonation (i.e., when the voice goes upwards on the syllable that has the primary stress and then downwards) as in example (a) above; and indicated by the mark [/] when we have rising intonation (i.e., when the voice goes upwards on and beyond the syllable that has the primary stress), as in example (b). In a similar manner, secondary sentence stress is marked just before the words or syllables that are pronounced with a little less emphasis than the word or syllable with the primary stress. It will be indicated by the mark ["] if it occurs anywhere before the primary stress, as in example (c), and by the mark [\u00c6] if it occurs anywhere after the primary stress, as in example (d).

In addition, notice that in a single phrase or sentence only one syllable or word usually has primary stress; all the other words have either secondary stress or no stress at all. In contrast, there can be more than one secondary stress. Similarly, we mark only one stress on words of two or more syllables, which normally have two stresses in isolation. Also, note that some monosyllabic words, especially function words (or grammatical words

),1 often lose their accent and become unstressed in connected speech. (N.B: This point will be considered in detail further ahead.) But if monosyllabic words are stressed, their stress must be marked.

Placement of Stress

In English, the placement of stress depends on the number of syllables that a word has and whether the word is used in isolation (i.e., alone) or in connected speech (i.e., together with other words forming phrases and sentences). As was said above, in isolation all one- syllable words have primary stress; however, in connected speech they often lose their stress, especially if they are function words.2

When words have two or more syllables, we must learn where to place the stress because in English the position of the stress varies considerably; that is to say, the placement of stress can be predicted only to some extent. There are no infallible rules that we can follow in order to determine on which syllable words have their primary and

1 Function words are words that have little or no meaning on their own, but show grammatical relationships
in and between other words, phrases and sentences; e.g., prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, and so on.
2 Also, in connected speech we often speak at a faster rate or speed.
secondary stress; however, generative phonologists have proposed a series of helpful rules
that we could use.
Placement of stress in two-syllable words

In order to determine on which syllable we should place the primary stress (and secondary stress if there is one), we need to know several things: (a) the grammatical category of the word (i.e., whether the word is a noun, an adjective, a verb, an adverb, a preposition, and so on); (b) the syllable structure of the word (i.e., whether its syllables end with one or more consonants and whether the syllables contain long or short vowels); and (c) the morphological structure of the word (i.e., whether that word is a simple word3 or a complex word.4 The following rules will help us stress dissyllabic words with some degree of accuracy.

1. Stress simple nouns on the first syllable if their second syllable contains a short
vowel or a syllabic consonant. E.g.,bott le ["b9At:`],castle ["k\u00d3\u0153s:`],China ["tSaIn\u00b4],
clever["kl9ev\u00b4r ], gravel["gr\u0153v:`], happy["h\u0153pi],5laryn x ["lerINks] (or ["l\u0153rINks]),
money["m\u00f8ni], people["p\u00d3i\u2026p:` ], product["p\u00ae9
Ad\u00b4kt], table ["t\u00d3eIb:`], slender ["sl9end\u00b4r].
2. Stress simple nouns on the second syllable if the syllable contains a long vowel or
diphthong. E.g.,ba l lo on [b9\u00b4"lu\u2026n], design [d9
I"zaIn],est ate [I"steIt].
3. Stress compound nouns of the form noun + noun or adjective + noun as follows:
Place the primary stress on the first syllable and the secondary stress6 on the
second syllable. E.g.,a rm cha ir ["A\u2026rm\u00c6tSE\u00b4r],b a c kgro und ["b9\u0153k\u00c6grAUnd9],bla ckb ird
["b9l\u0153k\u00c6b9\u2030\u2026rd9],b la ckboa rd ["b9l\u0153k\u00c6b9O\u2026rd9],b l u eb el l ["b9lu\u2026\u00c6be:],b oo k sto r e ["b9Uk\u00c6stO\u2026r], car-
ferry["k\u00d3A\u2026r\u00c6feri], clotheshorse["kl9\u00b4Uz9\u00c6hO\u2026rs], greenhouse["g(ri\u2026n\u00c6hAUs], handbag
["h\u0153m\u00c6b\u0153g(],h ea rtbu rn ["hA\u2026rt\u00c6b9\u2030\u2026rn],n ewspap er ["nu\u2026s\u00c6p\u00d3eIp\u00b4r], suitcase ["su\u2026t\u00c6k\u00d3eIs],
sunrise["s\u00f8n\u00c6raIz9 ], teacup["t\u00d3i\u2026\u00c6k\u00d3\u00f8p], typewriter ["t\u00d3aIp\u00c6raI|\u00b4r].Exceptions: ice cream
4. Stress compound nouns derived from phrasal verbs as follows: Place theprimary
stress on the lexical part of the verb and the secondary stress on the preposition.
E.g.,d ri v e-in ["d9raIv\u00c6In],ha ndou t ["h\u0153nd\u00c6AUt],push-up s ["p\u00d3US\u00c6\u00f8ps],show-o ff ["S\u00b4U\u00c6\u00c5f],
AUn],sit-in ["sIt\u00c6In],t ake -o ff ["t\u00d3eIk\u00c6\u00c5f],w a l ko u t ["w\u00c5k\u00c6AUt].
5. Stress simple verbs on the second syllable if it contains a long vowel ordiphtho ng,
or if it ends with more than one consonant. E.g.,app ly [\u00b4"pl9aI],a rri ve [\u00b4"raIv9],
assist[\u00b4"sIst], attract[\u00b4"t\u00ae9
\u0153kt],co rrect [k\u00b4"rekt],decide [d9I"saId9
],direct [d9\u00b4"rekt],
expand[Ik"sp\u0153nd9], export [Ik"spO\u2026rt].Exceptions: verbs that end in \u2013ow /\u00b4U/, such as
borrow["b9Ar\u00b4U], follow["fAl\u00b4U ].
3 Simple words consist of one free morpheme, which can consist of one or more syllables.
4 Complex words may consist of (a) two or more free morphemes, forming compound words, (b) a free
morpheme plus affixes (i.e., prefixes and suffixes), and (c) two or more roots, either alone or with affixes.
5 [i] is considered an unstressed short vowel allophone of /I/, used at the end of words and before other vowels
within words. E.g.,happy /"h\u0153pI/ ["h\u0153pi],creatio n /krI"eISn/ [k\u00ae9i"eISn`].
6 Some compound nouns may not have a secondary stress; e.g.,bedroom ["bed\u00c6ru\u2026m] or ["bedrUm],classroom
["kl9\u0153s\u00c6ru\u2026m] or ["kl9\u0153srUm],gentlem an ["d9Zent:`m\u00b4n],restroom ["restrUm] (or ["restr\u00b4m]).

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