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Francisco Zabala – 2014

Adapted from Prof. Mónica Terluk

Strong and weak vowels

Let’s suppose you are in a room, and what people in a different room are saying gets muffled. It is possible that, even
without hearing intelligible words or accurate sounds, you will detect what language is being used. How is this
possible? It may be a question of rhythm.

Compare “Ben’s quite fat now,” “Benny is very heavy at present,” and “Benjamin is particularly corpulent presently.”
These three sentences are definitely different in size but similar in duration (i.e. time).

1st FOOT 2nd FOOT 3rd FOOT 4th FOOT

(4 stresses / 4 syllables)
Ben’s Quite Fat now

(4 stresses / 10 syllables)
Benny is very Heavy at Present

(4 stresses / 15 syllables)
Benjamin is par ticularly corpulent presently

How can this be possible? Although this is not scientifically accurate, for teaching purposes we say that English
rhythm tends to be isochronous .`H!rPjq?m?r., that is, beats tend to happen in a regular way. All the unstressed
syllables in a foot can be crammed together because they generally contain weak vowels.

? H h9 d z @9
P N9 t9 U
h `H dH NH
T H? d? T?
t ?T `T

1. Weak vowels can only occur in weak, unstressed syllables:

a. E.g. Benjamin .!admcY?lHm., carry .!jzqh., into .!Hmst+ !Hms?..
b. Sometimes .?. may even be dropped: apple .!zok., listen .!kHrm..

2. .H+ T.belong to both groups. They can occur either in stressed or unstressed syllables.
a. Stressed: book .!aTj., sit .!rHs., look .!kTj., win .!vHm., wood .!vTc..
b. Unstressed: catching .!jzsRHM., added .!zcHc., strongest .!rsqPMfHrs..
c. Sometimes .?. can replace them:
Particular .o?!sHjiTk?+ o?!sHji?k?. Endless .!dmckHr+ !dmck?r.

3. Strong vowels: they are obligatory in stressed syllables. They can also be found in some unstressed
a. Stressed: time .!s`Hl., dollar .!cPk?., pronunciation .oq?$mUmrh!dHRm..
b. Unstressed: activity .zj!sHu?sh., context .!jPmsdjrs., dialogue .!c`H?kPf..