Chapter 8: Suprasegmental Phonology: Stress, Rhythm, Intonation 8.1. Stess and prominence. The phonemic (contrastive) function of stress 8.2.

Free stress and fixed stress. The predictability of accentual patterns 8.3. Metric patterns 8.4. Morphological processes and stress shift 8.5. Primary and secondary stress 8.6. Weak and strong forms. Vowel reduction and delition 8.7. Rhythm 8.8. Intonational contours. Their pragmatic value

SUPRASEGMENTALS: STRESS, RHYTHM, INTONATION 8.1 Stess and prominence. The phonemic (contrative) function of stress
In the preceding chapter we conducted our analysis beyond the limit of phonological units and described syllables as sequences of sounds establishing a collocation relationship between the elements they were made up of. With this we went beyond the limit of mere segments and entered the domain of suprasegmental phonology. By assuming syllables to be hierarchical structures, combinations of sounds in which some elements (the nucleus) were more important than others, we departed from the strictly linear representation of phonological combinations and adopted a non-linear approach. The last chapter of this study is concerned with such notions as stress, rhythm and intonation. As we are soon going to see – a fact that is obvious even intuitively – such phonological realities are relevant at a level of a higher complexity than that of the mere segment and are considered to be typical suprasegmentals. Another term used to refer to them is prosodic elements. Prosody is a word coming from Greek and referring roughly to the musicality of phonetic sequences. Etymology is relevant in this case since, as we are going to see, we will be able to draw numerous parallels between tonality in human speech and tonality in music. Such prosodic elements are often called metrical elements and we can speak of metrical phonology analyzing such suprasegmental phenomena. A parallel is drawn here with poetry where the metre is an essential element when we discuss the prosodic structure of verse. The scope of this book will again not allow us to

go into very many details, but some elementary information in this field is essential for anyone wishing to have even a very general image of the sound structures of English. It would be difficult maybe even for a specialist to give a very accurate definition of stress, but even a schoolchild will be intuitively aware that when we talk about stress in a word or in more complex structures we talk in fact about prominence, or emphasis, that is parts of that word or structures are perceived as having a higher degree of prominence in comparison to the others. Thus, if asked where the accent or stress falls in a word like, say, tunic [tjunik], an English pupil will unhesitatingly answer “on the first syllable”, while if asked the same question about the corresponding word in French, tunique [tynik] a French schoolchild will say: “on the second syllable”. If we carefully examine the two words we will see, indeed, that besides a minor difference in the vocalic sequence of the first syllable – a semivowel and a back, high, unrounded vowel in English and the corresponding front, high, rounded vowel in French, the main difference between the two words lies in the placement of stress. The answers of the two children will be also relevant for the suprasegmental nature of stress, since they would perceive accent as a phenomenon affecting syllables, not mere sounds. A suggestive representation of the different accentual pattern of the two words, could be the following, where the emboldened letters represent the more prominent sequence of sounds: tunic; tunique (the last two letters of the French word don’t have any phonetic materialization). Though not easy to define, this prominence we are talking about has certain acoustic correlates. A stressed syllable will be heard louder, and therefore be characterized by a higher intensity or amplitude, will have a longer duration, will display a change in pitch or frequency. The example above contrasted stress placement in two different languages. If we try to do the same thing within the same linguistic system we will notice some interesting facts. Compare, for instance, the two possible pronunciations – due to the difference in stress placement of the Romanian verb urcă ”climb”. If we place the stress on the first syllable and read it urcă, we interpret it as the third person singular indicative present form; if, however, we place the stress on the second syllable, and read it urcă, we have the third person singular of the indicative simple perfect form. A pretty similar example would be fentă/fentă, the reading with the stress on the first syllable interpreting the sequence as a noun (“feint”, “dodge”) while the reading with the stress on the last syllable interprets it as the third person singular simple perfect of the corresponding verb (“he feinted” “he dodged”). The obvious conclusion is that stress has contrastive, phonemic value as segments like p and b had in our analysis in the fifth chapter, and that we can consider it, in certain situations, a suprasegmental phoneme. Our enthusiasm will be soon tempered by the observation that these are rare cases in Romanian, a language where stress seldom performs such a function. If we turn to English, however, plenty of examples will come up, underlying the decisive role played by the stress in distinguishing members of verb/noun pairs, formed by the extremely productive – in English – process of conversion; e.g. increase (v) / increase (n); implant (v) / implant (n); dispute (v); dispute (n); contrast (v); contrast (n).

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