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California State University, Fullerton

Linguistic Department
Annual Linguistic Symposium
April 09, 2012
''Incorrect stress assignment to English words by Arabic
speakers
Presented by
Ali Asiri

Introduction
Many non-native speakers of English speak with

what is called a foreign accent.


One of the reasons for such an accent is that

each language varies considerably in the rules of


placing stress within words, and this affects the
way English is pronounced.
One of the points of differences between

Standard Arabic and English is the way the two


languages employ the stress patterns of words.

Papers purpose:
The purpose of this paper is to discover how

the two systems differ by holding a


comparison between Modern Standard Arabic
(MSA) and English word stress patterns in
order to ascertain the outstanding
characteristics of the two languages in this
particular linguistic area and hence to predict
the points of interference apt to arise in
learning English

Differences between Arabic


and English stress system
In English, stressed syllables are stressed and

unstressed syllables are reduced to neutral schwa //.


English word

Phonetic
transcription

Today

/tde/

Occur

/kr/

about

/bat/

Arabic stressed syllables are not lengthened the way

English does and unstressed syllables dont show


reduction in their vowel quality.
For example,
mad-ra-sa

In Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the stress

location is predictable and governed by rules.


In English, assigning stress to words is
complicated and difficult process.
Word stress in both (MSA) and the dialects is

non-phonemic. stress cannot be used to


distinguish meanings in Arabic.
Whereas in English words like the noun
permit are distinguished from the verb permit
by stress alone,

Word stress in both (MSA) and the dialects is

non-phonemic. stress cannot be used to


distinguish meanings in Arabic.
Whereas in English words like the noun
permit are distinguished from the verb permit
by stress alone,
content

He is not Content about his papers


content.

present

The students presented the teacher with a


present.
Egyptian
meaning
pronunciation

MSA
pronunciation

Mad-ra-sa

Mad-ra-sa

school

In English, content words are stressed words in a sentence and

function words are usually unstressed, unstressed syllables in


function words are reduced to schwa //.
In Arabic, unstressed syllables in function words keep their vowels
value.
English sentence
I'll go to library.

Phonetic
transcription
/ al go t labrri/

English is a stress-timed rhythm which means that the

time taken to get from one stressed syllable to another


stressed syllable is equally even regardless of the number
of the unstressed syllables that are in between.

Arabic, on the other hand, is syllable-timed rhythm


which means that syllables that occur in a
sentence are equally spaced and occur at even
intervals . Consequently, every syllable, whether it
is stressed or unstressed in Arabic sentence is
pronounced clearly and takes the same time of
pronunciation.

The stress rules in Arabic and English are

more intricate than some other


languages.
In Finnish: the stress always falls on the first
syllable of a word.
In Polish: on the next-to-last syllable of a word.
In French: on the last syllable of a word.
(Gaith)

common mistakes by Arabic


speakers:
Misplacement of assigning the stress to the words

due to added suffixes.


For example, photograph, photography,
photographic.
Incapacity to assign stress to the words that

change their meaning by shifting the stress.


Confusion
of some
pairs of words.
English word
sentence
Conflict

The newspaper description of conflict


conflicts.

Project

We project the next project will cost


millions

Suspect

The police suspect the suspect knows the


victim


Pronouncing

the vowel of unstressed syllable with its full

quality.
For example, it is common to eat salad in Sweden.
It is common to eat salad in Sweden.
Arabic pronunciation

It is commn to eat
salad in swedn

English pronunciation

It is commn to eat
salad in Swedn.

Failure

to adopt the stress-timed rhythm of English

He went to school
Arabic pronunciation

/Hi: wnt tu: sku:l/

English pronunciation

/hi: wnt t sku:l/

Having difficulty to assign the stress to the verbs that end in heavy syllables such
as, -ize, -ment, -fest, and -ary in which stress falls two syllables before the suffix.

Socialize

graduate secretar
,
y

manifest

monopoli
ze

comple
ment.

Stress misplacement of three-or-more syllable verbs that ending in light syllable.


Develop.
Stress misplacement of words that end in one of these suffixes: -cial, -tion, and ic.
For examples,
Commercial, information, economic
Stress misplacement of abstract nouns that end in these suffixes: -ance, -ancy, -y,
For example,
Presidency, dependency, monarchy

Stress misplacement of three-syllable nouns with

tense vowel in the final syllable such as, appetite,


institute.
Stress misplacement of three-or-more syllable

adjectives with light endings such as adamant,


barbarous, magnificent, and generous. Also,
three-syllable adjectives ending in heavy
syllables such as asinine, and difficult proved to
be difficult for Arabic speakers.

Negative transfer (NT)


Does Arabic language lie behind the stress

misplacement of English words?


In order to be able to answer this question we
need to be familiar with some basic stress rules of
Arabic, and they are as follows:
Stress always falls on the ultimate syllable
if that syllable is superheavy.
This rule takes precedence over all others.

ri-jaal men


ja-diid new

2. In monosyllabic words, stress falls on

the ultimate syllable.

ma(a) what
qad already
3. In disyllabic words, stress falls on the

penultimate
syllable.
Arabic Roman English

hi-ya she
ba-na(a) he built

4. In polysyllabic words, stress falls on


the penultimate if that syllable is heavy.



ja-dii-dun new

ka-tab-tum you wrote


5. In polysyllabic words, stress falls on the

antepenultimate if the penultimate is light.

ka-ta-ba he wrote

aa-Si-ma capital

it is necessary to understand how words are divided

into syllables (syllabic structure).


1. A light syllable consists of a consonant
followed by a short vowel (CV).
/ ka/ consonant followed by
CV
a short vowel.
2. A heavy syllable consists of either a consonant
followed by two vowels (CVV), or of a consonant
followed by a short vowel and a consonant (CVC).
CVV / baa/ consonant followed by a long vowel.
CVC
/bab/ consonant followed by a short vowel and a
consonant

A superheavy syllable consists of a

consonant
followed by one or two vowels followed by one or
two consonants:
CVVC
/nuun/ consonant + long vowel + consonant
CVCC

/kabb/ consonant + short vowel + double
consonant

In his article, Mohammed Anani proved that Arabic learners dont

just transfer, from the mother tongue, individual phonemes which


approximate the target sound, but rather they tend to be influenced
by a much more comprehensive negative transfer related to
underlying structure of the source language.
Mohammed compiled a list of words in which he found a clear

evidence of Arabic influence in stressing these words in conformity


with Arabic. The first group is words that end in superheavy
syllables on which the stress falls in Arabic.

. The first group is words that end in superheavy


syllables on which the stress falls in Arabic

The word

English
pronunciation

Arabic
Arabic
pronunciatio words
n

Dictate

dictate

Dictate

Sa-laam

Concrete

concrete

Concrete

Du-ruus

Parachute

Parachute

parachute

Ja-miil

Headlights

headlights

headlights

Ri-jaal

Topcoat

topcoat

topcoat

Yaa- baan

appetite

appetite

appetite

The second group is the words dont contain

superheavy syllable. These words consist of light


and heavy syllables: (cv-cv-cvc),
(cvc-cv-cv).
The word

English
pronuncia
tion

Arabic
pronuncia
tion

Arabic
similar
structure
words

Position

Position

position

Mas-a-la

Condition

Condition

Condition

Mas-ta-ra

Delicious

Delicious

Delicious

Mar-ha-la

Musician

Musician

Musician

sa-la-ta

political

political

political

Conclusion
It is very clear that Arabic speakers transfer some

Arabic features when pronouncing English words or


sentences. It is called Negative transfer.
The mistakes done by Arabic speakers regarding
stress placement is recurring and predictable which
can be utilized by English teachers to approach these
mistakes and classify them in order for students to be
aware of the general rules of English stress system.
The stress patterns of English are very complicated
and therefore students are highly recommended to
refer to some reliable pronouncing dictionary when
they come across difficult words.

references
Halpern, J. (n.d.). word stress and vowel neutralization in modern

standard arabic. 7.
Ghaith, S. (1993). The assignment of primary stress to words by some

arab speakers.System,21(3), 381-390.


Kharma, N., & Hajjaj, A. (1997). Errors in English among Arabic speakers:

Analysis and remedy . Beirut: York Press Librairie du Liban Publishers.


Wahba, E. (1998). Teaching pronunciation--why?. Forum, 36(3), .
Wines, M. (1989). Incorrect stress placement in the case of arab learners

of english.international review of applied linguistics in language


teaching,27(1), 6.