Word stress in English
Word stress in English
Ministry of Education and
Science of Ukraine
Dragomanov National Pedagogical
Institute of foreign
Report of Theoretical
405 En group
nature of English Word Stress
of English Word Stress
in word stress
Word Stress - Does It Really Matter?
stress is not used in all languages. Some languages, Japanese or French for
example, pronounce each syllable with eq-ual em-pha-sis. Other languages,
English for example, use word stress.
Word stress is
your magic key to understanding spoken English. Native speakers of
English use word stress naturally. Word stress is so natural for them that they
don't even know they use it. Non-native speakers who speak English to native
speakers without using word stress, encounter two problems:
find it difficult to understand native speakers, especially those speaking
native speakers may find it difficult to understand them.
in this report we will focus our attention on the accentual patterns of English
words. The sequence of syllables in the word is not pronounced identically. The
syllable or syllables which are uttered with more prominence than the other
syllables of the word are said to be stressed or accented. The correlation of
varying prominences of syllables in a word is understood as the accentual
structure of the word or its stress pattern.
I. The nature of English Word Stress
spoken in isolation has at least one prominent syllable. We perceive it as
stressed. Stress in the isolated word is termed ws, stress in connected speech
is termed sentence stress. Stress indicated by placing a stress mark before the
stressed syllable: Stress is defined differently by different authors. B. A.
Bogortsky, for instance, defined stress as an increase of energy, accompan by
an increase of expiratory and articulatory activity. D. Jones fined stress as
the degree of force, which is accompanied by a stress force of exhalation and
gives an impression of loudness. H. Sweet stated that stress is connected with
the force of breath. Later, however P. Jones wrote, that “stress or prominence
is effected by inherent sonority, vowel and consonant length and by
intonation.”’ A. C. Gison also admits that a more prominent syllable is
accompanied pitch changes in the voice, quality and quantity of the accented
and polysyllabic words different syllables possess different degrees of special
prominence in different positions in relation to the beginning, middle and end
Word stress (WS) can be defined as
the singling out of one or more syllables in a word, which is accompanied by
the change of the force of utterance, pitch of the voice, qualitative and
quantitative characteristics of the sound which is usually a vowel. The
analysis of WS can be carried out according to the following parameters:
(i) the nature
of English word-stress;
degree and syllabic location;
stress patterns of the English words.[3;171]
If we compare
stressed and unstressed syllables in the two contract, we may note that in the
(a) the force
of utterance is greater, which is connected with more energetic articulation;
(b) the pitch
of the voice is higher, which is connected with stronger tenseness of the vocal
cords and the walls of the resonance chamber
(c) the quantity
of the vowel is greater, a vowel becomes longer;
quality of the vowel !& in the stressed syllable is different from the
quality of this vowel in the unstressed position, in why it is more narrow than.
On the auditory
level a stressed syllable is the part of the word which has a special
prominence. It is produced by a greater loud and length, modifications in the
pitch and quality. Their physic correlates are: intensity, duration, frequency
and the formant structure. All these features can be analyzed on the acoustic
can be defined as the singling out of one or more s tables in a word, which is
accompanied by the change of the force utterance, pitch of the voice, qualitative
and quantitative characteristics of the sound, which is usually a vowel.
languages one of the factors constituting word stress is usually more
significant than the others. According to the mo important feature different
types of word stress are distinguished different languages.
prominence in a stressed syllable or syllables achieved mainly through the
intensity of articulation, such type stress is called dynamic, or force stress.[2;179]
Stress can be
studied from the point of view of production and of perception. While producing
stressed syllables, speakers use more muscular energy than they do for
unstressed syllables. From the perceptual point of view, stressed syllables are
recognized as stressed because they are more prominent than unstressed syllables.
Phoneticians claim that at least four different factors are important in making
a syllable prominent:
seem to feel stressed syllables louder than unstressed; thus loudness is a
component of WS (Peter Roach explains that if one syllable in a sequence of
identical syllables, e.g. ba:ba:ba:ba:, is made louder than the others, it will
be heard as stressed);
one of the syllables in the above-given “nonsense” word is made longer, that
syllable is heard stressed, so the length of the syllables is another important
factor in making prominence;
syllable is said on some pitch (related to the frequency of vibration of the
vocal cords which is an essential perceptual characteristic of speech) . If one
syllable is said with high pitch as compared to the others then it will be
heard as stressed;
4) a syllable
can be heard prominent if it contains a vowel that is different in quality from
neighbouring vowels. If one of the vowels in the “nonsense word” is changed,
the “odd” syllable: will be heard as stressed.
manifestation of stress varies from language to language. Indifferent languages
one of the factors constituting word stress is usually more significant than
the others. According to the most salient feature the following types of word
stress are distinguished in different languages:
1) dynamic or
force stress if special prominence in a stressed syllable(syllables) is
achieved mainly through the intensity of articulation;
2) musical or
tonic stress if special prominence is achieved mainly through the change of
pitch, or musical tone.
quantitative stress if special prominence is achieved through the changes in
the quantity of the vowels, which are longer in the stressed syllables than in
the unstressed ones.
stress if special prominence is achieved through the changes in the quality of
the vowel under stress. Vowel reduction is often used as a manipulation of
quality in unstressed syllables.
Types of English Word Stress
English word stress according to its degree. One of the ways of reinitiating
the prominence of syllables is manipulating the degree of stress. There is controversy
about degrees of WS in English and their terminology. Strictly speaking, polysyllabic
word has as many degrees of stress as there are syllables in it. Designating
strongest syllable by 1, the second strongest by 2, etc., we may represent the
distribution Jesses in the following examples:
But from a linguistic
point, i.e. for the purposes of differentiating words from each
identifying them, the fourth, the fifth and other degrees of lexical stress are
redundant English, while the distinctive and recognitive relevance of the third
degree of stress is a objective point. The majority of British phoneticians (D.
Jones, Kingdon, A. C. Gimson among them) and Russian phoneticians (V. A.
Vassilyev, Shakhbagova) consider that there are three degrees of word-stress in
• primary —
• secondary —
the second strongest, partial, and
• weak — all
the other degrees.
bearing either primary or secondary stress are termed stressed, while syllables
with weak stress are called, somewhat inaccurately, unstressed. American
linguists stingiest four degrees of word stress, adding the so-called tertiary
stress . Contrary stress differs from tertiary that it usually occurs on the
third or fourth pre-tonic syllable, and tertiary is always post-tonic, e.g.
administrative, dictionary. category.[3;173]
language not only through the increase of intensity, but also through the
changes in the vowel quantity, consonant and vowel quality and pitch of the
voice. Russian word stress is not only dynamic but mostly quantitative and
qualitative. The length of the Russian vowels always depends on the position in
a word. The quality of unaccented vowels in Russian may differ greatly from the
quality of the same vowels under stress. Stress difficulties peculiar to the
accentual structure of the English language are connected with the vowel
special and inherent prominence. In identical positions the intensity of
English vowels is different. The highest in intensity is /a/, then u:, u, e, u,
of long vowels and diphthongs can be preserved (a) pretonic and (b) post-tonic
position. All English vowels may occur in accented syllables, the only
exception is /, which is never stressed. English vowels /i, u, u/ tend to occur
in unstressed syllables. Syllables with the syllabic m, n/ are never stressed.
diphthongs may partially lose their glide quality. In stressed syllables English
stops have complete closure, fricatives have full friction, features of forties/lenis
distinction are clearly defined.
Stress can be
characterized as fixed and free. In languages with fixed type of stress the
place of stress is always the same.
In English and
Russian word-stress is free, that is it may fall any syllable in a word:
a) idea sarcastic
b) placard railway
English and in Russian is not only free but also shifting. In both languages
the place of stress may shift, which helps t0 differentiate different parts of
speech, e.g. linsult—to inlsult, import—to imiport.
shifting of word-stress serves to perform distinctive function, V. Vassil.
performs not only distinctive function, it helps to constitute and recognize
words and their forms (constitutive and recognitive functions).
speaking, a polysyllabic word has as many degrees of stress as there are
syllables in it. American and English phoneticians give the following pattern
of stress distribution in the word examination. They mark the strongest
syllable with primary accent with the numeral 1, then goes 2, 3, etc.[2;180]
word-stress is traditionally defined as dynamic, but in fact,
prominence of the stressed syllables is manifested in the English language not
only through the increase of intensity, but also through the
changes in the
vowel quantity, consonant and vowel quality and pitch of the voice.
‘Most words of
more than four syllables have 2 stresses: primary (nuprefixes and entry. The
primary stress falls either on the third or the second syllable from the end
and the secondary stress falls on the syllable separated from the nuclear syllable
by one unstressed syllable: pro-ition, recog ition, etc.
The place of
word-stress in English compound words principally de“rewrite” on the semantic
factor, i. e. the element which determines the mean-of the whole compound has a
primary stress. But most of the compound possess the nuclear stress on the l
element: ‘bookcase, ‘diligence etc, whereas compound adjectives have, as a
rule, primary stress on element of the compound ‘well- ?oiown, ibsent-- jinded,
Word Stress tendencies
In spite of
the fact that word stress in English is free, there are certain factors that
determine the location and different degree of it. Prof. V. A. Vassilyev
describes them as follows:
• the rhythmic
retentive tendency and
• the semantic
The first and
the oldest of the English lexical stress tendencies (characteristic of all
Germanic languages) known as the recessive tendency originally consisted in
placing lexical stress on the initial syllable of nouns, adjectives and verbs
derived from them and on the root syllable of words which belonged to other
parts of speech and had a prefix. In most cases prefixes lost their referential
meaning since then, with the result that recessive stress in present-day English
of two subtypes:
unrestricted: when stress falls on the initial syllable, provided it is not a
prefix which has no referential meaning. A great majority of native English
words of Germanic origin are stressed this way: father mother husband, ‘wonder
when stress falls on the root of the native English words with a prefix which
has no referential meaning now: a’mong, be’come, before,fo,’get, etc.
It is this
tendency that determined the incidence of stress in a huge number of disyllabic
and trisyllabic French words which had been borrowed into English until the 1
5th century (during and after the Norman Conquest).
in English of a great number of short (disyllabic and trisyllabic) words defamed
the development of the so-called rhythmic tendency which results in alternating
stressed and unstressed syllables. Borrowed polysyllabic words developed a
secondary stress on the syllable separated from the word-final primary stress
by one unstressed syllable. These words began to be pronounced, in isolation,
on the model of short phrases in which a stressed syllable alternates with an
unstressed one: pronunciation.
tendency consists in the retention of the primary stress on the parent word:
person — personal, or more commonly the retention of the secondary stress on
the parent word: ‘personal — 1perso’nalily. The difference between constant
accent and ‘ retentive stress consists in that the former remains on the same
syllable in all the g forms of a word or in all the derivatives from one and
the same root, whereas retinal, stress in a derivative falls on the same
syllable on which it falls in the parent word, while i other derivatives from
the same root it may be shifted e.g.: personal .
certain categories of English words stressing of which is determined the
semantic factor, e.g. compound words and words with the so-called separable prefix
The majority of such words have two equally strong stresses, both stressed
parts considered to be of equal semantic importance, with the semantic factor
thus canceling rhythmic tendency in word stressing, e.g.
adjectives: hard-working, blue-eyed,
• verbs with
post positions sit down, take off
from 13 to 19:fourteen, sixteen.
It should be
noted that the rhythmic tendency becomes operative when such work occur in
sentences and the first stress of a double-stressed English word disappears in an
immediately or closely preceding word requires stress: a ‘very good-looking
English Word Stress functions
discussingaccentual structure of English words we should turn now to the functional
aspect of word stress. Word stress in a language performs three
I. Word stress
constitutes. a word, it organizes the syllables of a word Into a language unit
having a definite accentual structure, that is a pattern of relationship among
the syllables; a wok4 does not exist without the word stress. Thus the word
stress forms the constitutive function. Sound continuum become phrase when it
is divided into units organized by word stress into words.
stress enables a person to identify a succession ‘of syllables as a definite
accentual pattern of a word. This function of word stress is known as
identificatory (or recognitive). Correct accentuation helps the listener to
make the process of communication easier, whereas the distorted accentual
pattern of words, misplaced word stresses prevent normal understanding.
stress alone is capable of differentiating the meaning of words or their forms,
thus performing its distinctive function. The accentual patterns of words or
the degrees of word stress and their positions form oppositions, e.g. ‘import
— im’port, ‘billow — below.
Word stress in
a language performs the following functions:
CONSTITUTIVE function: it organizes the syllables of a word into language unit
having a defmite accentual structure, i.e. a pattern of relationship among th
syllables. The word does not exist as a lexica’ unit without word stress.
J. Layer holds
the view that lexical stress shows a culminative function: being characteristic
property of the word, it is thought to help the listener to judge how many
individual words the speaker has produced in a given utterance.
IDENTIFICATORY function: correct lexical stress enables the listener to decode
the information in verbal conimuriication adequately, while misplaced word
stresses prevent understanding.
DISTINCTI YE/CONTRAST WE function: word stress alone is capable of
differentiating the meanings of words or their forms. It should be mentioned
though that most words in most languages that use word stress linguistically do
not possess minimal pairs based on stress. But still there are about 135 pairs
of words of identical orthography in English which could occur either as nouns
(with stress on the penultimate syllable) or as verbs (with stress on the final
syllable), with a very small number of cases the location of lexical stress
alone being the differentiating factor: import (noun) — import (verb), ‘insult
(noun) — in’sult (verb).[4;130]
Variation in word stress
patterns of some English words are liable to variations of different kinds.
There is free variation of stress location due to some rhythmic and analogical
pressures, both of which entail in addition considerable changes of sound
pattern in words[3;182], e.g.
some words of three syllables, there is variation between’---and-‘—patterns: deficit,
integral (adj), exquisite.
in words of four syllables, there is variation between first and secon syllable
stressing: hospitable, formidable, despicable.
patterns of such words due to the variation in stress placement have the status
of alternative pronunciation forms which occur in educated usage.
variable stress placement caused by the context is known as ‘stressshift’.
When a word of several syllables has a stress near the end of thc word, and is
followed by another word with stress near its beginning, there is a tendency
for the stress in the first word to move nearer the beginning if it contains a
syllable that is capable of receiving stress, e.g. the word academic in
isolation usually has the stress or the penultimate syllable /-dem-/. However,
when the word year follows, the stress often found to move to the first
syllable /k-/; the whole phrase ‘academic year’ will have the primary
stress on the word year, so the resulting stress pattern will be ‘academic
‘year. In isolation, we say fundamental and Japanese with
primary stress on -ment and -nese, in connected speech these
words may have a different pattern: greater stress on fund- and Jap-.
English Word Stress - Does It Really Matter?
Yes and No.
Yes, if you
are a non-native speaker speaking to a native English speaker.
No, if you are
a non-native English speaker speaking to another non-native speaker.
language teaching theory has traditionally been based on native English forms,
more specifically British and American English varieties. In today's
international community however, where more than 1 billion non-native English
speakers use English as a lingua franca, teaching theory is changing to focus
on English as an International Language (EIL).
linguist Jennifer Jenkins' research on the English language, there are certain
factors in English pronunciation that can influence the degree of
intelligibility between a speaker and listener. Word stress is one of these
factors if you are speaking with a native English speaker, but Jenkins has
found that when two non-native speakers interact in EIL, word stress has little
influence on intelligibility.
So why are
native speakers so stressed about word stress?
Anyone who has
ever zapped between BBC and CNN has probably noticed the differences between
standard British and standard American word stress. It has caused quite a
CONtroversy (US), or should I say, "conTROVersy" (UK).
To a native
English speaker, a certain word stress is considered appropriate or
inappropriate depending on where the person is from. "Inappropriate"
word stress can really rub listeners the wrong way because it deviates from
their norm and indicates that the speaker is an "other" - an
outsider. This can be quite FRUStrating (US)/frusTRATing (UK) for the non-native
speaker who is just trying to get his point across.
spent in a language LABoratory (US), or laBORatory (UK) if you prefer,
non-native English speakers are still at a loss when it comes to speaking to
native speakers internationally.
variety is correct?" This is the most common question. Answer: "It
depends who you ask!" Stress indicates different meanings of identical
In one case
however, word stress can cause problems whether you are a native speaker or
non-native speaker of English: words which are spelled the same, but have
different meanings (and different word stress).
can also differentiate a word's part of speech - more specifically whether the
word is a noun or a verb. There are many examples of words which in their noun
form take their stress on the first syllable, but in the verb form are stressed
on the second syllable. Say the following words out loud: PROgress - proGRESS,
OBject - obJECT, REcord - reCORD.
We would never
say, "She wants to REcord a REcord one day," but rather, "reCORD
a REcord." Unfortunately this isn't a blanket rule, and there are plenty
of English words which sound the same both as verbs and as nouns: travel,
picture, promise and visit are a few examples.
So what is the
non-native English speaker to do? Sticking to the form you are most comfortable
is a two-way street with compromise and understanding at both ends. If you meet
people who can't accept the way you speak, then they're probably not worth
speaking with anyway!
words are the key to excellent pronunciation and understanding of English. Word
stress is not an optional extra that you can add to the English language if you
want. It is part of the language! English speakers use word stress to
communicate rapidly and accurately, even in difficult conditions. If, for
example, you do not hear a word clearly, you can still understand the word
because of the position of the stress.
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