Word stress in English Plan

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Word stress in English


  1. Word stress, its acoustic nature.

  2. The linguistic function of a word stress.

  3. Degree and position of a word stress.

The sequence of syllables in the word is not pronounced identically. The syllable or syllables which are pronounced 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.

According to A.C. Gimson, the effect of prominence is achieved by any or all of four factors: force, tone, length and vowel colour. The dynamic stress implies greater force with which the syllable is pronounced. In other words in the articulation of the stressed syllable greater muscular energy is produced by the speaker. The European languages such as English, German, French, Russian are believed to possess predominantly dynamic word stress. In Scandinavian languages the word stress is considered to be both dynamic and musical (e.g. in Swedish, the word komma (comma) is distinguished from the word komma (come) by a difference in tones). The musical (tonic) word stress is observed in Chinese, Japanese. It is effected by the variations of the voice pitch in relation to neighbouring syllables. In Chinese the sound sequence “chu” pronounced with the level tone means “pig”, with the rising tone “bamboo”, and with the falling tone “to live”.

It is fair to mention that there is a terminological confusion in discussing the nature of stress. According to D. Crystal, the terms “heaviness, intensity, amplitude, prominence, emphasis, accent, stress” tend to be used synonymously by most writers. The discrepancy in terminology is largely due to the fact that there are 2 major views depending on whether the productive or receptive aspects of stress are discussed.

The main drawback with any theory of stress based on production of speech is that it only gives a partial explanation of the phenomenon but does not analyze it on the perceptive level.

Instrumental investigations study the physical nature of word stress. On the acoustic level the counterpart of force is the intensity of the vibrations of the vocal cords of the speaker which is perceived by the listener as loudness. Thus the greater energy with which the speaker articulates the stressed syllable in the word is associated by the listener with greater loudness. The acoustic counterparts of voice pitch and length are frequency and duration respectively. The nature of word stress in Russian seems to differ from that in English. The quantitative component plays a greater role in Russian accentual structure than in English word accent. In the Russian language of full formation and full length in unstressed positions, they are always reduced. Therefore the vowels of full length are unmistakably perceived as stressed. In English the quantitative component of word stress is not of primary importance because of the non-reduced vowels in the unstressed syllables which sometimes occur in English words (e.g. “transport”, “architect”).

In discussing accentual structure of English words we should turn now to the functional aspect of word stress. In language the word stress performs 3 functions:

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