Principles of word-stress classification. Types of word-stress.  

Principles of word-stress classification. Types of word-stress.

As it has been stated, word-stress is connected with the changes of the force of articulation, pitch, colour and length of a vowel in a stressed syllable. So word-stress is based upon four principles – dynamic, musical, qualitative and quantitative. In different languages one of the factors, constituting word-stress is usually more significant than the others and consequently is said to be phonologically relevant. According to the most important feature of word-stress different types of it are distinguished in different languages.

If special prominence in a stressed syllable is achieved mainly through the intensity of articulation, such type of stress is called dynamic or force-stress.

If special prominence in a stressed syllable is achieved mainly through the change of pitch, or musical tone such accent is called musical or tonic.

If special prominence in a stressed syllable is achieved through the changes in the quality of the vowels, which are longer in the stressed syllable than in the unstressed ones, such type of stress is called quantitative.

If special prominence in a stressed syllable is achieved through the changes in the quality of the vowels which are not obscured in the stressed syllables and are rather obscure in the unstressed ones, such type of stress is called qualitative.

Quantitative and qualitative changes do not form independent phonemically distinctive features, so quantitative and qualitative types of word-stress do not exist separately from dynamic stress. They are conditioned by the latter and play subsidiary role in accentuation of syllables.

Musical or tonic stress is characteristic of the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and other oriental languages as well as some African languages where it distinguishes words, consisting of the same sounds. For example, in Japanese the sequence [hana], pronounced with even tone, means “nose”, pronounced with higher tone on the first syllable, means “beginning” and pronounced with higher tone on the second, syllable means “flower.”



The Scandinavian languages make use of both dynamic stress and tone stress in more or less equal degree.

Word-stress in other European languages, such as English, French, German, Russian is considered to be predominantly dynamic, with other features present but irrelevant. Thus, change of pitch is significant but the direction of pitch is not, since it doesn’t serve for differentiation of words from one another.

According to the potion of stress in words, the following types of word-stress are distinguished:

1) fixed word-stress;

2) free word-stress.

In languages with fixed word-stress the main accent invariable falls on a syllable which occupies in all the words of the languages one and the same position in relation to the beginning or end of a word. For instance, in Finnish and Czech word-stress in fixed on the first syllable, in Polish on the one but last syllable. In French the stress falls on the last syllable of the word, pronounced in isolation. Yet when a group of words is uttered, all the words in this group are unstressed, and only the final syllable is stressed, so it led some linguists to the conclusion that French has no word-stress.

In languages with free word-stress (English, Russian, German) the main accent may fall in different words on a syllable in any position in relation to the beginning or end of a word, although the accentual pattern of each word-form remains fixed, in the sense that, its accent is not shifted from one syllable to another in it. So the freedom of stress is not absolute but relative.

Within free word-stress two subtypes are distinguished on morphological ground:

a) constant stress;

b) shifting stress

A constant stress remains on the same morpheme in different grammatical forms of a word or in different derivatives from one and the same root (ex. wonder, wonderful, wonderfully). In a few inflectional grammatical forms that English words have, the stress is always constant (ex. finish, finishes, finishing, finished).

A shifting stress falls on different morphemes in different grammatical forms of a word or in different derivatives from one and the same root. Shifting of word stress may perform semantic function of differentiating lexical units, parts of speech, grammatical forms (ex. ig'nore – 'ignorant, 'contrast – to con'trast, рукá – рýки, домá – дóма, чýдная – чуднáя, мýка – мукá).

Free word-stress presupposes almost complete unpredictability in the incidence of the main accent in different words of the language. In Russian for example, there are no rules determining which syllable of a polysyllabic word bears the main stress, so that the stress of each word and grammatical form of a word has to be learnt individually.

Certain types of word-stress are also distinguished according to the degree of special prominence. There are several classifications based on this principle, which differ in a number of stress types.

Thus, A. Gimson, D. Jones believe that a polysyllabic word has as many degrees of stress as there are syllables in it. The strongest syllable is designated by the numeral 1, the second strongest syllable is designated by the figure 2 and so on. The weaker the syllable is the greater is the number.

Ex. examination [3ig-2zæ-4mi-1nei-5∫n];

indivisibility [2in-5di-3vi-6zi-1bi-7li-4ti];

radical [1ræ-3di-2kl].

However, so many degrees of stress are not required for purpose of mutual intercourse. It is usually quite sufficient to distinguish only three degrees; the majority of British phoneticians share this opinion. The strongest stress is called primary stress, the second strongest stress is called secondary, while all the other degrees of stress are grouped together under the cover term of weak stress. The syllables bearing either primary or secondary stress are termed stressed (strongly-stressed and weakly-stressed, correspondingly), while syllables with weak stress are called unstressed.

In the phonetic transcription the position of word-stress is indicated by placing the stress mark before the accented syllable, the primary stress mark is raised, the secondary stress mark is lowered, so the stress mark indicates simultaneously the point of syllable division. In explanatory dictionaries, like Webster’s, the primary and secondary stresses are indicated correspondingly by a heavy mark and a light mark at the end of the syllable. In Russian linguistic literature the stress marks are placed over the vowel letter.

The American phoneticians distinguish a greater number degrees of word-stress; they use other terms to denote them and other marks to indicate each degree.

Thus, B. Bloch and G. Trager distinguish four contrasting degrees which are numbered from 1 (the strongest) to 4 (the weakest) or called by descriptive names, such as:

1) loud, indicated [´];

2) reduced loud, indicated [^];

3) medial, indicated [ ̀];

4) weak, which is not indicated.

H. Gleason also distinguishes four degrees but terms them:

1) primary [´];

2) secondary [^];

3) tertiary [ ̀];

4) weak [ˇ].

H. Sweet distinguishes the following degrees of word-stress:

1) extra-strong or emphatic [;];

2) strong [˙];

3) medium or half strong [׃];

4) weak [ˇ].

American phoneticians place the stress-mark above the vowels of the stressed syllable and even indicate the stress in monosyllabic words pronounced in isolation whereas linguists in most other countries take the presence of stress in such cases for granted and do not mark it.

The disadvantage of the American approach to word-stress is that different linguists designate by different terms the same degrees of stress and sometimes even allocate different degrees of stress to one and the same syllable in one and the same word pronounced in isolation. Thus, the difference between the second and the third degrees of stress, that is between secondary and tertiary stresses is very subtle, the criteria of their difference are very vague and the allocation of these two degrees of stress to syllables in particular words is a subjective matter.

The American phoneticians differ not only from each other in their judgments of secondary and tertiary stresses, but also from British linguists. Thus, the stress on the second pretonic syllable in such words as “discrimi'nation”, “ani'mation” is tertiary, according to American scholars, but it is considered to be secondary by the British phoneticians. In General American a tertiary stress affects the suffixes -ory, -ary, -ony of nouns, and the suffixes -ate, -ize, -y of verbs which are considered unstressed in British Received Pronunciation (ex. territory, ceremony, dictionary, demonstrate, organize, simplify).

British linguists do not deny the existence of tertiary stress and define secondary stress as pretonic and tertiary stress as posttonic. Besides there is no need to use separate stress marks to indicate each of them: the ordinary lowered stress mark before the primary accent will mean secondary stress, whereas the same mark after the primary accent will mean tertiary stress.

In the Russian word-stress system there are two degrees of word-stress – primary and weak. Some Russian words may have a secondary stress in addition to the primary one, but it is weaker than in English and often is not obligatory.

The above mentioned degrees of word-stress were established for words pronounced in isolation. But if a word is used in a sentence, the factors determining the degree of stress are more numerous, varied and altogether different from the factors, determining the degree of accent in a word pronounced in isolation. The degree of stress which a word receives in a sentence depends on the semantic factor (as semantically more important words are pronounced with greater stress), on the position of logical stress, on the turn of intonation, on the presence or absence of stressed syllables before and/or after it, on the speaker’s emotions, on the rhythm of the intonation.


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