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The stress Patterns of English words

There are languages in which stress is always falls on the first syllable (as in Czech and Finish), or on the last syllable (as in French and Turkish). Word stress is in such languages is said to be fixed. English words is said to be free because stress is not fixed to any particular syllable, in all the words of the language.

G. Torsuyev, who has made a special analyses of English stress patterns, distinguishes more than 100 stress patterns, which he groups into 11 main types. The most common among them are:

^ (Words w/I primary stress as in “'after”)

^ ^ (Words w/2 primary stresses, as in “'week'end”)

^_&_ ^ (words w/one primary and one secondary stress, as in 'hair-, dresser, maga'zine).

Though w-s in English is called free, there are certain tendencies in English which regulate the accentuation of words. There are 2 main accentuation tendencies: the recessive and the rhythmic tendency.

According to the recessive tendency, stress falls on the 1st syllable (e.g. “'mother”, “'father”, “'sister”, “'brother”) or on the 2nd syllable (e.g. be'come, in'deed, for'give etc.) According to the rhythmic tendency stress is on the 3rd syllable from the end (in'tensity, possi'bility).

It has also been noticed that the stress of the parent word is often retained in the derivatives. 'Personal-,perso'nality, 'nation-,natio'nality.

This regularity is sometimes called the retentive tendency in English.

There is one more tendency in English: the tendency to stress the most important elements in words. Such negative prefixes as “-un, -in, -mis, -ex, -vice, -sub, -under, semantically important elements in compound words: well-'known, red-'hot, bad-'tempered.


The functions of word-stress


Word-stress has a constitutive function, as it moulds syllables into a word forming its stress pattern.

Word-stress has a distinctive function in English, because exists there different words in English with analogous sound structure which are differentiated in speech only by their stress pattern. E.g.

Noun / adjective verb

'Insult in'sult

'Subject sub'ject

Word-stress has an identificatory factory function, because stress patterns of words enable people to identify definite combinations of sounds as meaningful linguistic units. A distortion of the stress pattern may hamper understanding or produce a strange accent.




Intonation and Prosody


Phonemes, syllables & words, as lower-level linguistic units, constitute a higher phonetic unit –the utterance. Every concrete utterance, alongside of its phonemic & syllabic structures, has a certain intonation.

Most CIS countries phoneticians define it as a complex unity of speech melody, sentence stress, tempo, rhythm & voice tamber (timbre), which enables the speaker to express his thoughts, emotions & attitudes towards the contents of the utterance & the hearer. Speech melody, sentence stress, tempo, rhythm and tamber are all components of intonation. These are perceptible qualities of intonation.

Acoustically, intonation is a complex unity of varying fundamental frequency, intensity & duration. Speech melody is primarily related with fundamental frequency, tempo- with duration.

On the articulatory level intonation is a complex phenomenon. In the production of speech melody the subglottal – подгортанный, laryngeal – ларингальный & supraglottal- надгортанный respirotory - дыхательный muscles regulate the subglottal air pressure, which makes the vocal cords vibrate. An increase of subglottal pressure raises the pitch of the voice, & its decreases lower the pitch.

There is no single mechanism to which the production of stress can be attributed. Physiological correlates of different degrees of utterance stress haven’t as yet been established. Further investigations are necessary to discover the articulatory mechanism of the components of intonation.

The definition of intonation given above is a broad definition. It reflects the actual interconnection & interaction of melody, sentence stress, tempo, rhythm & tamber in speech.

A great number of phoneticians abroad, D. Jones, L. Armstrong & I. Ward,

K. Pike, R. Kingdon, A. Gimson, J.O’Connor & G. Arnold define intonation as the variation of the pitch of the voice, thus, reducing it to just one component –speech melody. This is a narrow definition of intonation. Thus D. Jones writes: “Intonation may be defined as the variations which take place in the pitch of the voice in connected speech.”

In spite of the fact that many scholars do not include sentence stress, rhythm & tempo in the definition of intonation they regard these prosodic phenomena as closely connected with one another.

According to R. Kingdon: “When we talk about English intonation we mean the pitch patterns of spoken English, the pitch tunes or melodies, the musical features of English.”

Some foreign phoneticians give broader definitions of intonation. Thus, L Hultzen includes the variations of pitch, loudness & duration, F. Danes –the variations of pitch & intensity, E. Haugen a combination of tone, stress & juncture.

Alongside of the term “intonation” the term “prosody” is widely used. “Prosody” & “Prosodic” denote non –segmental phenomena, i.e. those which do not enter into the system of segmental phonemes. The British phonetician D. Cristal defines prosodic features as “vocal effects constituted by variations along the parameters of pitch, loudness, duration & silence.”

From the very definition of prosody and intonation we can clearly see that both the notions include essentially the same phenomena, but the terms-“intonation and prosody” are used differently by different linguists. Some phoneticians apply the term “prosody” and “prosodic” only to the features pertaining to the syllable and phonetic word, or rhythmic unit which are regarded as meaningless prosodic units & oppose prosody to intonation (which is a meaningful phenomenon).

We adhere to the point of view that prosodic features pertain not only to syllables, words & rhythmic groups, but to the intonation group & the utterance as well, since the latter are constituted by these units.

The notion of prosody, consequently, is broader than the notion of intonation, as it can be applied to the utterance, the word, the syllable, whereas prosody of the utterance and intonation are equivalent notions.

Whatever the views of the linguistic nature of prosodic phenomena, the phonic substance of prosody is regarded by all phoneticians as the modifications of fundamental frequency, intensity, and duration. The most complicated and unsolved problems of prosody are the interaction between its acoustic properties, their functioning in speech and their systematization. R. Jakobson says that prosody is one the most difficult and controversial problems of modern linguistic studies.

Concrete realizations of speech prosody & its systematic nature can be described adequately in terms of the syllabic, the rhythmic (or accent) group & the utterance.

The syllable is the smallest prosodic unit. It has no meaning of its own, but it is significant for constituting higher prosodic units. Prosodic features of the syllable (tone, stress, duration) depend on its position and function in the rhythmic unit and in the utterance.

A rhythmic group (or accentual unit, or group) is either one stressed syllable or a stressed syllable with a number of unstressed ones grouped around it the stressed syllable is the nucleus of the rhythmic group. There are as many rhythmic units in an utterance as there are stressed syllables in it. The unstressed syllables are clitics. Those preceding the stressed syllables are called proclitics & those following it – enclitics.

Depending on the position of the stressed syllable and the number of proclitics and enclitics in the rhythmic group there exist various accentual-and-rhythmic patterns of it. E.g. / /, / /, / /, etc. Besides a definite accentual-and-rhythmic pattern, the rhythmic group is characterized by a pitch pattern (or tonal contour) and duration pattern (temporal structure). These prosodic characteristics make it possible to perceive the rhythmic unit as an actual discrete unit of prosody. The rhythmic unit may be singled out of an utterance also due to the meanings expressed by its prosodic features.

According to D. Bolinger these may be the meanings of assertiveness, separateness, newness: But nobody knew about it.; the meaning of connectedness & incompleteness: The brighter they are the better. The rhythmic unit should, therefore, be considered a meaningful unit, though this viewpoint is not unanimously accepted.

The intonation group is higher than the rhythmic unit. It has also been termed “syntagm”, “sense-group”, “breath group”, “intonation contour”, “and divisible accentual unit ”,“ tone group ”,“ tune ”,“ tone unit”.

The term “syntagm”, has a drawback: it is often used with different meanings which have nothing to do with the prosodic unit.

The term “sense group” calls attention to the fact that it is a group of words that make sense when put together. But it does not indicate its intonational character.

The term “breath group” emphasizes the physiological aspect of the unit, which is uttered with a single breath. A breath group usually coincides with a sense-group because “pauses for breath are normally made at points where pauses are necessary or allowable from the point of view of meaning”. But a pause for breath may be made after two or more sense-groups are uttered, so a breath –group may not coincide with a sense-group.

The term “divisible unit” emphasizes the role of utterance stress in constituting the unit. The divisible accentual unit may consist of several indivisible units (rhythmic units).

The terms “tone -group”, “tune”, “tone unit” also emphasize the role of just one (pitch) component of prosody for the formation of the unit. In our opinion, the term “intonation group” better reflects the essence of this unit. It shows that the intonation group is the result of the division in which not only stresses, but pitch & duration play a role. Structurally the intonation group has some obligatory formal characteristics. These are the nuclear stress & the terminal tone. The boundaries between intonation groups are marked by tonal junctures and pauses. All these features shape the intonation group, delimit one intonation group from another and show its relative semantic importance. Intonation group is a meaningful unit. The most general meanings expressed by the intonation group are: completeness, finality versus incompleteness, non finality.

It may be coextensive with a sentence or part of a sentence. E.g. Yesterday they passed the exam. They passed the exam yesterday.

The structure of the intonation group varies depending on the number of syllables and rhythmic units in it. Minimally, intonation group consists of one (stressed) syllable – the nucleus. Maximally, it contains the prehead, the head, the nucleus and the tail.

The stressed & unstressed syllables of an intonation group perform different functions. H. Palmer was the first to single out the consecutive structural elements of the intonation group (“tone-group”) which differ in their functions. These elements of intonation groups are “pre-head”, “head”, “nucleus” and “tail”.

The number of functional elements distinguished by different phoneticians is not the same. Thus, J. O’Connor & G. Arnold distinguish two elements in the pre-nuclear part of the utterance –the pre-head & the head. The notion of “head” in this sense coincides with the notion of “scale”, used by Russian phoneticians, e.g. G. Torsuyev, A. Trakhterov, V. Vassilyev, A. Antipova & others.

R.Kingdon uses the term “head” to mean only the first stressed syllable, which he considers to be an independent functional element. The stressed & unstressed syllables following the head form another functional element – the body.

The “pre-head”, “head” & “tail” is non-obligatory elements of an intonation group, whereas the nucleus is an obligatory & the most important functional element.

A higher prosodic unit is the utterance. The utterance is the main communicative unit. It is characterized by semantic entity which is expressed by all the language means: lexical, grammatical and prosodic. The prosodic structure of an utterance is a meaningful unit that contributes to the total meaning of the utterance. Each utterance has a definite prosodic structure.

The utterance may contain one intonation group, two or more. E.g. 'Listening is an im'portant 'process in 'learning a language. Be'sides the auditory ·process | there are speaking | reading | and `writing of the language. Irrespective of its structural complexity, the prosodic structure of the utterance is viewed as a single semantic entity.

The utterance is not the ultimate unit of prosodic analysis. In speech single utterances are not very frequent. On the contrary, they are connected and grouped into still larger units – hyper utterances, phonetic paragraphs and texts. The prosodic features of these higher units indicate the relations between their constituents, the degree of their connectedness and interdependence, thus forming the prosodic structures of the hyperutterances, the phonetic paragraphs and texts. The study of these units in modern linguistics is in the forefront of scholars’ interest.

To summarize, it is necessary to note, that the syllable, the rhythmical unit, the intonation group, the utterance and the hyperutterance are taxonomical prosodic units. Whereas the elements of the intonation group, considered above, i.e. prehead, head, nucleus and tail, are autonomous units, they are not related taxonomically.

The prosody of the utterance performs 3 basic functions: constitutive, distinctive & identificatory.

1. The constitutive function of prosody is to form utterances as communicative units. Prosody unifies words into utterances. A succession of words arranged syntactically is not a communicative unit until a certain prosodic pattern is attached to it. It forms all communicative types of utterances (statements, questions, imperatives, exclamations and modal types) e.g. categoric statements, non categoric, perfunctory statements, quizzical statements, certainty & uncertainty questions, insistent questions, etc. Prosody at the same time performs the segmentative & delimitative function. It segments connected discourse into utterances and intonation groups and simultaneously delimits them one from another, showing relations between them: Cf. “We can if we want to and “we can if we want to”. It also signals the semantic nucleus and other semantically important words of an utterance (or an intonation group). Prosody also constitutes phonetic styles of speech.



2. The distinctive function of prosody manifests itself in several particular functions, depending on the meanings which are differentiated. These are communicative -distinctive, modal –distinctive, culminative (“theme -rheme”) distinctive, syntactical –distinctive & stylistic –distinctive function.

The communicative –distinctive function is to differentiate the communicative types of utterances, i.e. statements, questions, etc. and communicative subtypes: e.g. within statements, statements proper (It was a 'very hot •after`noon, answers (It was a very hot •after`noon), informing statements, announcements, etc. within questions – first instance questions ('where did he `find it?), repeated questions (''where did he ``find it?), echo questions (•where did he find it?); within imperatives – commands ('Don’t be late), requests ('Don’t be late) an so on.

The modal –distinctive function of prosody manifests itself in differentiating modal meanings of utterances, i.e. the speaker’s attitudes & emotions, e.g. antagonistic versus friendly attitude and so on.

This function is often defined as expressive or emotional, attitudinal.

Various modal meanings can also be expressed and differentiated by lexical and grammatical means, e.g. such modal words as “sure”, “undoubtful”, “definitely”, “perhaps”, “may be”, “probably” and modal verbs “may”, “might” and so on. Usually, the speaker’s attitude corresponds to the contents of the words he chooses. But utterance prosody may disagree with word content and is, then, the crucial factor in determining the modal meaning of the utterance. Cf. “He definitely promised” and “He definitely promised”. In the first case the melodic contour agrees with the word content and the grammatical structure, whereas in the second case it does not. So the first utterance sounds definite and categoric. The second utterance sounds indefinite and non-categoric. In “`Thank you” the high falling tone is in harmony with the word content and expresses genuine gratitude. In “^Thank you” the rising-falling tone adds an antagonistic note to the utterance. That is why in actual speech the listener is more interested in the speaker’s “tone” than in his words.

The culminative-distinctive function of prosody manifests itself in differentiating the location of the semantic nuclei / nju:kliai / pl. of utterances & other semantically important words. This function is often called logical (Artymov), predicative (Vinigradov), accentual (Gimson).

Some scholars claim that prosody indicates the “theme – rheme” organization of an utterance, i.e. it shows the thing already known & the new thing said about it e.g.

Theme – rheme

The' teacher has` come.

Rheme – Theme

The` teacher has come.

The syntactical - distinctive function of prosody is to differentiate syntactical types of sentences & syntactical relations in sentences.

E.g. Her, sister, said •Mary, | was a ' well –known` actress ( a compound sentence.)

Her' sister, said |' Mary was a 'well – known `actress (a complex sentence with an object subordinate clause)

'Smiling, Tom | ' entered the` hall. (“smiling” is an attribute)

, Smiling |' Tom 'entered the` hall. (“ Smiling ” is an adverbial modifier)

Stylistic – distinctive function of prosody manifests itself in that prosody differentiates pronunciation (phonetic) styles, determined by extra linguistic factors.

3. The identificatory function of prosody is to provide a basis for the hearer’s identification of the communicative & modal type of an utterance, its semantic & syntactical structure in accordance with the situation of the discourse.

All the functions of prosody are fulfilled simultaneously & cannot be separated one from another. They show that utterance prosody is linguistically significant & meaningful.

Each language has a certain limited number of such meaningful units, capable of distinguishing utterances. They are defined as intonemes. or utterance prosodemes.

The prosodic system is characteristic of each language. The prosodic systems of one language are not the same in form as those of other languages. Nor do they necessarily express the same meanings, though there may be resemblances here & there.

Emphasizing the role of intonation in speech, R.Kingdon says: “Intonation is the soul of a language while the pronunciation of its sounds is its body…

Thus, the linguistic character of prosody can be summarized in the following way:

1. Prosody of speech is significant & meaningful.

2. Prosody is systematic. It is not invented in speaking but produced according to the system of prosodic structures of a given language.

3. Prosody is a characteristic feature of each concrete language & cannot be used in speaking another language.


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