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9 - ENGLISH PHONOLOGICAL SYSTEM III.STRESS, RHYTHM, AND INTONATION.COMPARING
PHONOLOGICAL SYSTEMS: ENGLISH VS SPANISH, THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF MURCIA AUTONOMOUS COMMUNITY.
1.1.Aims of the unit.
1.2.Notes on bibliography.
HISTORICAL APPROACH TO STRESS, RHYTHM, AND INTONATION.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE ENGLISH PHONOLOGICAL SYSTEM.
3.1.On the nature of communication and language: origins and general
3.2.The sound system: segmental and suprasegmental levels.
3.3.The suprasegmental level within a communicative competence
3.4.The relevant role of the suprasegmental level within the oral
3.5.The suprasegmental level: at the core of conversational studies.
ENGLISH PHONOLOGICAL SYSTEM: STRESS, RHYTHM, AND INTONATION.
4.1.STRESS IN ENGLISH.
at word level.
origins of stress placement.
accentual patterns: simple and compound words.
influence of affixation on stress placement: simple words.
influence of a word’s grammatical function on stress in compound words.
stress patterns in other categories: numbers, reflexives, and phrasal verbs.
English vs Spanish word stress patterns.
4.2.RHYTHM IN ENGLISH.
defining sentence stress and rhythm: the stress-timed nature of English.
vs function words.
vs weak forms.
in connected speech.
English vs Spanish sentence stress and rhythm
4.3.INTONATION IN ENGLISH.
defining intonation: the notion of pitch.
main functions of intonation.
184.108.40.206. Emphatic function.
220.127.116.11. Discourse function.
18.104.22.168. Attitudinal function.
22.214.171.124. Grammatical function.
126.96.36.199. Falling tone.
188.8.131.52. Rising tone.
184.108.40.206. Falling-rising tone.
220.127.116.11. Rising-falling tone.
English vs Spanish intonation.
1.1. Aims of the unit.
Thisstudyisaimedtoserveasthecoreofasurveyonpronu nciation,and in particularon suprasegmentallevels regarding stress, rhythm, and
intonation. Therefore, all sections which shall be reviewed in this unit are
aimed to provide the reader with the following: (1) a historical overview of
the issues involved in teaching pronunciation,such as how stress, rhythm, and intonation have been viewed from various
methodological perspectives and what we know about the main methods in second
language phonology; (2) a thorough theoretical grounding in the suprasegmental
level; (3) insight into the ways in which this suprasegmentallevel intersects with other skills and areas
of language, such as listening, inflectional morphology, and orthography; (4) a
comparison of stress, rhythm, and intonation between the English and Spanish
phonological system is offered at the end of each chapter; and finally, (5) a
conclusion on the issue will be offered, followed by (6) listed bibliography
used in this study.
1.2. Notes on bibliography.
Different valuable sources have been taken into
account for the elaboration of this unit. Thus, in Part 2, for a historical
overview of the development of the phonological system, see Celce-Murcia, and
Algeo and Pyles,The origins and development of the English language(1982). Gimson, An introduction to the pronunciation of English
(1980)In part 3, for a theoretical
background to the phonological system, classic works are and Crystal,
Linguistics (1985); Gimson, An introduction to the pronunciationof English(1980);Brown, G. and G.
Yule,DiscourseAnalysis(1983); and Canale, From Communicative Competence to Communicative
Language Pedagogy (1983).
In Part 4, an influential description of the
suprasegmental level is mainly offered again by Gimson (1980), Alcaraz and
Moody, Fonética inglesa para españoles (1982); and O’Connor, Better English
Pronunciation (1988);O’Connor,Better English Pronunciation(1988); Celce-Murcia,Teaching Pronunciation (2001); O’Connor and
Arnold, The intonation of Colloquial English (1973); and van Ek and Trim,
In part5,amongthemanygeneralworksthatincorporaterecentphonologicaladvancesand present-daydirectionsin teaching pronunciation,see
especiallyCelce-Murcia(2001); and classic worksby Gimson(1980)and O’Connor (1988).SeealsoB.O.E.RD Nº 112/2002,by which
SecondaryEducationandBachilleratocurriculaareestablishedinMurciaAutonomous Community,andalsosomeinformationaboutSócratesprojectsonEducationandCulturein http://www.mec.es/sgpe/socrates/ccaa.htm.
HISTORICAL APPROACH TO STRESS, RHYTHM, AND INTONATION.
This section, in briefly reviewing the history of the suprasegmentalelements,
provides a historical background for the theoretical part examine d in next
section, and together, they both will prepare the reader for the descriptive
account of stress, rhythm, and intonation in sections 3 and 4). From this
historical perspective we are able to see that current issues on pronunciation,
and especially, on the prosodic elements in an act of communication are not
In fact, earlier records of prosodic elements are
bound up with the appearance of language forty or fifty thousand years ago as
part of an oral patrimonyof humanityso as toprovide ourselves a culturalidentityin society(Goytisolo2001).Thus,wheneverwespeak,wemakeknownour identity to the outside
world by means of our voice quality as this is a personal and not transerable
feature.Moreover,ouraccent,asa moregeneralphenomenon,mayinformothersaboutour regional and social origins. So, voice quality tells us who someone
is, and accent tells us where they are from.
Sinceancienttimes,tribalchiefs,chamans,bardsandstory-tellershavebeeninchargeof preservingand memorisingfor the future the narrativesof the past and unconciously,they have transmitted pronunciationpatterns which are still being used today. According
to Crystal (1985), there is a considerable body of religion and myth in many cultures
concerning these oral traditions wherethe languageof worship is the productof particularcareand attentionon the part of a community. Hence, this motivation sometimes produced
detailed studies of language which were great achievements.
For instance,in ancient India, the
Hindu priests realizedaround the fifth
century B.C. that the language of their oldest hymns, Vedic Sanskrit, was no
longer the same, and therefore, they needed to reproduce accurately the
original pronunciation of their hymns in order to successfully preserve their
oral ceremonies. The solution was to write a set of rules, known as sutras, in
order to describe thegrammarandpronunciationoftheoldlanguage.Thisworkcontaineda greatnumberof phonetic and grammaticalminutiae with methodologicaland
theoretical principles, which are still usedinmodernlinguistics.Regardingsuprasegmentalelements,itisworthnotingthatthe phenomenathatrefersto the “placingtogether”of soundswithinandbetweenwords,thatis, adjustments in connected speech, derives from Sanskrit and it was
referred to as sandhi variation.
Later on we also find several referencesto the suprasegmental level. For
instance, in the sixteenth century, the Frenchgrammarian,John Palsgravewrote about the pronunciationof French in his work L’esclarcissement de la
Langue Francoyse (1530). In it, he explained the values of the French sounds,
comparing them withtheEnglish,in a kind of phonetictranscription.Moreover,in the seventeenth century,the
philosopher Thomas Hobbes devoted in his workThe Leviathan (1660), chapterIV
“Of Speech”to oral discoursewhere he makes reference to the
suprasegmentallevel when he states
thatthe mostnobleand profitableinventionof all otherwas that of speech, consisting of names or appellations, and their
connexion; whereby men register their thoughts, and also declare them one to
another for mutual utility and conversation.
However, the most relevant contribution to the study
of prosodic elements is also to be found in the seventeenthcentury,whenagroupofwritersshowedaconsiderableinterestonspeech,and therefore, a great concern at detailed
analysis of speech activity, and the establishment of systematic relationships
between the English sounds. Among these writers, we shall mention John Wallis
and ChristopherCooperamongothers,as theyareconsideredto be thetrueprecursorsof modern scientific
phoneticians. Their work is entirely phonetic in character and most of their
observations on speech and pronunciation are still current today.
Yet, the linguist John Wallis examined, in his workGrammatica Linguae Anglicanae(1653), the sounds of
English as constituting a system in their own right. According to him, by his
methods, he succeeded in teachingnotonly foreigners to pronounceEnglish correctly but also the deaf and dumbtospeak.Moreover,ChristopherCooperattemptedtodescribeandgiverulesforthe pronunciationof English rather than to devise a logical
system into which the sounds of English might be fitted. In his work The
Discovery of the Art of Teaching and Learning the English Tongue (1687),hestates‘ThePrinciplesofSpeech’andgivesrulesfortherelationofspellingand pronunciation in
In the eighteenth century, modern languages began to
enter the curriculum of European schools and language teaching progressivelydeveloped from grammatical to more communicativeapproaches focusingonoralskills.As a result,a specialattentionwaspaidto productiveskills,such as speaking, and therefore, to prosodic
elements. Yet, the main achievement of the century lies in its successful
attempt to fix the spelling and pronunciationof the language by means ofdictionaries, which provided us with
information concerning the contemporary forms of pronunciation. In fact, the
Dictionaries of Samuel Johnson (1755), Thomas Sheridan (1780), and John Walker
(1791) led to a standardization of pronunciation.
In the nineteenthcentury,phoneticianssuch as Henry Sweet, WilhelmViëtor,and Paul Passy, promoted a great interest on speaking skills which was
to be developed by the Direct Method in the late1800sandearly1900s.Infact,thesephoneticiansformedtheInternationalPhonetic
Association in 1886 and developed the InternationalPhonetic Alphabet (IPA). This alphabet made
it possible to accurately represent the sounds of any language because, for the
first time, there was a consistent one-to-one relationship between a written
symbol and the sound it represented.
But it was in the twentieth century, during the 1940s,
that the prosodic elements were to be studied in detailfor the firsttimewithina phonemicapproach.In the 1940s and1950s,the Reform Movement played
an important role in the development of Audiolingualism in the United States
and the Oral Approach in Britain for which pronunciation was very important and
was taught explicitly from the start. Their main features are, firstly, that
students imitate or repeat sounds, a word, or an utteranceout of a model given by the teacher or
a recording.During the 1970s,the Silent Way
(Gattegno 1976) is characterized by the attention focused on how words combine
in phrases, and on how blending, stress, and intonation all shape the
production of an utterance by means of sound-color charts and word charts. In
the 1980s,the CommunicativeApproach , currently dominantin language teaching, holds that the primary
purpose of language is communication,which means a renewedurgencyonpronunciationsinceintelligiblepronunciationisoneofthenecessary components of oral communication.
Until now we can see that the emphasis in
pronunciation instruction has been largely on a segmental level, that is,
getting the sounds right at the word level, dealing with words in
isolationor with words in very
controlled and contrived sentence-level environment. In the mid- to late 1970s
other approachesdirectedmost of their energyto teachingsuprasegmentalfeaturesof language(i.e. rhythm, stress, and intonation) in a discourse context as the
optimal way to organize a short-term pronunciationcourse for nonnative speakers. Today,
however, we see signs that pronunciationis movingtowardsa morebalancedview.As
a result,today’spronunciationcurriculumseeksto identify the most important aspects of
both the segmental and suprasegmentallevels and integrate them depending on the needs of any group of
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE ENGLISH PHONOLOGICAL SYSTEM.
We shall provide in this section a linguistic
background for the English phonological system so as to providethe reader with a relevantframeworkfor the descriptiveand pedagogicalsurvey on stress,rhythm,andintonationpresentedin subsequentsections.Therefore,we shallreview the notion of oral communicationin relation to human communication systems
and its main features, in order to establisha link betweenthe concept of
languagewithin a communicativecompetence theory and the relevant role of
stress, rhythm, and intonation patterns in social human behavior, and
therefore, speech acts.
Then, once the link between language and communicative
competence is established, we will offer a brief account of how the oral
component has been approached through history, and in particular, the
suprasegmental level (i.e. prosodic elements), within the main types of
teaching approaches and techniques. Upon this basis, we will move on towards a
description of each suprasegmentallevel, which will be approached
fromcurrent pronunciationinstructionand the most relevant figures in this field.
3.1. On the nature of communication and language:
origins and general features.
Research in cultural anthropology has shown quite
clearly that the origins of communication are to befoundintheveryearlystagesoflifewhentherewasaneedforanimalsand humansto communicate so as to carry out basic activities of everyday life. However,
even the most primitive cultures had a constant need to express their feelings
and ideas by other means than gutural sounds andbodymovementsas animals did.Humanbeingsconstantpreoccupationwashowtoturn thoughtsinto words. For our purposesin this study, it is worth, then,
establishinga distinction between human
and animal systems of communication whose main difference lies in the way they
produce and express their intentions. So far, the most important feature of
human language is the auditory-vocal channel which, in ancient times, allowed
human beings to produce messages and, therefore to help language develop.
From a theory of language, we mainly distinguish two
types of communication , for instance, verbal and
non-verbal codes. Firstly, verbal communicationis related to those acts in which the
code is the language,both oral and
written.Secondly,when dealingwithnon -verbaldevices,wereferto communicative uses involving visual,
sound, and tactile modes, such as kinesics, body movements, andalsoparalinguisticdevicesdrawnfromsounds(whistling),sight(trafficsigns)ortouch (Braille).
With respect to elements in the communication process,
we shall follow the Russian linguist Roman Jakobson, whose productive model on
language theory explains how all acts of communication, be they written or
oral, are based onsix constituentelements(1960). Thus, the addresser(speaker) sends a message (oral
utterance) in a given context (socially determined) to the addressee
(listener). Both the addresser andaddresseeneed to share acode(languageif verbal,and symbolsif non- verbal) through a physical channel (phonological system) and
establish contact to enter and stay in communication.For our purposes in this study, during an
oral exchange the sound system shows relevant nuances between the message and
its context by means of the suprasegmental level, that is, stress,rhythm,andintonation,whichsha llhighlightimportantdifferencesinthespeakerand listener’s attitudes
3.2. The sound system: segmental and suprasegmental
Following Celce-Murcia (2001), one of the main
features of the sound system of any language is its inventory of sounds, which
consists of a combination of acoustic signals into a sequence of speech sounds,
thus consonants and vowels. In fact, all languages are somewhat distinctive in
their vowel andconsonantinventories,andin thewaythatthesecomponentscombineto form words and
utterances. Yet, linguists refer to this inventory of vowels and consonants as
the segmental aspect of language.
Inadditiontohavingtheirowninventoryofvowelsandconsonants,languagesalsohave suprasegmentalfeatureswhich trascendthe segmentallevel, and involve those phenomenathat extend over more than one sound segment. We may distinguish two
main types of suprasegmental levels. First of all, predictable features such as
word stress, sentence stress, and rhythm along with adjustments in connected
speech (i.e. assimilation and linking, as the adjustments or modifications that
occurwithinand betweenwordsin the stream of speech);and secondly,featuresthat are sensitive to the discourse context
and the speaker’s intent, such as prominence and intonation.
It has been claimed that a learner’s command of
segmental features is less critical to communicative competence than a command
of suprasegmentalfeatures, since the suprasegmentalscarry more of theoverallmeaningloadthandothesegmentals.Celce-Murcia(2001)affirmsthat
misunderstandingsinvolvingmispronunciationofasegmentalsoundusuallyleadtominor repairable incidents than with
suprasegmentalsounds. For instance, an
adult learner is discussing witha
nativespeakeran incidentin whichherchildhadchokedonsomethingandcouldnot breathe. “He swallowed a pill”, the learner says. “What kind of
peel?” asks the native speaker. “An aspirin,” says the
learner. “Oh, a pill! I thought you said peel,”
responds the native speaker.
However, when dealing with suprasegmentalsin connected speech, the misunderstandingis likely to be of a more serious nature. For
instance, if the stress and rhythm patterns sound too nonnative - like, the
speakers who produce them maynot be understoodat all. Moreover,learners who use
incorrect rhythm patterns or who do not connect words together are at best
frustrating to the native- speaking listener. And even more seriously, if these
learners use improper intonation contours, they can be perceived as abrupt,
unpolite, or even rude.
In the section that follows, it is relevant to examine
the relationship between the elements of the suprasegmental level within a
communicative competence theory in order to make the reader aware of the
essential role of prosodic elements in oral communication.
3.3. The suprasegmental level within a communicative
Language has proved to be the principal vehicle for
the transmission of cultural knowledge, and the primary means by which we gain
access to the contents of others’ minds by means of verbal and non-verbal codes.
Moreover, language is involved in most of the phenomena that lie at the core of
social psychology,such as attitude changes, social perception, personal identity,
social interaction, and stereotyping among others.
Thewaylanguagesare usedis constrainedby the waytheyare constructed,particularlythe linguistic rules that govern the permissible usage forms. Language
has been defined as an abstract setofprinciplesthatspecifytherelationsbetweenasequenceofsoundsandasequenceof meanings. How participants define the
social situation, their perceptions of what others know, think andbelievewillaffecttheformandcontentoftheiractsofspeaking.Asaresult ,any communicativeexchangeis to be analysed from two interrelatedlevels, thus regardingits social
context and also regarding the linguistic forms participants use, that is
respectively, a pragmatic and a linguistic level.
Therefore, it is at this point that the notion of
communicative competence, coined by Dell Hymes in the 1970s and developed by
Canale and Swain in the 1980s, comes into force in our study in order tohighlighttherelevanceofsuprasegmentaldevicesinaspeechact.Sincethenotionof communicativecompetenceis concernednot only with purely
grammaticalcompetencebut also with the area of pragmatics, that
is, what is appropriate in a given social situation, we may define an ‘act of
speaking’ as a set of complex and organized systems that operate in concert
with the use of language in everyday communicative situations.
Linguistically speaking, although the notion of
communicativecompetence is divided up
into four subcomponents(i.e.
grammatical,discourse,sociolinguistic,and strategic competence),we must note these four competencesare interrelated,and essentialto each other, in order to achievea successful communicativeact. Similarly,
although the suprasegmentallevel is to be found within thegrammaticallevelamongotherthreesubcomponents(i.e.morphological,syntactic,and semantic), the
phonological system is also interrelated with the way speakers and listeners
make use of the other three linguistic levels for a communicative exchange to
3.4. The relevant role of the suprasegmental level
within the oral discourse.
Atthelevelofdiscourseanalysis,actsofspeakingcanberegardedasactionsintendedto accomplish a specific purpose by verbal means, and in particular, by
means of utterances. Lookedat this way,
utterances can be identified in terms of their intended purposes, thus
assertions, questions orexclamations,andcommandsintermsoftheirintentions,suchasstatements,requests, expression of surprise and doubt,
and anger among others. Therefore, they meet the requirements of not only what
we say but also how we say it. An example would be the word “yes” said with
firm tone of voice as opposed to a doubtful one.
It is at this point that the prosodic elements,that is, stress,
rhythm, andintonation emerge as an
essential part in the oral productionof
these intended purposes.We must bear in
mind that the grammaticalformdoesnotdeterminethe speechactan utterancerepresentsbutthe wayit is uttered. For instance, a sentence like
“The y had already eaten at ” may constitute quite different speech acts
with different purposes,dependingon the word we
stress, the rhythm with which we utter this sentence, and the intonation we
apply at the end of the sentence.
Considerations on this sort require a distinction
between the literal meaning of an utterance and its intendedmeaningsinceanactofspeakingis imbeddedin a discoursemadeupoffourmain subcompetenceswhere the use of prosodicfeatures will convey differentmeaningsto different sentences. We believe that efficient communicationdepends on the speaker’s ability to integrate
grammatical knowledge of the English sound system with knowledge of the other
subcompetences, that is, sociocultural, discourse, and strategic.
Thus, during an act of speaking, the grammatical
competenceimplies knowledge of lexical
items, syntax,semantics,and in particular,of phonologyfor studentsto match sound and
meaning by means of word formation, to construct sentences using
vocabulary,to handle linguistic semantics,
and specially, to use language through spelling and pronunciationregardingword and sentence stress, rhythm, and intonationpatterns. The suprasegmentalfeatures are also present within the
sociolinguistic competence as far associocultural rules of use, and rules of discourse are concerned to
convey different meanings depending on the purposes of the interaction, for
instance, asking for information, commanding, complaining or inviting.
Moreover, prosodic features come into force within the
discourse competencewhen the unity of a text is addressed by means of coherence and
cohesion in meaning. Whereas cohesion facilitates the interpretationofatext,coherencerelatesdifferentmeaningsdependingondifferentattitudes expressed by prosodic features, thus word stress on pronouns
and synonyms, and sentence stress.
Finally,strategiccompetencehighlightsthe fact that rhythm
and intonationare essentialin the negotiation of meaning to sustain
communication with someone. Thus, in a telephone conversation, whenaskingfor slowerandclearerrepetition,seekingclarificationandparaphrasein orderto understand key points.
Once we have stated the relevance of the
suprasegmental level within the oral discourse, we may go further by noting
that these prosodic features are directly related to conversationalstudies where they lie at the core of
the speech act theory and conversational studies.
3.5. The suprasegmental level: at the core of
The introduction of cultural studies to language
teaching methods in the 1980s highlighted the need for students to know not
only the linguistic patterns of the foreign language under study but also the
pragmatic use of verbal and non-verbal behaviour, that is, according to Hymes
(1972) to know when to speak, when not, what to talk about with whom, when,
where and in what manner . Language was considered as
social behaviour, and therefore, the inability of or insensitivity to foreign
language discourse may lead to impede communication more than grammatical
This approach is related to the sociolinguisticcompetence,as the grammaticalcompetencemay mislead learners into thinking that certain rules of use of their
native language may be applied in the foreign language with no change of
meaning. This is to be applied to both the segmental and the suprasegmentallevel. In order to make effective
discourse productions, learners need to approach their speeches from a conscioussociolinguisticperspective,in order to get considerablecultural information about communicative settings and roles.
For instance, Spanish learners of English should take
into account that applying their native pitch when speaking English or using
their native intonation contours may be perceived as nonnativelike, rude, or
abrupt. It is important, then, to enforce foreign language standards of
pronunciation for our students to express themselves in exactly the ways they
choose to do so-rudely, tactfully, or in an elaboratelypolitemanner in order to prevent them being unintentionallyrude or subservientby using certain intonation contours or
inappropriate word or sentence stress.
Learners are expected to select the language forms
that are appropriatein different settings, and withpeopleindifferentrolesandwithdifferentstatusinordertoachievesuccessful communication.Sometimes,
unconciously, we follow a large number of social rules which govern the way we
speak, and affect the wayin which we select sounds (i.e. talking to older people, people
of special rank, and so on). It is at this point that prosodic features are
considered to be essential elementswithin languageproductionsince they enable us to recognizepragmaticdistinctionsof formality, politeness and intimacy among
In connected speech, the ability to link units of
speech together with the appropriate stress, rhythm, and intonation,that is, with
facility,and withoutinappropriateslowness,or undue hesitationis normally related to a speech act theory. However,
once we start to look at actual interaction, the suprasegmentallevel is particularlyenhancedin a unit of analysis wider than a speech act, thus conversationalmechanisms,suchasturn-taking,thecooperativeprinciple,andthenotionof adjacency pairs.
The English languagephilosopherH. Paul Grice (1969)
was not the first to recognizethat non-
literal meanings posed a problem for theories of language use, but he was among
the first to explain the processes that allow speakers to convey, and
addressees to identify, communicativeintentions that are expressed non -literally , as for him, meaning is
seen as a kind of intending, where the hearer and speakerrecognizethat there is somethingelse than
its literal meaningin a speech act. He
proposed four general maxims, thus be truthful, be informative, be relevant,
and be brief. It is in the last maxim, that is, regardingmanner, that prosodic elements are
implicitlypresent (i.e. Spanish learner
of English applying their native intonation patterns to a sentence like “Shut
the door, please” may sound abrupt instead of a request).
Regarding turn-taking, it is defined as a main feature
of conversations where one person waits for the other to finish his/her utterancebefore contributingtheir own.Note, however, that a person rarely
explicitly states that they have finished their utterance and are now awaiting
yours, but rather it is expressed by intonation patterns, such as pause or
Prosodic elements are also present in the notion of
adjacency pairs posited by Goffman (1976). This fundamentalfeatureof conversationanalysisis to be foundin aquestion -answersession,and therefore,stressat wordand sentencelevel,rhythm,and risingand fallingintonationplay an essential role
in questions and replies. In some cases, the speakers might make inferences
about the reasons for incorrect responses. These may be not to have responded
because he did not understand the question,or not to agree with the
interlocutor.As Goffmannotes, a silence often reveals an
unwillingnessto answer. Dispreferredresponsestend to be precededby a pause, and feature a declination
component which is the non-acceptance of the first part of the adjacency pair.
ENGLISH PHONOLOGICAL SYSTEM: STRESS, RHYTHM, AND INTONATION.
Wehavesofardealtalmostentirelywiththehistoricalandtheoreticalframeworkforthe suprasegmentallevel. As we have seen, an earlier extensionof the term
phonologywas totally concerned with the
‘segmental’ aspects of the sound-system of a language, and it was not until the
early forties that the prosodic features of pronunciation first came to be
studied in detail. Then, the way in which vowel and consonant combinations
could be varied, showed alterations in melody, loudness, speed of speaking and
the like, and at a pragmatic level, changes in meaning.
Regarding prosodic features , Gimson (1980) states
that a sound, whose phonetic nature can be described and function in the
language determined, has not only quality but also le ngth, pitch, and a degree
of stress as essential elements of prominence in speech. All three features may
be measured physiologically or acoustically: length, as duration; pitch, as the
frequency of the fundamental; and stress, as a measure of intensity, muscular
activity, or air -pressure.
In general, these four factors, stress (muscular
activity), pitch change (frequency of stress/loudness), sound quality (weak and
strong forms), and quantity (length/duration) may play an essential part in
rendering a sound or syllable prominent. In speech, length variation is an
important factor regarding theassociationofvowelquantitywithaccentuation.Soundqualitiesalsocontributetoan
impressionof prominence,mainlybymeansof unaccentedandaccentedsyllables.Yet,stress, strictlydefinedintermsofenergyandloudness,istheleasteffectivemeansofconveying prominence.However,it is pitch
variation(high/low),more commolyknownas intonation,the most commonly used and efficient cue of
prominence for the listener, thought of as a tone system.
Therefore, on an ultimate notation, these factors will
be described in terms of concrete expressions such as stress, rhythm, and
intonation. Despite the fact that these labels may imply they are distinct from
each other, it is worth noting again that these threefunctionalcategoriesare embedded and interrelated in the stream
of speech by means of relative prominence. Then, the three subsequent sectionswill be
devotedto a descriptiveaccountof each suprasegme ntal level. Firstly, we shall focus on stress at word
and sentence level, and then rhythm as a borderline element between word and
sentence level, and finally intonation in connected speech.
4.1. STRESS IN ENGLISH.
FollowingCelce-Murcia(2001),stress is defined by means of stressed and unstressedsyllables since certain syllables of a word
are more prominent than the others because of length, quantity, or pitch
change. Thus, stressed syllables (or rather the vowels of stressed syllables)
are often longer, louder,and higher in pitch than unstressedsyllables,which are more centralizedor
neutralized vowels.Therefore,we shall
describe,first, this phenomenonin articulatoryterms, and then, in relation to the accentual
patterns it is divided in.
In articulatory terms, stress involves a greater
outlay of energy as the speaker expels air from the lungsandarticulatessyllables.Thisincreaseinmuscularenergyandrespiratoryactivityis undoubtedlywhat allows the native speaker to tap out the
rhythm of syllables within a word or words within an utterance.Longer vowel duration in the stressed
syllable and higher pitch are probably the most salient features of stress from
the listener’s point of view.
Since the differencebetween stressed and unstressedsyllablesis greater in English than in most other languages,we must capturethis differentiationin stress levels.Englishlanguage -teaching texts
generallyspeak of three levels of
stress, defined as the pattern of stressedand unstressed syllableswithin a
word. We refer to primary,secondary,and tertiary
stress. This basic pattern, which is as much a part of a word’s identity as its
sound sequence, may, however, be somewhat modified by the general accentual
pattern of the longer utterance in which it occurs.
origins of stress placement.
AccordingtoCelce-Murcia(2001),far frombeingrandom,stressplacementin Englishwords derivesfromtherathercolorful historyofthelanguage.Today,roughlythirtypercentofthe vocabularyof English stems from its Old English origins
and retains the native Germanicstress
accentual patterns for kinship terms, body parts, numbers, prepositions,and phrasal and irregular verbs stem from its
Old English origins and retains the native Germanic stress patterns. In fact,
of the 1,000 most frequently used words in English, approximately 83% are of
Many of the remaining words have been acquired through
historical events, such as the Norman Conquest,whichbroughtmuchFrenchvocabularyintoEnglish,orthroughtheinfluencesof Christian religion and academia, which
have done much to secure the position of words of Greek and Latin origin in the
English language. Nowadays, new loan words continue to be assimilated into
English and undergo similar changes in spelling and pronunciation as have words
that entered the language in earlier eras – until they are no longer perceived
as foreign and their origins are all but forgotten to users who do not study
Although loan words in Englishmay sometimesretain the stress patternsof the
languagefrom whichtheyderive,theyare moreoftenincorporatedintothe stresspatternsof English,which imposes on them a more indigenous or Germanic stress pattern by
moving the stress to an earlier syllable,oftenthefirst.WecanseethisinborrowingssuchasGRAMmar(fromFrench gramMAIRE) and
CHOColate (from Spanish chocoLAte). In fact, the longer a borrowed word has
been in the English language, the more likely it is that this type of stress
shift will occur.
at word level.
phoneticians(Celce-Murcia2001), there are as many as six levels of
word stress, not all of which are readily discernible. However, for pedagogical
purposes, we will adhere to the conventionaldesignation of three levels which are
often referred to as strong, medial, and weak, as they best represent what occurs
on the syllable level, or alternatively, primary, secondary, and tertiary
stress. The designationprimary makes
reference to those syllables taking the tonic or nuclearaccentand therefore,whichsoundwithmoreforcethan the rest;secondaryrefersto stressed syllables with pretonic accent which are not as strong as
the primary stress; and finally, the designation tertiary refers to unstressed
There are, however, some general orthographic considerationsto be
taken when placing stress at word level. For instance, regarding primary
stress, the vocalic groups will only remain together if they form a diphthong
or triphtho ng in English (i.e. ‘so-cial), not being the case for those which
are divided by an accent in between (i.e. ,so-ci-‘ol-ogy). Moreover, according
to Gimson (1980), initial consonant clusters (i.e. p, t, k, b, d, g, m, n, l,
f, v, s, h + l, r, j, w; or sp, st, sk + l, r, j, w) are consideredto bepartofthenextsyllableandcannotbeseparated(i.e. geo’graphic; slightly;
Regarding secondary stress, we shall mention several
rules to be applied. For instance, (1) firstly, there must be at le ast two
syllables of distance between primary and secondary stress in the same word due
to rhythmic reasons (i.e. ,meteoro’logical);(2) secondly, when two accents meet in the same word, the first one is
to be considered the secondary stress, and the next, the primary stress (i.e.
‘four’teen becomes ,four’teen); and (3) thirdly, when the primary stress is
preceeded by several secondary accents, it makes the nearest secondary stress
be weaker than the rest (i.e. ,in -ter-de-,no- mi-‘na-tio- nal;
Toindicatestronglystressedsyllablesorprimarystressinphonetictranscriptionithasbeen established the convention of a superscript accent mark (‘) placed
on the upper left hand side before the syllable,which may be substitutedby an apostropheif is not found on the current software
program; to indicate lightly stressed syllables or secondary stress we use a
subscript accent mark (,) which is placed on the lower left hand side of the
syllable;finally, unstressedsyllablesare not speciallymarked. This
system of vertical subscriptand superscriptaccents is
likely to be quite intuitive, but not as visually commanding as other systems,
such as capital letters or bubbles.
In fact, there are other systems of notation for
marking stress in a written word that can help make theconceptvisualforstudents.Forinstance,capitalletters,boldface,bubbles,accents,and underlining.
Although capital letters stand out well in print and are easy to create with a
typewriter, usually only two levels of stress can be indicated. The addition of
boldface type and bubbles open up the possibilities for indicating additional
levels.Also, in some dictionary
pronunciation guides, accents are often used, with an accent aigu (´) signaling
primary stress and an accent grave (`) for secondary stress, and no symbol at
all for unstressed syllables. Whatever system for marking stress teachers
ultimately choose, they can add paralinguistic cues for visual reinforcement by
humming, clapping, or tapping the stress pattern.
accentual patterns: simple and compound words.
It may be said that a word has a characteristic
accentual or rhythmic pattern for speaker and listener alike which is as much a
part of a word’s identity. This sound sequence may be modif ied by the general
accentual pattern of the longer utterance in which it occurs, and it may lead
to a reduction of unstress vowels to schwa. Yet, a main feature of word stress
in English is that it can occur on virtuallyanysyllable,dependinginpartontheoriginoftheword.Thisapparentlackof predictabilityas to where the
stress falls is confusing to learners from language groups in which stress
placement is more transparent (i.e. Spanish learners).
In fact, there are different word patterns for the
placement of stress within a word depending on the number of syllables it
consists of. Thus, the first group takes a two-syllable pattern in which the
primary stress usually falls on the first syllable whenever the unstressed
syllable contains schwa, /i/, orthedipthongs/ou/,/ai/,and/ei/(i.e.mother,language,yellow,fertile,always ).However, sometimes, the primary stress falls on the second syllable when
the unstressed syllable contains /i/ or schwa (i.e. believe, collect). The
second group takes a three-syllable pattern in which words may beaccentuatedinthefirst,second,andthirdsyllable(i.e.‘wonderful,‘excellent,e’xample, en’gagement,unders’tand,after’noon ). Thethirdgrouptakesa four-syllablepatterninwhich primary stress mayalso fall on the first, second, and third
syllable(i.e. ‘dictionary, ‘nationally,
for’getfulness,es’tablishment,expec’tation,tele’vision ). The last group is formed by words with fiveormoresyllablesinwhichtheprimarystressmayfallinallsituations(i.e.‘dedicatory,
un’comfortably, archae’ologist, nationa’listic, experimen’tation).
Factors that influence stress placement include (1)
the historical origin of a word as we have already seen,(2)affixation,and(3)theword’sgrammaticalfunctioninanutterance.Oneimportant difference between words of
Germanic origin and those of non-Germanic origin is the way in which stress is
assigned. For words of Germanic origin, the first syllable of the base form of
a word is typically stressed (i.e. Father, YELlow, TWENty, HAMmer, Water). Today,
even many two-syllable wordsthat haveenteredEnglishthroughFrenchandotherlanguageshavebeenassimilated phonologicallyandfollowtheGermanicwordstresspattern(i.e.MUsic, DOCtor,FLOWer, FOReign, MANa ge).
(1980), we may distinguish between
simple and compoundwords. Simple wordsare calledpolysyllabicwhereascompoundsare calledmultisyllabic.They both undergo
different stress patterns, and it is worth bearing in mind that thesyllabic division
in English is not made accordingto
orthography(as in Spanish)but to pronunciation.It is possible to give rules governing the
relationship of accentuation and the spelling of English simple and compound
Words that have not been assimilated to the Germanic
pattern have less predictable word stress in their base forms, but stress is
often predictable if certain affixes or spellings are involved. Therefore in
our next section we shall examine within this predictable group (4.1.5.) how
affixation may affect stress on simple words, and then, how the word’s
grammatical function in an utterance may affect stresson compoundnouns(4.1.6.),as wellas theeffectof stresson (4.1.7.)othermeansof accentual patterns, such as numbers, reflexives, and phrasal verbs. The
way a word’s grammatical function affects stress on words in an utterance will
be examined again within the framework of rhythm and intonation patterns
(sections 5 and 6 respectively).
influence of affixation on stress placement: simple words.
In general,thereare certainrelativelysimplerulesinvolvingthe influenceof wordaffixeson accentuation,whichhavesufficientgeneralapplicabilityforforeignlanguagelearners.Inthe followingtwosubsections,weshallexaminetheinfluenceofprefixesandsuffixesonstress placement in simple
With respect to prefixes, those words, such as nouns,
adjectives, and verbs, containing prefixes tend to be stronglystressedon the first syllableof the
baseor rootelement,withthe prefixeither unstressed or lightly stressed (i.e.
nouns: surPRISE, proPOSal, aWARD; adjectives: unHEALTHy, aSLEEP, inCREDible;
verbs: deCLARE, exPLAIN, forGET).
In English, prefixes tend to fall into one of two
categories: (1) firstly, prefixes of Germanic origin and(2) secondly, prefixes of Latinate
origin. Among (1) the Germanic prefixes we may mention: a-, be -, for-, fore -,
mis-, out-, over-, un -, under-, up-, and with - (i.e. awake, belief, forgive,
forewarn, mistake, outrun, overdo, untie, understand,uphold , and withdrawn)and, as we may note, these words follow a
general pattern by which there is no stress on the prefix and strong stress on
It is worth noting that some of these prefixes (a-,
be-, fo r-, and with-) are always unstressed in the words in which they occur
whereas others receive light stress in prefix + verb combinations(i.e. un-: ,un’do, ,un’hook; out-: ,out’run,
,out’last; over-: ,over’look, ,over’take; under-: ,under’stand,
However, an exception to this general rule occurs when the prefix functions as
a noun and has the same pattern as a compound noun. As a result, the prefix
tends to be strongly stressed (i.e. ‘forecast, ‘outlook, ‘overcoat, ‘underwear,
The sec ond category is (2) prefixes of Latinateorigin which
usually receive strong stress on the word base and not on the prefix. These includea(d)-, com-,
de-, dis-, ex-, en-, in -, ob -, per-, pre-, pro -, re-, sub-, and sur- (i.e.
com’plain, dis’play, in’habit, per’suade, sub’divide , and so on). We mustnotethat,whenaddedto verbs,unlikeGermanicprefixes,mostof Latinateprefixesare unstressed when part
of a verb. Among the most frequent we may mention com- (also co-, col-, con -,
cor-) as in com’mand), dis- (i.e. dis’turb), pro- (i.e. pro’test), ex- (i.e. ex’tend ).
However, when these prefixes are part of a word that
functions as a noun, the prefix often receives strong stress (i.e. a difficult
PROject compared to they proJECT...). We note that the influence of a word’s
part of speech on its stress pattern is dealt with more thoroughly in sections
4.1.6, 5 and 6.
With respect to suffixes, they affect word stress in
one of three ways: (1) firstly, they may have no effectonthestresspatternoftherootword;(2)secondly,theymayreceivestrongstress themselves; (3) and
thirdly, they may cause the stress pattern in the stem to shift from one
syllable to another.
Within the first group, we find (1) neutral suffixes,
which have no effect on the stress pattern of the root word and are Germanic in
origin. These suffixes include, for instance, -hood (i.e. brotherhood
-less (i.e. careless), -ship (i.e. kinship), and –ful
(i.e. forgetful). Other neutral suffixes which are not allof Germanicorigin, but which function in the same way
include:-able(i.e. unable ), -al (i.e. noun suffix,chemical),-dom (i.e.stardom),-ess (i.e.princess),-ling (i.e.yearling),-ness (i.e. darkness), -some(i.e. troublesome), -wise (i.e. clockwise),
and –y (i.e. silky). In fact, as a general rule, words with Germanic or neutral
suffixes (whether the stem is of Germanic origin or not) still tendtomaintainthestresspatternofthebaseform(i.e.BROTHer,unBROTHerly;HAPpy,
HAPpiness, unHAPpiness; Easy, unEAsily).
Within the second group, we find (2) suffixes that,
unlike the Germanic ones, have come into the EnglishlanguageviaFrench(i.e.–eer(i.e.volun’teer,engi’neer),-esque(i.e.gro’tesque, ara’besque ),-eur/-euse(i.e.chaf’feur,chan’t euse),-ette(i.e.cas’sette,basi’nette ),-ese(i.e. Suda’nese, Vietna’mese), -ique (i.e. tech’nique, an’tique), -oon
(i.e. bal’loon, sa’loon), -et /ey/ (i.e. bal’let, bou’quet).As a result, they often cause the final
syllable of a word to receive strong stress, with other syllables receiving secondaryor no
stress. As a general tendency,the longer a word remains as part of
the English vocabularysystem, the
greater is the tendencyfor stress to
shift towardthebeginningofaword.Hence,notethecoexistencetoday,forinstance,forthe pronunciations cigarETTE and millionAIRE
(where the stress is on the final element) and CIGarette and MILLionaire (where
the stress is on the first element).
Finally, within the third group, we include (3)
suffixes that can also cause a shift of stress in the root word, that is, when
added to a word, they can cause the stress to shift to
the syllable immediately preceding the suffix. Note the stress shift caused by
the addition of the following suffixes to the root word: -eous(i.e. from root wordad’vantageto root with suffixadvan’tageous);-graphy (i.e.
‘photo,pho’tography);-ial(i.e.‘proverb,pro’verbial);-ian(i.e.‘Paris,Pa’risian);-ic(i.e. ‘climate,cli’matic );-ical(i.e.e’cology,eco’logical);-ious(i.e.‘injure,in’jurious);-ity(i.e. ‘tranquil, tran’quility); and –ion (i.e. ‘educate, edu’cation).
Besides, adding these suffixes to a word not only
brings about a shift in stress but also a change in the syllable structure or
syllabification,causing vowel reduction
or neutralization in the unstressed syllables to schwa (i.e. a’cademy,
aca’demic, and acade’mician ; and ‘photograph, pho’tography, and photo’graphic
, where the syllables preceding the stress are reduced to schwa). In certain
cases, suffixation may also cause a complete change in vowel quantity (i.e.
page /ei/ vs. paginate /ae/, and mime /ai/ vs mimic /i/).
Finally, it is important to note that in cases where
the base and the suffix have different historical origins, it is the suffix
that determines the English stress pattern. For example, Germanic suffixes such
as –ly and –ness cause no shift in stress (i.e. ‘passive, ‘passively,
‘passiveness) whereas with the addition of the Latinate suffix –ity to the same
word, it does (i.e. compare ‘passive to pas’sivity). This stress shift would
extend even to a base word of Germanic origin if it were to take a Latinate
suffix (i.e. ‘foldable vs folda’bility ).
influence of a word’s grammatical function on stress in compound words.
In general, a compound noun is made up of two
separately written words, hyphenated or not (as in tea-cup or armchair), and as
a general rule, the first element of the compound is strongly stressed, whether
the compound is simple or complex (i.e. ‘airplane (simple compound) vs
‘airplane wing (complexcompound)).Wemaydistinguishthreemajorcompoundpatterns:(1)noun+
noun compounds (i.e. sunglasses, cowboy), (2) adjective + noun compounds (i.e.
blackboard, hot dog ), and (3) noun + verb patterns (i.e. typewrite, babysit).
It is worthnotingthat,althoughnouncompoundsare morefrequentin Englishthanadjective compounds and verb compounds, the three of them follow the
same stress patterns, that is, primary stress falls on the first elementof the compoundand secondary stress on the second. Moreover,
since both elements of these three patterns receive stress, they do not exhibit
any vowel reduction to schwa, except for compounds with –man, which often have
the reduced vowel schwa in the –man syllable (i.e. postman, fireman).
Regarding (1) noun + noun compounds, stress will vary
between such “true” noun compounds and words that look like noun compounds but
are actually functioning as adjective + noun sequences. Stress and context are
essential, then, to establish which type of word sequence we are dealing with. For
instance, the noun compound in: I always use ‘cold ,cream functions as a noun + noun sequence because the primary stress is placed on the
first element of the compound, and it means “I always use face cream”.
However, in a sentence with (2) an adjective + noun
sequence, like I always use ,cold ‘cream, the first
element is carrying a secondary stress, and functions simply as an adjective
modifying the noun ‘cream, which carries the primary stress, and it means “I
always use well-chilled cream”. Hence, we may find word sequences that can
function as either noun compounds or adjective + noun phrases depending on
stress and context, such as greenhouse, darkroom, blackboard, and hot plate).
Then, the adjective compounds actually take two stress
patterns, which are often hyphenated when written. The first pattern, where the
first element carries the primary stress and the second element carries the
secondary stress, tends to be used when the adjective compound modifies a noun
‘well-,trained dog and a
‘second,hand jacket). The second pattern takes the secondary stress on the
first element and the primary stress on the second element when the adjective
compound occurs in utternace-final position (i.e. This salesman is ,middle-‘aged or He is really ,good-‘looking).
Finally, (3) verb compounds usually take as a general
rule only one stress pattern where the primary stressfallsonthefirstelement,andthesecondarystressfallsonthesecondelementin the compound (i.e.‘baby,sit).Note that stress will also vary between such
“true” verb compounds, which consist of a noun and a verb, where the noun element
receives primary stress and the verb element secondary stress (i.e. “Did you
‘type,write that report for me?”).
In those cases where there are words that look like
verb compounds but are actually functioning as prefix + verb sequences, it is
the verb that receives primary stress and the prefix secondary stress or no
stress (i.e. “Can you re’heat those leftovers for me? ”).
stress patterns in other categories: numbers, reflexives, and phrasal verbs.
Fixed stress patterns in other categories include
cardinal and ordinal numbers, reflexive pronouns, and phrasal verbs. First of
all, regarding (1) numbers, we must note that both cardinal and ordinal numbers
have predictable stress on the first syllable when representing multiples of
ten, that is, 20, 30, 40, 50, and so on (i.e. ‘twenty, ‘twentieth, ‘thirty,
‘thirtieth, etc). However, two different stress patterns are possible with the
–teen numbersand their ordinal counterparts(i.e.
‘thirteenthand thir’teenth ).
In general, according to Celce-Murcia(2001), native speakers tend to stress
the first syllable in a word before a noun in attributive position (i.e. the
‘twentieth century) and when counting, whereas placing the stress on the second
syllable is more common in phrase-final or utterance-final position, and when
speakers are trying to make a deliberate distinction between the ten and teen
digits. In these cases, the second pattern is to be chosen in order to differenciateconfusing pairs of words such as thirteen and thirty.
We must not forget that the –teen numbers are
compounds, that is, combinationsof two or more base elements (i.e.
cardinal and ordinal numbers + teen/ty + (th)). Consequently, all hyphenated
numbers (i.e.thirty-seven, ninety -four)will followcompoundpatterns,wherethe placementof stress have two
possible settings depending on the context.
The first pattern will place primary stress on the
first element, firstly, if a number is used without another number as a
contrast (i.e. He lent me ‘fifty -five dollars); and secondly, if the multiple
of ten is in contrast or is given special emphasis (i.e. I said ‘forty-one, not
‘forty -six). On the contrary, the second pattern will place primary stress on
the second element, firstly, if the number is in utterance final position (i.e.
In March, she will be thirty -‘two); and secondly, if it is the second number
in the compound that is contrasted (i.e. I said twenty -‘two, not twenty
Regarding (2) reflexive pronouns, we must note that
this is a grammatical category that exhibits complete predictability of stress
since the second element ( pronoun + self/selves ) receives primary stressin virtually any environment(i.e.my’self,your’self,them’selves).On the other hand, (3) phrasalverbs , whichconsistof twoor threewordsandarecomposedof verbsfollowedby
adverbial particles and/or prepositions,are
actually informal colloquialverbs of
Germanic origin that can often be paraphrased with a more formal single verb of
Latinate origin (i.e. Germanic “look at”, Latinate “regard”; and similarly:
look over andperuse,talk about anddiscuss, talk up and promote ).
second element of some two-word phrasal verbs or the third element of three-
word phrasal verbs. Among the most common, we include:about, at, for, from, of to, andwith. Among the
most common adverbial particles in two-word verbs, we may mention:across, ahead, along, away, back, behind,
down, in(to), off, on, over, under, and up. Prepositions
and adverbial particles follow different stress patterns since they fall into
different grammatical categories. Yet, nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs,
tend to receive stress in a sentence, whereas articles, auxiliary verbs,andprepositionsdonot.Thishelpsexplainwhyprepositionsin phrasalverbunitsare unstressed and why adverbs receive stress.
In fact, we can classify two-word and three-word
phrasal verbs into three main patterns: (1) verb head + unstressed particle
(i.e. ‘talk about, ‘look at); (2) verb head + stressed particle (i.e. ‘figure
‘out, ‘take ‘over); and (3) verb head + stressed particle + unstressed particle
(i.e. ‘run a’way with, ‘talk‘downto). In all threepatterns,the verbheadhas at leastonestressedsyllableandthe following elements are either unstressed (if functioning as
prepositions) or stress (if functioning as adverbial particles). These stress
patterns appear when phrasal verbs are spoken in isolation or when the phrasal
verb represents the last piece of new information in the predicate (i.e. “She’s
‘looking at it”, “They were ‘standing a’round”, and “He ‘ran a’way with it”).
English vs Spanish word stress patterns.
Stress placement in English words if for the most part
a rule -governed phenomenon, and a primary dilemmaour Spanishstudentsmustface.It shouldbe a partof the EnglishSecondLanguage pronunciationcurriculumfortwomainreasons.Firstly,foreignlanguagelearnersneedto understandthat Englishis a tone-languagebased on suprasegmentallevels in connectedspeech. Secondly,theyalsoneedto understandthatevenif all the individualsoundsare pronounced correctly, incorrect placement of stress can cause
Yet,wemust take into account
that the main problem for Spanish students in English is, namely, hearing and
predicting where stress falls in words. As mentioned earlier, word stress in
English is not nearly as predictableas it is in languages such as French
or Polish; nor does English indicate regularly placed stress patterns through
stress or accent marks in the spelling, which is the case of Spanish.
Initially, learners need to understand that a basic characteristicof every English word containing morethanonesyllableisitsstresspattern.Thus,ourfirststepasteachersistoclarifythe systematicityof stress placementin words. Firstly, by showinghow native speakershighlighta stressed syllable by means of length, volume, and pitch; secondly, by
showing how they produce unstressed syllables often with vowel reduction from
strong forms to weak forms with schwa; and thirdly,by showingwhatthe threemainlevelsof stressin Englishare,for instance,primary, econdar, and tertiary.
Stress in noun compoundsis often misplaced by Spanish learners of
English, who tend to place primary stress on the second noun of the compound
rather than the first, as in “I’d like to have a hot ‘dog, please”. Therefore,becauseof the complexityof word stress
rules in general, classroom explanations must be reinforced with both in-class
and out-class opportunities for students to make predictions about stress
placement and apply any new rules they have been exposed to in class.
In the followingsection we shall deal first with
rhythm and sentencestress in connect
speech, whose theoretical framework will lead us to examine intonation as the
third and last element of the three suprasegmental levels.
4.2. RHYTHM IN ENGLISH.
In this section, we shall examine the stress-timed
nature and rhythm of English and its connection to word stress, since this
involves knowing the stress patterns for the individual multisyllabic words in
an utterance. In addition, we shall provide the reader with clear guidelines
concerning which words in a sentence tend to receive stress, that is, content
and function words, as part of a selection process on stressing key words in an
utterance by means of strong and weak forms.
defining sentence stress and rhythm: the stress-timed nature of English.
The previous section on word stress provides a useful
basis for understanding how stress functions beyond the word level, that is,
sentence stress, and therefore, rhythm in connected speech. Yet, an utterance c
onsists of more than one word which exhibit features of accentuation that are
in many ways similar to those in polysyllabic words, that is, depending on
stress and context. However, in sentence stress, the syllabic prominence is
determined mainly by the me aning which the utterance
is intended to convey.
But the meaningof an utteranceis largely conditionedby the situationand context in which it occurs. Thus, it must
be expected that the freedom of accentual patterning of the utterance and, in
particular,of thesituationof theprimary(tonic)accentwillbe considerablycurtailedbythe constraints imposed by the
contextual environment. In the case of new information, or an opening remark,
there is a greater scope for variations in meaning pointed by accentuation.
Hence, successive quality and quantity changes shall
determine the relationship of the words in the utterance by means of accent and
prominence. In fact, the combination of unstressed, secondary, andprimarystressedelementsinmultisyllabicwordsisarelevantcharacteristicofEnglish utterances.Therefore,we shall definesentencestress as the variousstressedelementsof each sentence that exist in both
multisyllabic words and simple sentences.
Word and sentence stress combine to create the rhythm
of an English utterance, that is, the regular, patterned beat of stressed and
unstressed syllables and pauses. This rhythmic pattern is similar to the rhythm
of a musical phrase, where the English language moves in regular, rhythmic
beats from stress to stress, no matter how many unstressed syllables fall in
This stress -timed nature of English means that the
length of an utterance depends not on the number of syllables(as it would in a syllable -timelanguagelike Spanish)but ratheron the number of stresses.In English rhythm, then, pauses are of great importancesince they
mark intervals.For instance,
stress-timed rhythm is the basis for the metrical foot in English poetry and is
also strongly present in chants, nursery rhymes, and limericks.
Besides,we must note that there is a basic
hierarchyin correctlydeterminingstress placement within an utterance when deciding which words would normally
be stressed. In our next section, we shall examine this kind of words under the
heading of content words versus function words.
vs function words.
In connected speech, accentual patterns are freer than
those of the word and are largely determined by the meaning to be conveyed. In
fact, we may distinguish two main types of words depending on the categoriesthey represent:contentand functionwords.Contentwordsincludemain verbs, nouns,adjectives,adverbs,adverbialparticles,possessiveanddemonstrativepronouns,
interrogatives, andnot/negativecontractions.Onthecontrary,function wordsinclude auxiliary
Concerningcontent words ,
they carry the most information,and
are, therefore,usually stressed,
generally the nouns, main verbs, and adjectives.We also stress adverbs (i.e.always, quite, very,
almost, etc ), and adverbial particles following phrasal verbs (i.e. get away
with, take off). Possessive pronouns (i.e. mine, yours, his, hers, etc ) and demonstrative pronouns, which are words that point
or emphasize (i.e. this, that, these, those). Moreover, we stress
interrogatives, that is, words that begin informationquestions(i.e.who,what,when, andwhere),and negativecontractions(i.e.can’t,
mustn’t),and even the negative
particlenot when uncontractedusually receive stress because of their
semantic as well as syntactic prominence.
Concerningfunctionwords, they are more likely to be
unaccentedsince words that modify the
lexicallyimportant nouns and verbs
(such as articlesand auxiliar verbs)
tend not to be stressed. Likewise,wordsthatsignalinformationpreviouslymentioned(i.e.personalpronouns,relative pronouns,possessiveanddemonstrativeadjectives)areusuallyunstressed.Intheseunstressed sentence elements, the vowels also
tendto be reduced to schwa.
vs weak forms.
The English speaker is aware of a certain number of
strong stresses or beats corresponding to those parts of the utteranceto which he wishes to attach
particularmeaning and on which he
expends great articulatoryenergy.The remainingwordsor syllablesare weaklyand rapidlyarticulated. Therefore,the syllablesuttered with the greatest stress will be
defined as the strong forms of a word, and those syllables which are weakly and
rapidly pronounced, will be defined as weak forms.
In English,alike Spanish,there are
thirty-five common words which have both strong and weak forms ranging from
modal and auxiliary verbs to personal pronouns, prepositions, or conjunctions
(i.e. and, as, but, than, that, he, him, does, am, are, was, has, can, must,
some, at, for, from, etc ). Yet, we shall pronounce a word in its strong form
mainly for reasons of meaning in the following cases. (1) Firstly, whenever the
word is meaningfully relevant in the utterance (i.e. Can I phone?, Have you
finished? ); (2) secondly, whenever the word is final in the group (i.e. No, I
don’t; What’s that for?) although there are some exceptions of the personal
pronouns (i.e. he, him, his, her, them, us); (3) and thirdly, concerning the
negative particlenot when attached to
can, have, is, etc , but never otherwise (i.e. I hope not).
Weakformsare not pronouncedaloneor separatein the sentence,andtherefore,theyare not stressed. Their main characteristic
is that they contain the vowel schwa. English people often think thaty when
they use weak forms of a word, they are being rather
careless in their speech and believe that it would be more correct always to
use the strong forms. However, English spoken with only strong forms sounds
wrong. The use of weak forms is an essentialpart of Englishspeech and foreign language learners must
learn to use it if they want to sound English.
in connected speech.
So far we have dealt with processes, such a s word
stress, sentence stress, and rhythm, and now we focus our attention on adjustmentsin connectedspeech, which are changes in
pronunciationthat occur within and
between words due to their juxtapositionwith neighbouringsounds. The
main function ofmost of these adjustmentsis to promote the
regularityof English rhythm, that is,
to squeeze syllables between stressed elements and facilitate their
articulation so that regular timing can be maintained (Celce-Murcia 2001).
In the sections that follow,we shall examine the elaborate
language system whereby sounds are influenced by other sounds in their
immediate environment, taking on different characteristics as a result. We must
note that these processes are common to all languages, but here we shall
discuss mainly the differences between English and Spanish language. The
processes to be discussed are those of linking, assimilation,dissimilation,deletion, and epenthesis,as they occur in connected speech.
AccordingtoAlcarazandMoody(1976),wheneverthemessageisvisuallytransmitted(i.e. written),the receiver may
easily determine the word limits as they are marked with blank pauses in
between. However, they say, when the message is orally transmitted, the
receiver is offered a cha in of connected phonemes that will be chopped
according to his/her linguistic habits.
Yet, prepositions with articles, nouns, and adjectives
are easily recognizable in speech as well as auxiliaryand modal verbs. Though,the speech chain
may be often ambiguousand have double
meaning in all languages. For instance, note the Spanish sequence “mujeres
odiosas” and “mujeres o diosas”, and the English one “A Greek spy” and “A
Greek’s pie ”, where context is a key element to solve
this kind of ambiguous duality.
Therefore,even to the linguisticallynaive, a salient characteristicof much of nonnativeEnglish speech is its choppy quality. The
ability to speak English “smoothly ”, to utter words or syllables that are
appropriatelyconnected, entails the use
of linking (or liaison), which is the connecting of the final sound of one word
or syllable to the initial sound of the next.
According to Celce-Murcia (2001), the amount of
linking that occurs in native -speaker speech will depend on a number of
factors, such as the informality of the situation, the rate of speaking, and of
course the individual speech profile of the speaker. Thus, the amount of
linking that occurs is not entirely predictable. However, linking occurs with
regularity in the following five envir onments.
First of all, (1) linking with a glide towards the semiconsonants/j/ or
/w/ (i.e.:ei, ai, oi; au, ou ). They
are common when one word or syllable ends in a vowel or diphthong and the next
word or syllable begins with a vowel (i.e. say it, my own, toy airplane and
blue ink, no art, how is it? ). In this environment or after schwa, some
speakers tend to add a linking or intrusive /r/ (i.e. I saw Ann, vanilla
Secondly,(2) when a word or syllableendingin a single consonantis followed
by a word or syllable beginning with a vowel, the consonant is often produced
intervocalically as if it belonged to both syllables (i.e.black and white,
Macintosh apple). Thirdly, (3) when a word or syllable ending in a consonant
cluster is followed by a word or syllable beginning with a vowel, the final
consonant of the cluster is often pronounced as part of the following syllable
(i.e. lef/t_arm /lef’ta:m/, fin/d_out
Fourth, (4) when two identicalconsonantscome together as a result of the juxtapositionof two words, there is one single and we do
not produce the consonant sound twice (i.e. stop pushing, rob Bill, short time,
baddog, quickcure,big gap, classroommonitor, le ss
serious). And finally, (5) when a stop consonant is followed by another stop or
by an affricate, the first stop is not released, which facilitates the linking
(i.e. pet cat, blackboard, next train, big church).
neghbouring sound (the conditioning sound) in connected speech. Although the
organs of speech involved appear to be taking the path of least resistance,
such a characterization ignores the fact that assimilation is a universal
feature of spoken language. It occurs frequently, both within words and betweenwords,and thereare threemaintypesof assimilationin English:(1)progressive , (2) regressive, and (3) coalescent.
In (1) progressive assimilation, the conditioning
sound precedes and affects thefollowing sound. We distinguishtwo main examplesin English: the regular plural /s/ vs. /z/
alternation,and the regular past tense
/t/ vs. /d/ alternation, in which the final sound of the stem conditions the
voiced or voiceless form of the suffix (i.e.bags /z/ vs backs /s/; moved/d/ vs liked/t/). This process also occurs in some contractions (i.e. it is /z/ –
it’s /s/), and in some reductions to schwa (i.e. had to ).
In (2) regressive assimilation , the assimilated sound precedes and is affected by the conditioning sound
(i.e.goodboy/gu:boi/).This type of phenomenonoccurscommonlyand most of them involve a change in place of articulationor in voicing. However, there are also some
cases of a change in manner of articulation in informal speech (i.e. “Give me
some money”, “Let me go”) For instance, in theperiphrasticmodals has/havetowhen expressing obligation, andused to when expressing former habitual action, and its main feature is
that it reduces the final sound to schwa (i.e. have to /hafta/, has to /hasta/,
used to /usta/).
Secondly,another clear example of this
phenomenonis reflected in the English
spelling system, mainly in the four allomorphic variants of the negative prefix
not (i.e. in-, im-, il-,
ir as in the words indifferent,impossible,illogical, andirrelevant).Thethirdtypeoccursinrapidnative-speaker speech, where sequences of sibilants (i.e. /s/ or /z/)
are followed by certain consonants. For instance, as in the
examples Swiss chalet or his shirt, where the sibilants are assimilated to the
especially /n/, the same phenomenon occurs by adjusting their place of
articulation to that of a following conditioningconsonant(i.e.“He’sin pain”,“it rains in May”,“They’rein Korea”,
“Be on guard!”)
Finally, in (3) coalescent assimilation , we find a
reciprocal assimilation by which the first sound and second sound in a sequence
come together and mutually condition the creation of a third sound with
features from both original sounds. This process occurs most frequently in
English when final alveolar consonants such as /s, z/ and /t, d/ or final
alveolar consonants sequences such as /ts, dz/ are followed by initial palatal
This type of assimilation is often referred to as
palatalization where the alveolar consonants become palatalizedfricativesandaffricates,respectively(i.e.“I’llpassthisyear”,“Does your sister come?”, “Is that yours?”, “She
lets your dog in”, “Wouldyou mind
moving?”, “He nee ds your help”). As with linking, the amount of assimilation
depends on variables, such as the formality of
the situation, the rate of speech, and the style of the speaker.
In this process, alike assimilation,this phenomenonoccurs when adjacent sounds become more
different from each other rather than more similar. For instance, a clear
example of dissimilation would be to break up a sequence of three fricatives by
replacing the second with a stop (i.e. fifths
/fts/).Thisphenomenonisconsiderednottobeanactiveprocess,anditisrareinEnglish. Therefore, we shall not examine it
The deletion process is also known asomission , a process whereby sounds
disappear or are not clearly articulatedin certain contexts.It has two
main representations:written and oral.
Firstly, regardingwritten representation,deletion appears in contracted forms of auxiliary verbs plus the
negative particlenot (i.e.isn’t).Secondly,regardingtheoralcomponent,deletionphenomena appear in the following environments.
First, (1) the loss of /t/ when /nt/ is between two
vowels or before a lateral /l/ (i.e. winter, mantle, enter); secondly, (2) the
loss of /t/ or /d/ when they occur second in a sequence or cluster of three
consonants (i.e. castle, whistle, exactly; windmill, kindness hands ); thirdly,
(3) the deletion of word- final /t/ or /d/in clustersof twoat a wordboundarywhenthe followingwordbeginswitha
consonant (i.e. blind man, East side ). It is worth noting that there is no
exception to this rule.
However, when the following word begins with a vowel,
there is no deletion but resyllabification (i.e. blin/d eye, wil/d eagle). Then,
the loss of unstressed medial vowel (also referred to as syncope) makes the
unstressedvowel, schwa or /i/, drops
out in some multisyllabicwords
followingthe stronly stressed syllable
(i.e. chocolate , every, mystery, vegetable, different, reas onable ). Note
that if the last syllable is stressed, syncope does not occur (i.e. Compare the
verb ‘sepa,rate with the adjective ‘separate ).
Also, we find another process known as aphesis, which
is related to the loss of an unstressed initial vowel or syllable in highly
informal speech (i.e. ‘cause, ‘round, ‘bout). There are three main rules
governing this process. Firstly, (1) the loss of the first non initial /r/ in a
word that has another /r/ in a following syllable (i.e. governor, surprise,
(2) the loss of final /v/ in of with a reduction to schwa, before words with
initial consonants (i.e. lots of money, waste of time ). Thirdly, (3) the loss
of initial /h/ and voiced /d/ in pronominalforms in connected speech (i.e. ask
her, help him).
Epenthesismakes referenceto the insertionof a vowel or consonantsegment within an existing stringofsegments.Themostimportanttype ofepenthesisinEnglishoccursincertain morphophonologicalsequences such as the regular plural and past tense endings. Regarding
regular plurals, an eclectic schwa is added to break up clusters of sibilants
or alveolar stops (i.e. places, buzzes) since progressive assimilation alone
will not make the morphological endings sufficiently salient.
tenses, for which we posit the–ed
suffix, we have the examples such as planted and handed. Finally, there are
other cases of consonant epenthesis in words like prince and tense, which end
in /ns/, and are pronounced with an inserted /t/ so that they sound just like
prints and tents. In such cases, the insertion of the voiceless stop /t/ makes
it easier for speakers to produce the voiced nasal plus voicelessfricativesequence.Besides, the same process at work add a /p/
between the /m/ and /f/ in comfort.
English vs Spanish sentence stress and rhythm.
Regardingsentencestressandrhythm,themaindifferencebetweenEnglishandSpanish phonological systems is that English language is said to have a
stress-timed nature whereas Spanish language has a syllable -timed one. This
means that, for Spanish students of English, maintaining a regularbeatfromstressedelementto stressedelementandreducingtheinterveningunstressed syllables can be very difficult since their native tongue has
syllable -timed patterns.
In Spanish,as well as in other syllable -timed
languages(such as Italian, Japanese,
French, and many African languages), rhythm is a function of the number of
syllables in a given phrase, not the number of stressed elements. Thus, in
Spanish, the rhythm unit is the syllable, which means that each syllable has
the same length as every other syllable and there are not the constant changes
of syllable length as in English word groups. Then, phrases with an equal
number of syllables take roughly the same time to produce, and the stress
received by each syllable is much more than in English (i.e.Spanish: “Losniños es tán en lacalle”; French: “Lesgarçons sont dans larue”; English: “’The ‘children are in the
As a result of these differences in stress level and
syllable length, Spanish students tend to stress syllables in English more
equally, without giving sufficient stress to the main words and without suffic
iently reducing unstressed syllables. This involves knowing the English stress
patterns for the individual multisyllabic words in an utterance and deciding
which words in an utterance would be stressed. This is possible by clapping or
tapping out the rhythmic pattern of a poem which is read aloud.
In the pronunciationclassroom is highly relevant to explain and illustrate for students the
stress-timed nature and rhythm of English since, when Spanish learners obscure
the distinction between stressedandunstressedsyllablesin English,nativespeakersmayfailto comprehend.In fact, Spanish students usually give all
English syllablesequal stress, and this actually hinders native speakers’ comprehension.
As we have seen previously,all five types of adjustmentsin connected speech reflect speakers’
attemptsto connectwordsan syllablessmoothlyin thenormalstreamof speech.Sometimes underlyingsounds are lost or modified(i.e.deletion and assimilation ) whereas sometimes other sounds are added (i.e. epenthesis
and linking ).
thesemodificationsseemto achievefirstly,ease of articulationfor the speaker; secondly,preservationofthepreferredEnglishsyllablestructure;andthirdly,preservationof grammatical form. These phenomena are, in fact, working together to
preserve stress-timed rhythm. In our next section,we shall deal with the third and last
4.3. INTONATION IN ENGLISH.
In the previous sections we have discussed the
phenomena of word stress, sentence stress, rhythm, and adjustments in connected
speech, which are largely ruled governed but not particularly sensitive to discourseandspeaker’sintent.Inthepresentsection,weshallfocusonthosefeaturesof pronunciationthat are quite sensitiveto the discoursecontext and the speaker’sintent, namely, prominence and intonation so
as to highlight important information and to segment speech.
4.3.1. On defining intonation: the notion of pitch.
Following Alcaraz (1976), intonation is the most
difficult suprasegmental level to be systematically defined since it conveys
not only general meaning (i.e. questions, statements, doubts, and so on ) but
also connotative features, such as personal and regional melodic
characteristics, expressive signals of affection, happiness, and so on, and the
speakers’ mental attitude.
In order to define intonation, it is first necessary
to define pitch as the relative highness or lowness of the voice. This relative
notion refers to the differenciated pitch levels of a given speaker as pitch
variations in music. Following O’Connor (1988), every language has melody in
it, and therefore, no language is spoken on the same musical note all the time.
The voice goes up and down and the different notes of the voice combine to make
tunes. For instance, ascending do, re, and mi represent progressively higher
tones, or musical pitch
There are four main levels of phonetic pitch in
English: extra high, high, middle, and low. The
function of pitch does not change the fundamental meaning of the word itself. Rather, it
reflects the discoursecontextwithinwhichawordoccurs.Forinstance,theone-wordutterance“now ”, produced with a rising pitch contour
from middle to high, could signify a question:“Do you want me to do it now?”. Produced with a falling pitch contour
from high to low, however, this same word could signify a command: “Do it now!” (Celce-Murcia 2001).
Normal conversation moves between middle and high
pitch, with low pitch typically signalling the end of an utterance.The extra high level is generallyused to express a strong emotionsuch as surprise, great enthusiasm, or
disbelief, and the pitch level is often used in contrastive or emphatic stress.
English makes use of pitch variation over the length of an entire utterance
rather than within one word, and this is the reason why it is known as a
If pitch represents the individual tones of speech,
then intonationcan be thought of as the entire melodic line which involves the rising and falling
of the voice to various pitch levels during the articulation of an utterance. It
is said to perform several unique functions, such as to emphasize a word or
utterance, to mark grammatical types of sentences, to express the speaker’s
attitude, and to highlight new information in a sentence.
Following two of the most relevant figures in this
field, O’Connor and Arnold (1973), intonation would be defined,first,asmeaningfulsinceit conveysdenotativeandconnotativemeanings;
secondly,assystematic , sincewe are awareof the existenceof commonintonationunits;and finally, as
characteristic feature of individuals, groups, and regional types.
4.3.2. Intonation units.
As we have seen earlier, just as individual utterances
can be divided into words and these words intosyllables,wecanalsodividethestreamofspeechintodiscretestretchesthatforma semantically and grammatically coherent
segment of discourse. These smaller units in the stream of speech are calledthought groups, word gr oups, or tone groups, and they are essential in English
Within the tone group, stressed syllables are spoken
in a regular rhythm, and unstressed syllables aremadetofitinbetweenthebeats.Thestressedsyllablesofwordswhichconveylexical information(mainly nouns, adjectives,principal verbs and adverbs) are given prominencein the intonation pattern, unless the
information has already been mentioned or is obvious in context. In that case,
whilst continuing to mark the rhythmic beat, they are not given pitch
According to van Ek and Trim (2001), every tone group
contains a nucleus which is usually marked by a left to right (also right to
left) diagonalfalling or rising mark. Many short utteranceswill comprise a single tone group,
contaning only one prominent syllable, which is then the nucleus of the tone
group. In those cases where there is more than one prominent syllable, the last
of these is the nucleus and the first is the head , which is usually marked with a rising mark above the line of writing. Following
Gimson (1980), both definitions‘nucleus’ and ‘head’ correspondto ‘primary accent’ and ‘secondary accent’,
The head is usually marked by a jump up in pitch to a
high-mid level. The actual pitch varies from mid to high, depending on the
attitude of the speaker towards what he or she is saying and towards the listener.
The higher the level, the more cheerful and friendly the speaker sounds. The
high head is marked in the texts by an upright line before the syllable
concerned, above the line of writing [‘]. Some common markers for these
divisions or pauses are commas, semicolons, periods, and dashes. However,in spoken
discoursea speakermay pause at points where such
punctuationdoes not always occur in a
written transcription of the utterance.
Non prominent syllables, stressed or unstressed, which
precede the head, are spoken on a low mid pitch(Gimson’s‘secondaryaccentwithoutpitchprominence’ ). Theyare
oftenmanifestedby qualitative,quantitative,orrhythmicprominence,thatis,byweakandstrongforms,schwa reductions, linking,
and so on and are usually marked by a rising mark below the line of writing
Those followinga high head are kept on
the same level, or form a descendingsequence.Those followingthe nucleus
conformto the configurationof the nucleus, as elaboratedabove. Often, rhythmic beats are marked in
the utterance, but have no effect on the pitch pattern. Non-prominent
unstressed syllables are left unmarked (Gimson’s ‘unaccented syllables ’).
As we shall see later, the pattern of intonation used
will be closely related to the language function ofthesentenceanditsgrammaticalcategory.Thetermintonationunit describesa segment of speech but refers also to the
fact that this unit of speech has its own intonation contour or pitch pattern,
and typicallycontains one
prominentelement. We must note that a
single utteranceor sentence may include several intonation units, each with its own prominent
element and contour.
Many,perhapsmost,shortexchangesinconversationconsistofsingletonegroups.Longer utterances may simply juxtapose tone groups. However, compound
(i.e. and, but, either, or, etc ) and complex (i.e.
if, because, when, etc ) sentences may have two or more closely linked tone
groups. This sequence is then termed a major tone group , and its completion is shown in a text with two vertical marks whereas the
constituent minor tone groups are marked with a single vertical mark.
To sum up, each typical intonation unit (1) is set off
by pauses before and after; (2) contains one prominent element; (3) has an
intonation contour of its own; and (4) has a grammatically coherent internalstructure.Thewayto dividean utteranceintointonationunitsis no foolproofsince it depends on several factors. Thus, in
rapid speech, these may be fairly long, and in slower speech, they may be
shorter, and breaks between units will then be more frequent. Also, some
speakers producefewer breaks than others, and finally,it is
also dependenton the performancecontext, pausing frequently to make their
message more emphatic (i.e. political meetings).
Yet, two additionalpoints are to be made regarding
intonationunits. First, too many pauses
can slowspeechdownandcreatetoomanyprominentelements,causingthelistenerdifficultyin processing and
comprehending the overall message. And second, taking into account the process
of blending and linking that occur within intonation units as part of the
process of reducing unstressed vowels to schwa.
4.3.3. The main functions of intonation.
In this section we shall deal with the different
functions of intonation that will lead us to establish and examine the
different pitch patterns. Intonation is said to function in order to express
whether a speaker is ready, to signal that a response is desired, unnecessary,
or unwanted, and to differenciate normal information from contrastive or
expressive intentions. In other words, intonation is said to performan importantconversationmanagementfunction,with the speaker being able to subtly signal to the interlocutorto quit talking,to respondin a particularfashion,or to pay particular attention to a piece of
highlighted information (Celce-Murcia 2001).
In fact, the meaning of an English utterance, that is,
the information it conveys to a listener, derives not only from its changing
sound pattern and the contrastive accentual prominences, but also from
associated variations of pitch as we have already referred to. In fact, the
discourse context generally influences which stressed word in a given utterance
receives prominence, and therefore, the word the speaker wishes to highlight.
FollowingCelce-Murcia(2001)thereareseveralcircumstancesgoverningtheplacementof prominence which are
closely related to the main functions of intonation. Had we classified these circumstancesfollowingGimson’sdistribution(1980),wewouldhavedistinguishedbetween accentual and non-accentual functions, and therefore, we would
have included (1) to place emphatic stress within the accentual function, and
(2) to highlight new information, (3) to express emotions and attitudes, and
(4) grammatical patterns within the non-accentual functions of intonation.
Still,althoughit is notconsideredto bea function,we mustnot forgetaboutthe relationship between intonation and
meaning. Yet, individual speakers make very specific use of prosody (i.e.
intonation, volume, tempo, and rhythm) to convey their meanings in extended
spoken discourse. It is a fact that nonnative speakers are frequently
misinterpreted as rude, abrupt, or disinterested solely because of the
prosodics of their speech, as they may sound unnatural, or not funny when intended
18.104.22.168. Emphatic function.
The emphatic function is also called the accentual
function since it is related to the placing of tonic stress on a particular
syllable. In doing so, since the speaker wishes to place special emphasis on a
particular element, he or she makes the listeners concentrate their attention
on the word or words carrying the primary accent.
In fact, the element receivingemphaticstress usually communicatesnew
informationwithin the sentence,and in contrastwithnormalprominence,it is characterizedby the greaterdegreeof emphasis placed on it by the speaker by means of pitch level. For
instance, in the sentence “You are ‘always doing the same ”,
the speaker might place emphatic stress on always to signal a particularly bad
reaction to a repetitive situation.
22.214.171.124. Discourse function.
Similarly,the discoursefunctionplacesprominenceon new informationin orderto indicatea contrast or link
with previously given information. We shall point out that within an intonation
unit, words expressingold or given informationare unstressedand spoken with
lower pitch, whereas words expressing new information are spoken with strong
stress and higher pitch.
In unmarkedutterances,it is the stressedsyllablein the last contentword that
tends to exhibit prominence (i.e. “I have bought a ‘camera” – “A ‘digital
camera?”- “Yes.A digital camera
with ‘amazing functions in it. It is the ‘last ‘Canon model”). In this
example,camera functions as new informationin the
first utterance.However,in the second
sentence,digital receives prominence
becauseitisthenewinformation.Inthethirdsentence,bothcameraanddigitalareold information, whereas last
and Canon are new information, thus receiving prominence.
Similarly,two parallelelements,either explicitlyor
implicitly,can receiveprominence within a given utteranceat the same time. For instance,“Is it a ‘cheap or
‘expensivecar?”, where both ‘cheap and
‘expensivesignal an important contrast
in the sentence.
126.96.36.199. Attitudinal function.
The attitudinal function indicates the emotional
attitude of the speaker by means of a single word or more words. In these cases,
it is not the situation of the nucleus which is of importance, but rather the
type of nucleus employed, that is, the intonation contours. The choice of pitch
patterns can vary a great deal the discourse context within which a word
For instance, the one -wordutterance“No”, produced with a rising pitch contour from middle to high, could
mean surprise:“Are you sure you don’t
want to come?” whereas, if produced with a falling pitch contour from high to
low, this same word could express anger: “I said no!”.
It is worth noting again that the attitudinalmeaningof an utterancemust always be interpreted within a context,
both of the situation and also of the speaker’s personality. It is likely to
happen that an intoantionwhich is neutral in one set of circumstancesmight be, for instance,offensive when used by another person or in
188.8.131.52. Grammatical function.
Thegrammaticalfunctiondistinguishesdifferenttypesof sentenceby meansof differentpitch patterns. In fact, the same sequenceof words may, with a falling
intonation,be interpretedas a statement or, with a rising intonation,
as a question (i.e. a statement like “Sally’s moving” may be made into a question
if a rising intonation is used instead of a falling intonation type).
Moreover,if an utteranceis pronouncedwith a rising-fallingintonation,then it signals
speaker certainty,which often
correspondsto a declarativestatement.However,pronouncedwith rising
intonation, the same sequence of phonemes signals uncertainty and corresponds
to a special type of yes/no question with statement word order, showing that
intonation can override syntax in spoken English.
Yet, the main types of utterances which can describe
different attitudes by means of pitch patterns are(1)assertions,(2)wh-questions,(3)yes/noquestions,(4)questiontags,(5)commands, requests,andorders,andfinally(6)exclamations,greetings,andsimilarones.Thesetypeof utterances will be examined later in the
section of intonation contours.
4.3.4. Intonation contours.
We have seen how rises and falls in the pitch of the
voice in connected speech produce what is calledintonation. The intonationof English RP is used by native
speakerson the one hand to indicate the
informational structure of sentences and on the other to express nuances of
meaning, to indicateunspokenimplicationsor reservationsand to convey
attitudesand emotionalstates. As suchit playsa veryimportantpartin communicationandis a frequentsourceof intercultural
Theintonationcontour(or pitchpattern)of a wordgroup(or tonegroup)is crucialsincethe intonation of the
sentence will show the attitude of the speaker. This level are highly dependent
on discoursemeaning and prominence,with rises in
intonationco-occurringwith the highlightedor more important words that receive
prominence within the sentence. Thus pitch and prominence can be saidto have a
symbioticrelationshipwith each other in English, and the
interrelationshipof these phenomena
determines the intonation contour of a given utterance.
The movementof pitch within an intonationunit is referredto as the intonationcontourwhic h ranges from extra high pitch to low pitch (i.e. extra high, high,
mid, low). Pitch patterns are to be represented by two parallel horizontal
lines where, according to Alcaraz (1976), we may find two types of movements:
static and dynamic. On the one hand, the static type includes high, mid, and
low pitch which are to be represented by the imaginary upper line, mid
position, and lower line, respectively. On the other hand, the dynamic type
includes rising, falling, or a combination of both pitches, depending on the
direction they take within the two lines.
Hence, we may distinguishfive nuclear tones (vanEk and Trim 2001), thus low falling, high
falling, low rising, high rising, and falling-rising. Besides, another category
(i.e. rising-falling)is added by O’Connor(1973). For our present purposes,we shall examinefirst the main dynamic pitch patterns, that
is, falling and rising, and then, their combinationsin relation to the static pitch patterns and
184.108.40.206. Falling tone.
According to Gimson (1980), a falling nucleus, marked by
a diagonal falling mark, is considered to be the most neutral tone among all
the pitch patterns to be examined. It is in fact, separative and assertive, by
which the higher the fall the more vigorous the degree of finality implied. Note
that the fall is on the stressed syllable or from the stressed syllable to a
The listener is not made any explicit appeal nor impolite requests. This kind of tone is characteristic
in conversations of acquainted people where there is no need of social courtesies
in speech. We may distinguish two types of falling intonation depending on the
tone and the discourse context where they occur: low falling and high falling.
220.127.116.11.1. Low falling.
This is marked by a left to right diagonal falling
mark, below the line of writing, placed before the nuclear syllable [,]. This
mark is to be interpreted as indicating that the next syllable is stressed. Its
vowel starts on a clear, low-mid tone, and then, the voice drops to a low
creaky note and remains on this low pitch until the end of the tone group.
Lowfallingis used(1)in declarativesentences.First,forfactualstatements(i.e.identifying,
describing, defining, and narrating as well as in answers to wh- questions
(i.e.‘This is a ,door; They ‘drove to ,London ). Second, for expressing
definite agreement or disagreement, firm denials, firm acceptanceor rejectionof an offer,intention,obligation,grantingor askingfor permission.In general, it indicates an unambiguous
certainty (i.e. You ‘must eat your ,dinner).
(2) In interrogative sentences expected to be answered
by yes or no. Those of the type of demands (i.e.‘Have you seen this film
be,fore?), requests (i.e. May I come in, please? ), yes/no questions (i.e. ‘Can
you ,eat it? ), tag questions (i.e. ‘Is it, red?), and in choice questions, to
indicate the list of options is closed(i.e.‘Would you prefer ,tea/ or ,coffee? ). (3) In wh- questions as a
definite request for a piece of information (i.e. ‘Where is Mary ?), and (4) in
imperative sentences as a direct order or prohibition (i.e. ‘Sit ,down!), as an
instruction (i.e. ‘Push the door!), and as a strong form of offer (i.e. ‘ Have
one of ,my cakes!).
18.104.22.168.2. High falling.
High falling tone is similar to the low falling one,
except that the nuclear vowel starts on a pitch above the mid point. It is
marked by place the mark above the line of writing. High falling is used (1) in
declarative sentences, first, to indicate surprise, protest, enthusiasm, empha
sis or insistence (i.e. That’s ‘great!, Look at ‘that!), and second, to
indicate contrast with an element previously mentioned or believed to be the
listener’s mind (i.e. No, it was in ‘1970 he was born).
(2) In interrogative sentences, both those answerable
by yes or no and wh- questions, first, to insist on an answer being given (i.e. Did you ‘mend my bicycle?). Second, to indicate
surprise or irritation (i.e. Are you ‘still thinking about going out?). Third,
in rhetorical questions of an exclamatory type, to whichno answeris sought(i.e.Isn’tit‘lovely?).Finally,in tag
questions,to insiston the listener’s agreement to a proposition
(i.e. You ‘knew it, ‘didn’t you?).
(3) In imperative sentences, first, to insist on an
order or prohibition (i.e. Don’t ‘listen to her, I
say). Second, to indicate the urgency to an instruction (i.e. ‘Stop. ‘Don’t ‘move). Third, to insist on
the acceptance of an offer. (i.e. ‘Do let me
22.214.171.124. Rising tone.
A rising nucleus, marked by a diagonal rising mark,
may start from a fairly low, mid, or high pitch and it may end at a low or high
pitch. This tone implies that something more is to be still said in order to
catch the listener’s attention.
126.96.36.199.1. Low rising.
This is marked by a rising mark placed before the
nuclear syllable and below the line of writing [,]. It indicatesthat the nextsyllableis stressed.Its vowelstartson a clear,low levelpitchto be followed by a continuous glide upward,
but not rising above mid, until the end of the tone group.
The glide occurs within the nuclear syllable if it is
the last in the group. If it is followed by one or more non-prominentsyllables (also called the “tail”),
stressed or unstressed, the nuclear syllable is spoken on a low level pitch and
the rise spans the tail.
Lowrisingisused(1)indeclarativesentences,first,toindicateindifference,resentment, guardednessor suspicion (i.e. It doesn’t ,matter; you
shouldn’t complain about ,me ). Second, to reassure (i.e. You
,needn’t be worried).
(2) It is also used in interrogativequestions,answerablebyyes orno, first, to ask politely for confirmation or disconfirmation (i.e.
She’s ,Italian, ,isn’t she? ). Second, to make polite requests
and offers (i.e.‘Would you
please close the ,door?).Third, to indicate that the list is open in
choice questions (i.e. ‘Would you like ,tea or ,coffee
or something ,stronger?).
(3) In wh questions, first, to indicate polite
interest (i.e. ‘Where are you going on ,holidays? ),
and secondly, to avoid the appearance of interrogation (i.e. ‘What are you
,doing there?). (4) It is finally used in imperative sentences for gentle
commands, especially to children and hospital patients (i.e. ‘Just drink this ,medicine slowly).
188.8.131.52.2. High rising.
High rising is shown by placing the rising mark above
the line of writing [‘]. It indicates that the nuclear vowel starts somewhere
between low and mid- level, and that the upward glide extends well above mid.
High rising is used (1) in declarative sentences,
first, to convert a statement into a question (i.e. You wentto Irelandlastyear? ), and second,to querywhatsomeonehas said(i.e.You said he is
unemployed?). (2) It is also used in interrogative questions answerable yes or
no, first, to indicate a casual enquiry (i.e. Would you care for a ‘coffee? ), and second, to repeat a question (i.e. A ‘coffee? Would
I care for a ‘coffee?).
(3) Moreover, inwh questions,first, to repeat a question including a
change of first and second person before answering (i.e. ‘Where do you ,live?- Where
do I ‘live? ); and second, having the wh word as nucleus, to ask for
repetition(i.e.He lives in (not understood)– He lives ‘where? ). (4) Finally, in imperative
sentences to repeat an order, instruction or offer while deciding whetheror how to
comply (i.e. ‘Sit down, please – ‘Sit ‘down? ‘Why ,not?).
184.108.40.206. Falling-rising tone.
This may be seen as a sequence of high falling and low
rising, by whichthe nuclear vowel sound starts high-mid pitch and drops to a low creak. An upward
glide follows, which does not go above mid. This tone is indicated by a
v-shaped mark placed before the nuclear syllable above the line of writing [`´]
and is connected with the stressed syllable of the last important word, like
the fall and rise of the other tones. But it is only completed on one syllable
if that syllable is final in the group. If there is one or several syllables
following, the fall and the rise are separated.
This fall-rise tone combines the effect of the fall,
which is contradictoryand contrastive, with the emotional or meaningful attitudes, not
expressed verbally, associated with the rise. Both of them may occur wihin a single word.
Thus, the falling-rising is used (1) in declarative
sentences to convey various implications, such as first, warnings (i.e. The
trafficlights are `´red!);
secondly,corrections(i.e. Herbrother ‘isn’t a teacher, / he’s an `´architect!); thirdly, limited
agreement implying disagreement (i.e. I ‘don’t know if I agree with `´that);
fourth, mental thought of promises (i.e. `´Yes, /I `´will be good this year);
fifth, uncertainty and hesitation (i.e. I can’t be `´certain ); sixth, to
soften the effects of bad news (i.e. You’re `´wrong, I’m afraid); seventh,
anxious query with tag-questions (i.e. You ‘do `´love me, don’t you?); eighth,
discouragement (i.e. You can’t ‘go to the cinema if you `´like); ninth,
tentative advice (i.e. If ‘I were `´you, /I’ll do it);tenth, implying something has been left
unsaid and contrasts what has been stated (i.e. Your opinion is `´interesting
(implying: but I ‘don’t agree); eleventh, to query what has been said, implying
that it is mistaken or untrue (i.e. ‘Seven eights are fity `´four?).
(2) It is also used in interrogative questions
answered by yes or no, first, to add a note of warning or doubt (i.e. Are you
`´sure you paid the bill?); second, when the expected answer to the question
may be unwelcome (i.e. ‘Have you thought what might happen if you `´did?). (3)
In wh questions, first, to repeat a question, focusing
on the key issue in contrast with other possibilities (i.e. ‘What did I do on
`´Saturday of last week?), and second, to query a statement with the wh word as
nucleus (i.e. `´Where did he buy that motorbike?).(4) And finally,in imperativesentences,first, for issuing warnings rather than commands or instructions (i.e.
‘Watch where you’re `´going ), and second, for pleading with the imperative as
nucleus (i.e. `´Do / try to be / little more careful).
220.127.116.11. Rising-falling tone.
The rising-fallingintonationcontouris one of the mostcommonpatterns.In it, the intonation typically begins at a neutral middle level and
then rises to a high level on the main stressed element oftheutterance.Theintonationthenfallsto eitherthelowlevel–a terminalfall,signa lling certainty and generally correspondingto the end of the utterance– or to the middle level– a non terminal fall, signalling a weaker
degree of certainty and usually correspondingto an unfinished statement, an incomplete thought, or a mood of
Rising-fallingtone is indicatedby an invertedv-shaped mark placed before the nuclear
syllable above the line of writing [^]. Besides, intonation patterns of the
“certainty” type are typically used to convey stronger feelings of approval,
surprise, or disapproval. Thus, (1) in declarative statements, first, to reassurea fact
(i.e.John is ^sick. He’s taken an ^aspirin ); second, inwh questions to reassure an action that causes surprise (i.e.Who will ^help?); and third, in commandsto show
disapproval (i.e. Fix me some ^soup ).
(2) In unfinished statements, first, where a non
terminal fall with a slight rise at the end indicates that the utteranceis an
unfinishedstatementin which the speaker has left somethingunsaid or implied (i.e.John’s ^sick... (... but I think he’s going
to work anyway ). Secondly, in unfinished statements
where the slight rise at the end creates suspense (i.e. I openedthe old ^suit/case... (... and founda milliondollars!).Andthirdly,intagquestionselicitingagreeme nt, in which
statement, they typically signal certainty (i.e. We really ought to ^vi/sit
him, ^shouldn’t we?)
Once we have discussed intonation regarding its
functionsand its patterns, we shall
move on to establisha comparisonbetweenthe EnglishandSpanishphonologicalsystemsconcerningthis issue.
English vs Spanish intonation.
We must bear in mind that English and Spanish
intonation patterns are quite different, and it is a phenomenonSpanish learners must face. Firstly,
they need to understandthat English is a tone- language whereas Spanish is
syllable-based language. Therefore, they also need to understand that even if
all the individual sounds are pronounced correctly, incorrect placement of
stress can cause misunderstanding.
Regardingtheplacementof wordstress,anotherproblemforSpanishstudentsin Englishis, namely, that word
stress in English is not nearly as predictableas itis in Spanish where stress
patterns are regularly indicated through stress or accent marks in the
spelling. Secondly, in English we find vowel reduction to schwa from strong
forms to weak forms in unstressed syllables, whereas in Spanishschwa does not even exist.
Regardingsentencestressandrhythm,themaindifferencebetweenEnglishandSpanish phonological systems is that English
language is said to have a stress-timed nature whereas Spanish language has a
syllable -timed one. This means that, for Spanish students of English,
maintaining a regularbeatfromstressedelementto stressedelementandreducingtheinterveningunstressed syllables can be very difficult
since their native tongue has syllable -timed patterns. As a result of these differencesin stress
level and syllable length, Spanish studentstend to stress syllablesin
English more equally, without giving sufficient stress to the main words and
without sufficiently reducing unstressed syllables
Regardingintonation,it is a fact that
certain intonationpatterns present
difficultiesfor Spanish learners since
they frequentlyassociate questionsexclusivelywith rising intonation,for
instance, and as a result, they have difficultywhen producingwh questions,which typicallyhave falling intonationin English.Tagquestionsarealsodifficultfornonnativelearners,in termsof both grammar and intonation.
The main difference between English and Spanish
intonation relies on the way Spanish produce the melodictone,thatis,withanarrowerrangemakingthe Englishintonationof learnerssound somewhat flat,
bored, and disinterested. In fact, much research has shown that nonnative
speakers are frequently misinterpreted as rude, abrupt, or disinterested mainly
because their speech sounded choppy and with an unnatural rhythm, sometimes
with flat intonation, or inappropriate application of intonationpatterns.Moreover,Spanish learners often cannot hear
importantkeys to meaning because of
their limited command of prosodic clues.
Thisisespeciallytruewhenhumor,sarcasm,anger,irony,andthe likeare conveyedthrough prosodicelements.Thus,thoughthe messagemaybe understood,the speaker’sintentmaybe misinterpreted,resulting in the entire meaning being
miscontrued. Therefore, a top priority should be givento providingthemwithadequateopportunitiesto listenfor the shadesof meaningin authentic conversational exchanges and to check their interpretation
against that of a native speaker listening to the same conversational exchange.
As we have seen, for foreign learners of English, and
in particular, Spanish learners, it is imperative evenatthemostelementarystageoflanguageinstructiontopayattentionnotonlytothe vocabulary,grammar,andfunctionsoftheforeignlanguagebutalsototheprominenceand intonation, due to the critical role these features play and the
meaning they carry. From both the receptive and productive points of view,
learners need extensive practice in distinguishing the subtle shades of meaning
that are conveyed through prosodic clues.
Therefore, once students have understood the concepts
of word stress, sentence stress, and rhythm, these can be integratedinto the presentationof prominenceand intonationin English. In
reality thesefeaturescannotbe separatednaturally.However,we believethat the variousintonation patternsandaccompanyingpitchmovementsmakemoresenseif wordstress,sentencestress, rhythm, and prominence have already been understood.
In thisgeneraloverviewof suprasegmentalelements,themainpointof thisstudyhasbeento emphasize the functions
of stress, rhythm, and intonation within authentic conversational situations. In
the present study we have touchedon
only some of the more straightforwardfeatures with respect to how these
prosodic elements are treated in second language learning.
These features allow the learner to turn the basic
building blocks of the sound system (i.e., the vowelandconsonantphonemes)intowords,meaningfulutterances,and extendeddiscourse.A good command of these features is therefore
as critical as command of the segmental features in order to achieve successful
communication for second language learners.
In fact, this unit was aimed to make learnersaware of the
relevanceof these major patterns in
ongoingdiscourse.Besides,thereisaneedofalertingstudentstodifferencesbetweenthe punctuation and
intonation systems of English and Spanish, and overall, to teach students to
think in terms of the speaker’s intention in any given speech situation.
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