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Topic 9 – The phonological system of the english language III: stress, rhythm and intonation. Comparison with the language of your community

STRESS: concerns the prominence with which one part of a word or a longer utterance is distinguished from other parts.


´pro mi nence (1st)

will you ´help me?

RHYTHM: concerns the relative prominence, or pattern of the stresses being perceived as peaks of prominence, occurring at more or less regular intervals of time.

Number of syllables doesn´t vary very much, so rhythm quite regular:

´I´ve ´come to ´take my ´children ´home

´will ´you ´come with ´us?

INTONATION: concerns the association of relative prominence (RHYTHM) with pitch, (high and low, speed, tension, length of vocal chords).

According to intonation, a sentence can have a falling or rising tone:

The professor has CÒME (statement)

The professor has CÓME (declarative question)


In English the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables is much stronger than in some other languages, this is one of the reasons why English spoken by Spanish sounds so flat to an English native speaker.


Primary stress ´before syllable vertical stroke

Stronger stress ´´before syllable

Secondary stress ,before syllable


´many ´lovely ´´girls


Native and early French loans

Tend to have the main stress on the root syllable and keep it there regardless of the affixes that word-formation may add:

´kingly ´kingliness un´kingliness

´stand under´stand misunder´stand

´reason ´reasonable un´reasonable.

More recent additions to the language where the place of stress varies according to the affixation

´transport trans´portable transpor´tation

´photograph pho´tography photo´graphic

´psyche psy´chology psycho´logical


Stress on syllable before endings





Words with more than one function

Noun or adjective verb

´present pre´sent

´conduct con´duct

´perfect per´fect

´contrast con´trast

Compound nouns

Generally stressed on the 1st element with a secondary stress on the 2nd element

in contrast to the normal noun phrase stress pattern:

compound nouns noun phrase

´black ,bird a ,black ´bird

´green ,fly a ,green ´fly

Stress in phrases

To difference relations between juxtaposed items.

An ´English ,teacher

An ,English ´teacher (who is English)

Stress in the peninsular languages

Secondary only in –mente





Good examples to exemplify secondary stress

Contrastive secondary stress

Secondary stress in English receives a greater than usual intensity when marking elements which allow a contrast between words:

,a´voidable / ,un´avoidable

,in´ternal / ,ex´ternal

,o´ffensive / ,de´fensive

also in Castilian:

las cuestiones tanto ínteriores como éxteriores

Stress position and effect

2 syllable words: both languages before the last

3 syllables or more: English last but two

Spanish last but one

English: non-stressed vowels: pronunciation with schwa, i, u.


Weak and strong forms:

Once 2 or more words are joined together in a phrase or sentence they gave a rhythm which is the relationship between the stressed and unstressed syllables within them.

Number of syllables doesn´t vary very much, so rhythm quite regular:

´I´ve ´come to ´take my ´children ´home

´will ´you ´come with ´us?

Broadly speaking, English connected speech has stresses on the “open class items”, and hasn´t in “closed class items” (prepositions, conjunctions, articles, pronouns, auxiliary verbs).

These forms have 2 pronunciation, a weak one, the usual, reduced to schwa. A strong one, only when we want to highlight it, with a contrastive stress:

Tell him that I´m here.

It was him who paid the bill.


In English, the length of the sentence and the stress pattern, (rhythm), are closely connected:

She ´told ´someone

She´bought it for a ´party

Same length, tendency

The amount of a syllable can only be known with reference to the stress pattern of the sentence. The unit of rhythm is the feet, the part of the utterance between two stresses.English is considered as a stress-timed language.

The poetic form more natural to the English ear is the Rhymed iambic pentameter. (five iambic foot. The iambic foot consists of two syllables, of which the first one is unstressed, and the second, stressed):

If you can make one heap of all your winnings      
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,        
And lose, and start again at your beginnings        
And never breath a word about your loss;           
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew   
To serve your turn long after they are gone,        
And so hold on when there is nothing in you         
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!” 

In Spanish, the unit is the syllable, its amount independent of the stress pattern.

The most natural forms are verses of 8 and 11 syllables:

con cien cañones por banda / miré los muros de la patria mía.

So Spanish sounds to English people as “stacatto”.

Mary´s younger brother wanted fifty chocolate peanuts.

Only these words stressed.

Weak and strong forms: don´t exist in Spanish.


Every language has what is called “melody” in it.

The student has a tendence to transfer this melody to the L2, sometimes with consequences in meaning:

THÀNK you (gratitude)

THÁNK you (pro-forma response. When you pay in a shop, not gratitude).

If you want to express gratitude with 2nd form, you will seem impolite.

Question tags:

You want a coffee, don´t yòu. Invitation.

You are working in the city, aren´t yóu. Expects an answer.


This is the commonest tone in English affirmative sentences

Wh- questions

One word answer to questions,

Words in isolation


To suggest that what is said is not final.

Counting: one, two, three….

Total questions: are you happy?

2 classes joined together: if I were you, I would buy it.


Doubtful condition: I wonder if he is guilty

Initial adverb: Fortunately, we all are alive.


Warmth: I love you

Shock, surprise: It´s horrible!



Rarest of all, used to express predictability of what is to follow:

He didn´t study, he failed the exam, he was punished by his father.

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