6Lexical Stress in English Pronunciation

ANNE CUTLER

English lexical stress and its pronunciation implications

Not all languages have stress and not all languages that do have stress are alike. English is a lexical stress language, which means that in any English word with more than one syllable, the syllables will differ in their relative salience. Some syllables may serve as the locus for prominence-lending accents. Others can never be accented.

In the word language, for example, the first syllable is stressed: LANGuage (henceforth, upper case will denote a stressed syllable). If the word language receives a principal accent in a sentence, either by default (She studies languages) or to express contrast (Did you say language games or anguish games?), the expression of this accent will be on language’s first syllable. The second syllable of language is not a permissible location for such accentuation. Even if we contrive a case in which the second syllable by itself is involved in a contrast (What was the new password again: “language” or “languish”?), it is more natural to express this contrast by lengthening the final affricate/fricative rather than by making each second syllable stronger than the first. The stress pattern of an English polysyllabic word is as intrinsic to its phonological identity as the string of segments that make it up.1

This type of asymmetry across syllables distinguishes stress languages from languages that have no stress in their word phonology (such ...

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