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Question 4. Word stress. Functions of word stress. Accentual types of English words.
Summary: Researchers, investigating the metrical properties of speech, may define stress as a linguistic system, which comprises different degrees of prominence to different syllables; continuous speech can be segmented into rhythmic feet. Researchers, investigating the intonational properties of speech, use the term “stress” differently: (word) stress, (pitch) accent and intonation.
There are three conventions of representing stress patterns in the modern dictionaries: with dashes, with “dashes and dots” patterns (introduced by Stromberg in 1993), with “stress-shift”.
The minimum classification has two stress level types: stressed and unstressed. The next one comprises three types: primary, secondary and tertiary.
The stress degrees are based on the instability of English word stress, caused by recessive, rhythmical and retentive tendencies. British phonetic school developed three degrees: the strongest, the secondary strongest and weak stress. American phonetic school recognized four degrees: loud, reduced loud, medial and weak stresses.
The sequence of syllables in the word is not pronounced identically. The syllable or syllables which are uttered with more prominence than the other syllables of the word are said to be stressed or accented. Stress in the isolated word is termed word stress; stress in connected speech is termed sentence stress.
Stress is defined differently by different authors. B.A. Bogoroditsky defined stress as an increase of energy, accompanied by an increase of expiratory and articulatory activity. D. Jones defined stress as the degree of force, which is accompanied by a strong force of exhalation and gives an impression of loudness. H. Sweet also stated that stress, is connected with the force of breath. According to A.C. Gimson, the effect of prominence is achieved by any or all of four factors: force, tone, length and vowel colour.
If we compare stressed and unstressed syllables in the words contract ['kσntrækt], to contract [kən'trækt], we may note that in the stressed syllable:
(a) the force is greater, which is connected with more energetic articulation;
(b) the pitch of voice is higher, which is connected with stronger tenseness of the vocal cords and the walls of the resonance chamber;
(c) the quantity of the vowel [æ] in [kən'trækt] is greater, the vowel becomes longer;
(d) the quality of the vowel [æ] in the stressed syllable is different from the quality of this vowel in the unstressed position, in which it is more narrow than ['æ].
According to the most important feature different types, of word stress are distinguished in different languages.
1) If special prominence in a stressed syllable or syllables is achieved mainly through the intensity of articulation, such type of stress is called dynamic, or force stress.
2) If special prominence in a stressed syllable is achieved mainly through the change of pitch, or musical tone, such accent is called musical, or tonic. It is characteristic of the Japanese, Korean and other oriental languages.
3) If special prominence in a stressed syllable is achieved through the changes in the quantity of the vowels, which are longer in the stressed syllables than in the unstressed ones, such type of stress is called quantitative.
4) Qualitative type of stress is achieved through the changes in the quality of the vowel under stress.
English word stress is traditionally defined as dynamic, but in fact, the special prominence of the stressed syllables is manifested in the English language not only through the increase of intensity, but also through the changes in the vowel quantity, consonant and vowel quality and pitch of the voice.
Russian word stress is not only dynamic but mostly quantitative and qualitative. The length of Russian vowels always depends on the position in a word.
Now we should like to distinguish the notions of word stress and sentence stress. They are first of all different in their sphere of application as they are applied to different language units: word stress is naturally applied to a word, as a linguistic unit, sentence stress is applied to a phrase. Secondly, the distinction of the rhythmic structure of a word and a phrase is clearly observed in the cases when the word stress in notional words is omitted in a phrase, e.g. I 'don't think he is 'right or when the rhythmic structure of the isolated word does not coincide with that of a phrase, e.g. 'Fifteen. 'Room Fifteen. 'Fifteen 'pages.
Functions of the English stress
Word stress in a language performs three functions.
1. Word stress constitutes a word, it organizes the syllables of a word into a language unit having a definite accentual structure, that is a pattern of relationship among the syllables; a word does not exist without the word stress Thus the word stress performs the constitutive function. Sound continuum becomes a phrase when it is divided into units organized by word stress into words.
2. Word stress enables a person to identify a succession of syllables as a definite accentual pattern of a word. This function of word stress is known as identificatory (or recognitive). Correct accentuation helps the listener to make the process of communication easier, whereas the distorted accentual pattern of words, misplaced word stresses prevent normal understanding.
3. Word stress alone is capable of differentiating the meaning of words or their forms, thus performing its distinctive function. The accentual patterns of words or the degrees of word stress and their positions form oppositions, e.g. 'import — im'port, 'billow — below.