Secondary stress

Secondary stress is the weaker of two degrees of stress in the pronunciation of a word; the stronger degree of stress is called 'primary'. The symbol for secondary stress is a short vertical line preceding and at the foot of the stressed syllable: IPA|"proˌnunciˈation". Another tradition in English is to assign acute and grave accents for primary and secondary stress: "pronùnciátion".

Most languages, if they have stress at all, have only one degree of it on the phonemic level. That is, each syllable has stress or it does not. Many languages have rhythmic stress; location of the stress may not be predictable, but once the location of one stressed syllable (which may be the primary stress) is known, certain syllables before or after can be predicted to also be stressed; these may have secondary stress.

However, a few languages may have secondary stress that is not predictable, that is, phonemic. English is generally considered to be such a language, but this analysis is problematic.

Degrees of stress in English

In many phonological approaches, and nearly all English dictionaries, English is represented as having two levels of stress. Secondary stress is important primarily in long words with several syllables before the primary stress, such as "còunterintélligence" IPA| [ˌkaʊntɚ.ɪnˈtɛlɪdʒəns] , and after the primary stress in many compound words, such as "cóunterfòil" IPA| [ˈkaʊntɚˌfɔɪl] .

Indeed, in some theories English has been described as having "three" levels of stress: primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary (or unstressed). For example, our examples would be "²coun.ter.³in.¹" and "¹coun.ter.³foil" (quaternary stress unmarked). However, these treatments often disagree with each other, and several respected phoneticians such as Peter Ladefoged have noted that is possible to describe English with only one degree of stress, as long as unstressed syllables are phonemically distinguished for vowel reduction.Ladefoged (1975 "etc.") "A course in phonetics"]

Ladefoged "et al." believe that the multiple levels posited for English, whether "primary-secondary" or "primary-secondary-tertiary," are mere phonetic detail and not true phonemic stress. They report that often the alleged secondary stress in English is not characterized by the increase in respiratory activity normally associated with primary stress in English or with all stress in other languages. In their analysis, an English syllable may be either stressed or unstressed, and if unstressed, the vowel may be either full or reduced. This is all that is required for a phonemic treatment. In addition, the last stressed syllable in a normal prosodic unit (as in its citation form) receives additional intonational or "tonic" stress. Since a word spoken in isolation (as for example when a lexicographer determines which syllables are stressed) acquires this additional tonic stress, it may appear to be inherent in the word itself rather than derived from the utterance in which the word is spoken. (The tonic stress may also occur elsewhere than on the final stressed syllable, if the speaker uses contrasting or other prosody.)

This combination of lexical stress, phrase- or clause-final prosody, and the lexical reduction of some unstressed vowels conspires to create the impression of multiple levels of stress. In Ladefoged's approach, our examples are transcribed phonemically as "cóunterintélligence" IPA|/ˈkaʊntɚ.ɪnˈtɛlɪdʒəns/, with two stressed syllables, and "cóunterfoil" IPA|/ˈkaʊntɚfɔɪl/, with one. In citation form, or at the end of a prosodic unit (marked IPA| [‖] ), extra stress appears that is not inherent in the words: "cóunterintélligence" IPA| [ˈkaʊntɚ.ɪnˈˈtɛlɪdʒəns‖] and "cóunterfoil" IPA| [ˈˈkaʊntɚfɔɪl‖] .

*Lexical stress (inherent to the syllable):1. Plus tonic stress: A syllable with both inherent (lexical) and prosodic stress in Ladefoged's account corresponds to primary stress in the quaternary and dictionary accounts.:2. Without tonic stress: A syllable with only lexical stress is treated as secondary stress by nearly all dictionaries, but this does not account for all cases of secondary stress in these dictionaries. It is equivalent to secondary stress in the quaternary account.
*No lexical stress (and therefore no stress at all):3. A full unstressed vowel: An unstressed syllable with a full vowel that occurs "after" the primary stress is often treated as having secondary stress by dictionaries, but as an unstressed syllable when it occurs "before" the primary stress. It corresponds to tertiary stress in the quaternary account.:4. A reduced unstressed vowel: A reduced vowel is said be unstressed in dictionaries or to have quaternary stress in the quaternary account.

It is perhaps because dictionaries present words in citation form that they make a primary-secondary distinction in stress. In general, tonic stress in citation form is marked as 'primary stress'; stressed syllables prior to that tonic syllable are marked as 'secondary stress', as in "còunterintélligence," as are any full vowels after that syllable, as in "cóunterfòil". That is, dictionaries merge some stressed ('secondary') syllables with some unstressed ('tertiary') syllables and call the result 'secondary stress'.

Note, however, that there is a good deal of variation between dictionaries as to which post-tonic syllables get marked for secondary stress. For example, the "Random House Dictionary" transcribes "counterfoil" as having final secondary stress, while the "Oxford English Dictionary" does not. Occasionally full vowels before the tonic stress may also be marked for secondary stress. To determine where the lexical stress is, try pronouncing the word in a phrase, with other words before and after it but without any pauses nearby, to eliminate the effects of tonic stress: "the còunterintèlligence commúnity."


ee also

* Vowel reduction in English


* [ Word stress]
* [ .PDF article]

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