Word - Stress

As in most languages, a word in English is made of syllables. Each syllable has a vowel as its centre. For example, the word practice' has two syllables, 'prac-' and 'tice' with the vowels / and / i / as their centres respectively. Perhaps, you may be able to identify the syllables and the vowels of the words in the box:

	a-bo-' li-tion		po-' lice	se- 'mes- ter
	æ - u- i-  		  - i:		 i- e -  

	ma-' lig-nan-cy		' thea-tre	fan-' tas-tic
	  - i -  - i		i -  		 æ - æ - i 

As you see it marked, each syllable has a vowel, however long or short the word may be.. Only one of the syllables in words longer than a single syllable (monosyllabic words) is pronounced the loudest. And that syllable is said to have the primary stress. It is marked with an " ' " in front of the syllable which takes the primary stress, above the line. Now look at the syllables, which carry primary stress Do pronounce them markedly so that the contrast between the stressed and weakly stressed syllables may be evident. As monosyllabic words automatically take stress, generally it is not indicated with a notation when they are pronounced in isolation. Now let us repeat the same exercise with reference to words, which take low stresses, a primary, and a secondary. You may read the words in the box. Remember to read the secondary stress less loud than the primary:

	i, nocu' lation		,engi'neer		,fore'knowledge
	Par, tici'pation	'passion, flower 	par, ticu'larity

It is not possible to predict stress in English. Some languages, like French, have primary stress on the final syllable of the root. We cannot say the same thing about English. For instance, the initial, medial and final syllables are stressed in words like 'penetrable, se'mester and ,pana'ma respectively. There are, however, some stress clues which can help to predict stress in some words.

Words ending with suffixes such as -tion, -ic, -ical, -ically, -tial, -atory, -city and some others have primary stress on the syllable immediately before the suffix:

	a-bo-' li-tion	po-' li-ti-ca-lly	la-' bo-ra-to-ry
	co-a-' li-tion	po-' le-mi-ca-lly	in-' for-ma-tive
	fan-' tas-tic	i-' ni-tial		su-' per-la-tive
	po-' le-mic	po-' ten-tial		,e-las-' ti-ci-ty
	po-' li-ti-cal	in-flu-' en-tial	,i-lec-' tri-ci-ty
	po-' le-mi-cal	pre-' pa-re-to-ry	'hor-ta-to-ry

One ought to have the caution not to make such cues hard and fast rules. Longer words or words with other segmental structure may behave differently. For instance in words like co'operative and co'rroboarative the stress falls on the syllable second before the sufix.

Words ending with suffixes such as -ology and -ality have primary stress on the first syllable of the suffix:
	or-ni-' tho-lo-gy	e-, ven-tu 'a-li-ty
	psy-' cho-lo-gy		ba-'na-li-ty

Some words have optional stress. The following words may have two primary stresses each or one. Where there is one, it shall fall on the second syllable.

	'Ju- 'ly or Ju-' ly			'bam- 'boo or bam-' boo
	'four-' teen or four-' teen		'fif-' teen or fif-' teen
	'Car-' lisle or Car-' lisle

Shifting stress from one syllable to another, sometimes changes grammatical functions of words. A noun may become a verb or a noun an adjective. Again, this cannot be applied to all words. The following are some examples of functional stress:

		' conduct	(n )		con' duct (v)
		' produce	(n )		pro' duce (v)
		' licence	(n )		li' cence (v)
		' invalid	(adj )		in' valid (adj )
		' convert	(n )		con' vert (v)
		' prospect	(n )		pros' pect (v)
		' protest	(n )		pro' test (v)

Indian students are advised to watch the intrusion of mother-tongue patterns of syllable prominence in words. Most Southern speakers are unconsciously used to the shifting of stress to the syllable with a long vowel, where there is one. Even if there is not one, sometimes speakers use an imaginary long vowel. Where there are no long vowels they may show a preference for using the primary stress on the second syllable of a polysyllabic word. Such interference may be avoided in the interest of clarity and fluency. The following are some common errors:

		   Indian 			    English

		obli ' gatory    /e:/		ob' ligatory
		pa ' norama      /o:/		,pano' rama
		infor' mative    /e:/		in ' formative
		' police	 /o:/		po' lice
		me ' thod	/ :/		' method
		com ' rade	 /e:/		' comrade

Medial doubling of consonants in Indian languages also affects English stress patterns and thereby affects fluency:

		 Indian 			 English
		' cut ' ter			' cutter
		' run ' ner			' runner
		' kil ' ler			' killer
		' but ' cher			' butcher