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PGI-1 Talk: Dr. Alexander Tokar

[Interdisciplinary] Variable English word-stress

08 Aug 2018 11:30
PGI Lecture Hall

Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf


Drawing upon my previous work on English stress (Tokar 2017, forthcoming), I will explain why a particular English word is stressed the way it is stressed (e.g., oˈriginal) and why some English words have more than one stress pattern (e.g., ˈapplicable vs. apˈplicable). In contrast to a popular view that stress assignment in English abides by the Latin Stress Rule (e.g., Halle & Keyser 1971: 3; Hayes 1995: 181), this presentation will demonstrate that the stress pattern of an English word often involves an interchange of primary and secondary stress. For in-stance, unlike the German word origiˈnell, which retains the stress of the Latin etymon word orīgiˈnālis (Oxford English Dictionary), the English word oˈriginal is due to its original sec-ondary stress, occurring upon the alternate syllable to the left (i.e., oˌrigiˈnal), having been promoted to primary stress. Similarly, the secondary stress of ˌappliˈcable, which would re-tain the stress of the Latin appliˈcābilis, has been reinterpreted by English speakers as the word’s only stress: ˌappliˈcable à ˈapplicable. Another important factor is sensitivity to a word’s internal structure, which is the reason applicable is interchangeably stressed upon its first and second syllables. That is, because there is the semantically related end-stressed verb apˈply, applicable—which can be paraphrased as capable of being applied—has over the course of time also come to be associated with the pen-initially stressed pronunciation apˈplicable.

In addition to purely theoretical issues (i.e., accounting for vacillating stress in particu-lar English words), this talk will also be concerned with the question of whether a learner of English (as a second or foreign language) should choose a particular stress pattern in a partic-ular variably stressed English word. Because in general, American English is a more con-servative variety than British English (e.g., Kperogi 2015: 41, 43), a British English stress pattern such as ˈcategory, where there is only one (i.e., primary-)stressed syllable, is to be preferred to an American English stress pattern such as ˈcateˌgory, where secondary stress (which is the demoted primary stress of the Latin etymon catēˈgoria) occurs after primary stress. Noteworthy are also formations such as acetobacter, immunodeficiency, organogene-sis, etc., whose lefthand components aceto-, immuno-, organo-, etc. receive either initial or pen-initial stress (i.e., ˈaceto- or aˈceto-, ˈimmuno- or imˈmuno-, ˈorgano- or orˈgano-, etc.). Because penult-stressed trisyllables that end orthographically in a/i/o (e.g., canˈtata, Ferˈrari, liˈbretto) are more numerous than antepenult-stressed ones (e.g., ˈalgebra, ˈMedici, ˈpiccolo), stress patterns such as aˈceto-, imˈmuno-, orˈgano- are to be preferred to stress patterns such as ˈaceto-, ˈimmuno-, ˈorgano-.


Dr. Nikolai Kiselev
Phone: +49 2461 61-3328
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