Phonetics, Syllable and Stress… watch this excellent video..
Syllable and Stress
A syllable is a unit of pronunciation that form a whole word or part of a word. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel) with optional initial and final margins (typically, consonants).
Syllables are often considered the “building blocks” of words. They can influence the rhythm of a language, its poetic meter, its stress patterns, etc.
A word that consists of a single syllable (like English cat) is called a monosyllable (such a word is monosyllabic), while a word consisting of two syllables (like monkey) is called a disyllabic (such a word is disyllabic).
The words are said to have different ‘stress patterns’, and it is not always easy (especially if you are not a native speaker of English) to choose the exact ‘landing place’ for accent or, in other words, to determine the correct stress.
If we take the word democrat, for example, its stress is placed on the first syllable. That word is therefore commonly said to be ‘stressed on the first syllable’ (i.e. its first syllable is the most prominent), whereas the word democracy stresses on the second syllable and democratic on the third.
A word may bear two ‘stresses’, i.e. two prominent syllables. In that case, the degree of prominence of the two syllables is always different. The syllable with the higher prominence is said to bear the ‘primary stress’, the other is said to bear the ‘secondary stress’.
There is a degree of correlation between intensity and stress.
Prominent syllable / Stressed syllable
If one studies pairs like record (n) / record (v), subject (n) and subject (v), object (n) / object (v) or increase (n) / increase (v), etc., one may conclude that English two-syllable words always have a prominent syllable, i.e. always have a stress ( a stressed syllable), and that the stress is on the first syllable if the word is a noun or on the second syllable if it is a verb. One may therefore justly conclude that there is obviously some degree of correlation between stresses and grammatical statute in English two-syllable words. This rule does not always apply however, as will be seen in another part of this course.
If one looks at words like democrat, democracy, democratize, democratic and democratization, one notices some changes in the stress pattern.
The changes can be linked to the length of the words: democrat – a three-syllable word, is stressed on the first syllable, whereas democracy – a four-syllable word, is stressed on the second. One may therefore conclude that increasing the length of a word by one syllable entails shifting the stress to the right by one syllable too. That does not work in the case of democratic, however, since it is also a four-syllable word but with a different stress pattern.
One needs to go into the etymology of these words and see how they are formed. In this particular case, –ize, -ic and –ation are suffixes used to derive new words from existing ones. Etymological study (also called ‘morphology’ study here) reveals that suffixes can behave in different manners:
- Some have no influence whatsoever on the stress pattern of the words they are added to: in ‘lecture’, the stress pattern of lecture is not modified by –er; nor is the stress pattern of lady modified by the suffix- like: ‘lady’ ‘ladylike’, for example.
- The same cannot be said in the case of ‘lemon’ lemo’nade or million? Millio’naire, for example. It clear that the use of –ade and –aire has caused a modification in the stress pattern of the derived words.
Following are the syllables of the few words: