Phonetics - Unit Four - Lesson No. 22


Types of stress

Most stress languages distinguish only two degrees of stress: stressed and unstressed. Yet, a further distinction among stressed syllables into primary and secondary stress is common, while some languages even display a three-way distinction into primary, secondary and tertiary stress (Rene Kager in ‘The Cambridge Handbook of Phonology 2007: 195’).

Primary stress and secondary stress

Primary stress

In a polysyllable word such as (examination), the syllable /ˈneɪ.ʃən/, which is the most prominent is said to carry the primary stress. Such prominence results from pitch movement, or tone, and it gives the strongest type of stress: this is called primary stress. Primary stress is represented in transcription by placing a small vertical line ˈ high-up just before the syllable it relates to. Examples from Roach (2009: 73) indicate the primary stress which can fall on initial, medial and final positions.

ˈfa:ðə pəˈteɪtəʊ əˈbaʊt
ˈəʊpən əˈpaːtmənt rɪˈsiːv
ˈkæmr̩ə rɪˈleɪʃn pəˈhæps
Secondary stress

Secondary stress, on the other hand, is ‘a type of stress that is weaker than primary stress but stronger than that of the first syllable of ‘around’, for example, in the first syllables of the words photographic /ˌfəʊ.təˈgræf.ɪk/ anthropology /ˌæn.θrəˈpɒl.ə.dʒi/. Secondary stress is Sometimes represented in transcription with a low mark [ ˌ ].

English is one of the many languages that show a distinction between stressed and unstressed syllables. Roach (2009: 75) maintains that the unstressed syllable is regarded as the absence of any recognizable amount of prominence, such as the first syllable of the words about /əˈbaʊt/ and around /əˈraʊnd/.

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