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English lexical stress, prominence and rhythm

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Setter, J. and Sebina, B. (2017) English lexical stress, prominence and rhythm. In: Kang, O., Thomsson, R. I. and Murphy, J. M. (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary English Pronunciation. Routledge, Abingdon, UK, pp. 137-153.

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Abstract/Summary

English speech rhythm is closely associated with the patterns of lexical stress and prominence in a stream of speech. Older varieties of English (OVEs), such as British and American English, which usually operate as the model in English language teaching, are often described as ‘stress-timed’, meaning the time between stressed syllables is more or less equal, in comparison with ‘syllable-timed’ languages (e.g., French or Cantonese), for which the time between successive syllable onsets is more or less equal. The usefulness of this distinction, however, has been disputed; e.g., Cauldwell (2002) talks about ‘functional irrythmicality’ in English speech. Cutler (1984) explains that native speakers of English focus on stressed syllables when listening to a stream of speech as part of the decoding process; i.e., for native speakers, lexical stress and the rhythm of the incoming signal play an important part in perception. Couper-Kuhlen and colleagues (e.g., Auer, Couper-Kuhlen, & Müller, 1999) have shown that speech rhythm plays an important part in the coordination of turn-taking in conversation. Anderson-Hsieh and Venkatagiri (1994) argue that speakers’ intelligibility will be affected if they do not sufficiently weaken English unstressed syllables. Such research indicates that the differences in the lexical stress and/or speech rhythm patterns of learners of English, or speakers of New Varieties of English (NVEs) which are not ‘stress-timed’, could create difficulties in comprehension and cooperative interaction for native speakers of OVEs and also, plausibly, for other speakers of English if they are using similar strategies. However, whether the majority of speakers of English in the world have a speaker of an OVE as their target interlocutor is coming increasingly under question. This chapter gives an overview of English lexical stress, prominence and speech rhythm in OVEs, including theoretical approaches to their description, and includes suggestions for pedagogical approaches for the English language classroom.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Language and Applied Linguistics
ID Code:73996
Publisher:Routledge

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