The Vocal stress reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Apr-2004
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Vocal stress

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In linguistics, stress is the emphasis (shown by forceful and louder voice) given to some syllables (usually no more than one in each word). In many languages, long words have a secondary stress a few syllables away from the primary stress.

Some languages have fixed stress, i. e. stress is placed always on a given syllable, as in French (where words are always stressed in the last syllable), Finnish (stress always on the first syllable) or Quechua (always on the penultima -- the syllable before the last one). Other languages have stress placed on different syllables in a predictable way (they're said to have a regular stress rule), such as Latin.

There are also languages like English or Spanish, where stress is unpredictable and arbitrary, being lexical -- it comes as part of the word and must be learned with it. In this kind of language two words can differ only by the position of the stress, and therefore it's possible to use stress as a derivative or inflectional device. English shows this with noun/verb pairs such as to record ("to register, to inscribe") vs. a record ("a register, an entry"), where the verb is stressed on the last syllable and the corresponding noun is stressed on the first.

In Romance languages, stress takes part in the verb conjugation and it produces an interesting phenomenon by which the vowels /e/ and /o/ in the root of some verbs become diphthongs when stressed. For example, in Spanish the verb volver has the forms volv√≠, volviste, volvi√≥ in the past, and vuelvo, vuelves, vuelve in the present. In these Spanish verbs, stressed /o/ becomes /ue/ and stressed /e/ becomes /ie/ (Italian has /o/ → /uo/ instead).

There are languages that do not have a stress rule, instead possessing accentual systems based on pitch or tone (i. e. paying attention to the relative height of the syllable, instead of its loudness).

See also:


Stress in poetry

Poetry in English depends upon stress to establish the meter of the poem. Stress is usually thought of as strong or weak. Some people distinguish a third, intermediate stress level.

For example: in the word reconsider, the stress pattern is 'recon'sider (intermediate - weak - strong - weak).