Strong and weak syllables
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LOOKING AHEAD When we speak, we use more energy in producing some syllables than others and, when we listen to other people speaking, we recognize that some parts of a speaker’s utterances are more prominent than others: the syllables are generally louder, longer, and different in pitch from the surrounding syllables. To explain-and understand-these facts we need to recognize a difference between accent and stress, and we need to recognize a distinction between strong syllables and weak syllables. (See Section 7.1.)
The nucleus of a strong syllable is one of the vowels that occur in monosyllabic words, surveyed in Chapter 5. The nucleus of a weak syllable is more variable, more likely to be a schwa or a syllabic consonant. (See Section 7.2.)
Different styles of speaking depend very much on the individual and on the formality or informality of the speech situation. We speak faster or slower, less or more carefully depending on where we are, what kind of things we have to say, and to whom we are talking. However, there are general tendencies that apply to the English language as a whole. In English utterances, stressed syllables of lexical words are strong and long, while unstressed syllables are weak and short. These syllables do not change, but some common function words show variation between strong forms and weak forms. The weak forms are due to four phonetic processes: vowel reduction, vowel loss, consonant loss, and assimilation . A special kind of assimilat ion is palatalization. (See Section 7.3.)
7.1 Accent and stress Some utterances consist of a single word with a single syllable, e.g. Yes, No, Right. That syllable, since it constitutes a whole utterance, must have an intonation. The voice may fall, as in giving an answer
(↓Yes.), or rise, as in asking for confirmation (↑ Yes?). The topic of intonation is studied in detail in Chapter 10. Here we use just two symbols, the upward arrow, ↑, and downward arrow, ↓, for rising and falling intonation, respectively. We also write the question mark and period as they are used conventionally, but we need to note that conventional punctuation does not represent intonation accurately or consistently.