Unit outline

Unit objectives                              


Definition and components of intonation


The tone unit as a basic unit of intonation


Tone-patterns in English


Functions of intonation                   


Intonation and sentence types       


Imperatives and exclamations            



Contrastive analysis of intonation in English and Romanian                     


Key concepts                                                                                

Further reading                                                                           

Answers to SAQs

    After you have completed the study of this unit you should be able to:

avoid transferring intonation patterns by realizing that the shapes of the English tunes differ from the normal tunes of Romanian.
practise English intonation patterns that occur with a variety of sentence types.
distinguish between isolated sentences, which generally can take several intonation contours, and the intonation* of ongoing discourse, in which case only one intonation contour is generally appropriate.
apply English intonation patterns over short exchanges and longer stretches of discourse that resemble authentic conversation.

6.1   Definition and components of intonation

Intonation* is a term used in the study of suprasegmental phonology. In a narrow sense, intonation refers to the fluctuations in pitch level (i.e. the height on which sounds are pronounced) and pitch direction (i.e. the point towards which the movement in pitch takes place). In a wider sense, intonation includes other prosodic* elements such as loudness*, tempo of speech, rhythm. The most important of all components of intonation is pitch.
Pitch is also a component of accent.  Pitch consists of pronouncing a syllable on a higher pitch level than the others, or in giving that syllable a certain melodic shape: a falling one, a rising one, or a combination of the two. In acoustic terms it means the number of vibrations per second of the vocal cords*. Pitch contrasts are more easily perceived with voiced sounds.

Think first!

    To give you an idea of how difficult intonation may be to master for nonnative speakers of English, read the following remarks about the intonation of yes/no questions produced by two native speakers of Greek, in comparison with that of two native speakers of North American English:

“The two native speakers of Greek, who were advanced level and highly fluent in English, tended to superimpose the falling Greek intonation for yes/no questions onto the English yes/no questions they uttered:

Are you COMING?

This made the Greeks seem impatient and rude to the English speakers who evaluated the questions of all four speakers. The native English speakers intonation, by contrast, tended to rise on such questions:

Are you COMING?

(From a study by Argyres, Z. J. 1996. The cross-cultural pragmatics of intonation: The case of Greek-English)

Can you recall any particular instances when you felt your intonation of yes/no questions sounded like Romanian English?

Write your answer in the space provided below.

Compare your answer with the information contained in section 6.3.

Tone languages and intonation languages
Languages where word meanings or grammatical categories (such as TENSE) are dependent on pitch level are known as tone languages. Many languages of South-East Asia (Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese), Africa (particularly those in the South and West) and a considerable number of Amerindian languages are tone languages.
In Chinese the pitch variations are carried by the syllable as a phonetic unit so that by varying the pitch of individual syllables, differences in meaning are obtained. For example, the word ma may mean 1) mother, 2) hemp, 3) horse (when pronounced in a falling-rising tone), 4) to scold.
Languages where pitch conveys meaning not at lexical item level but at the phrasal or clausal level are called intonation languages. Virtually all European and Middle Eastern languages are intonation languages.
In general, if learners speak an intonation language* as their first language, it is assumed that they will learn the intonation of another language more easily than will someone who speaks a tone language as their first language or vice versa. However, just because two languages happen to be intonation languages does not mean that their utterance-level pitch patterns will be the same. They rarely are. For, example, while English uses up to four    pitch levels, Spanish uses only two or at most three with the result that Spanish speakers seem to have a somewhat flat intonation in English which signals disinterest to English speakers. (Celce-Murcia Marianne and Elite Olshtain. 2000. Discourse and Context in Language Teaching, p. 33)

6.2   The tone-unit as the basic unit of intonation

Variations of pitch occur in chunks of speech called tone units. A tone-unit* is the phonological unit greater in size than the syllable, and it is the basic unit of intonation. In its smallest form a tone-unit may consist of only one syllable so it would in fact be wrong to say that it is always composed of more than one syllable. For example, both you and is it you may be regarded as tone units; the former is a one-syllable utterance which carries a tone* while the latter is an utterance of three syllables in which only the third one carries a tone. A syllable which carries a tone is called a tonic syllable* or nucleus*.

The conventional structure of the tone unit
Conventionally, the structure of a tone-unit/intonation pattern or tune* is made up of the following components:
a nucleus or tonic syllable (an obligatory element) - carried by the stressed syllable of the most important word in the utterance.
a pre-nuclear component part (non-obligatory) consisting of an optional head (that part of a tune starting with the first accented syllable and continuing up to the nucleus) and a pre-head* (all the unaccented syllables before a head).
a post-nuclear part (optional) - called tail which usually consists of the unstressed syllables after the nucleus.
Sometimes a tail can contain stressed words but without  pitch change as in Well, ‘say something, then!
The tone-unit structure can be summarized as follows:

    (pre-head)    (head)    nucleus    (tail)
    (Ph)    (H)    N    (T)

The following examples illustrate various structures of intonation patterns:

There's / nothing I can do / about it /
     Ph          H          N            T
It's im / po / ssible for me to do it.
   Ph      N                   T
This was more than I had expected.
    Ph         N                 T
Isn't she pretty ?
   N       T


Identify the nucleus, the head, the pre-head and the tail of this utterance. Pronounce it with the corresponding intonation pattern:

There is no need to be so upset about it.


Check your answer against the one suggested in the answer section.

The choice of the nucleus in an utterance depends on the speech situation. The shift in nucleus location is accompanied by a change in meaning.

a)Tom sells 'cars. (This is his job)
b)Tom 'sells cars. (He doesn't make or buy them)
c)'Tom sells cars. (It is Tom, not another person who sells cars).

Think first!

    Read these paired sentences paying attention to how the punctuation found in written English reflects the intonation of spoken English:

1.a. “Father”, said mother, “is late”.
      b. Father said, “Mother is late”.

2.a. Have you met my brother Fred?
      b. Have you met my brother, Fred?

You can find a clue to your answer in the following sections.

6.3   Tone patterns in English

The study of the notions of tone and intonation in English involves the introduction of the following basic tones: fall*, rise, fall-rise*, rise-fall and level.

The falling or fall pattern
A falling pitch usually called ‘a fall’* is one that goes from a higher pitch to a lower one:

This tone is usually regarded as more or less neutral. The fall* is usually associated with an impression of finality, with ending a conversation. For instance, in a dialogue between speakers A and B, one possible reply from B would be YES \ implying the question is answered and that there is nothing more to be said:

A: Do you know John Smith?

B: YES  (or YES \).


Say the words now, fine, oh, where with falls. Then give their transcription showing the falling tone.


Write your answers in the space provided. Then check your transcriptions against the suggested answers given at the end of the unit.

The rising or rise pattern
The rising tone or ‘rise’ conveys an impression that something more is to follow. If in the dialogue above B's reply were YES /, this means that B invites A to continue with what he/she intends to say about John Smith after establishing that B knows him:

A: Do you know John Smith?

B:  YES,    (or YES /).


    Say the same words, now, fine, oh, where with rises. Give their transcription showing the rising tone.
Write your answers in the space provided.


Check them against the suggested answer given at the end of this unit.

The fall-rise tone
The fall-rise tone is used a lot in English, and it usually indicates limited agreement or hesitation. In the example below, B's reply should be taken to mean that he/she would not completely agree with what A said:
A: Did you know she quitted?
B: It’s          POSSIBLE

The rise-fall tone
The rise-fall tone is used to convey rather strong feelings of approval, disapproval or surprise:

A: Do you like this?


Note that the rise part of the tone takes place on the first tonic syllable and the fall part on the second:

e.g. NO   ONE,       NO     SIR

The level tone
The level tone almost always conveys a feeling of saying something routine, uninteresting or boring. For instance, a student's answering yes when his/her name was called by the teacher uses a level tone.

A: John Smith?


    Pronounce the following utterances showing a neutral, uninterested tone:

a.I don’t mind.
b.I’ m easy.

Give their phonemic transcription in the spaces provided and then check it against the answer given at the end of the unit.

In a one-syllable utterance, the single syllable must have one of the five tones presented briefly above. In a tone unit of more than one syllable, the tonic syllable must have one of those tones. When a tonic syllable is followed by a tail, that tail continues and completes the tone begun on the tonic syllable.

6.4   Functions of intonation

In communication, intonation may perform several functions:

The accentual function
The accentual function is expressed by the accent component of intonation.
This function is closely connected to the primary accent carried by the most prominent word in an utterance.
In these sentences, the nuclear or tonic stress* falls on the last important lexical item:

    He must 'come,
    Put the book in the 'box,
    John and Mary must 'do, it.

The attitudinal function
The attitudinal function expresses the connection between tones and attitudes (e.g. joy, anger, irony, indignation, surprise, incredulity, arrogance). This function is superimposed on the accentual function and cannot be clearly separated from it.

    John 'and Mary must  do it (not only John)
    'He must come (not she)
    Put the book 'in the box (not on the box)

An attitude that is expressed could be an attitude towards the listener, towards what is being said or towards some external event or situation.
To the foreign learner of English who wants to learn "correct intonation" a few generalisations can be made:

finality or definiteness is expressed by the fall tone:

That is the end of the news.
I'm absolutely certain.
Stop talking.

encouraging is expressed by the rise tone:

It won't hurt.

-   uncertainty, doubt or request are expressed by the fall-rise:
You may be right.
Will you lend it to me.

surprise is expressed by the rise fall:

All of them

However, linking tones with attitudes remains a difficult task, especially because the same intonation pattern can accompany different attitudes depending on the nature of the utterance and the context in which it is used. For example, the rise-fall followed by a fall is used in utterance 1 to accompany exasperation and in utterance 2 to accompany delight.

(1) If you opened your EYES  you’d SEE it.

(2) I’m delighted to SAY you’ve WON it.

Actually, the rise-fall pattern is generally considered an emphatic tone which accompanies utterances that show strong feelings. 


Mark the rise-fall tone in the following sentences to express attitudes such as surprise and indignation:

a. All of them!
b. You didn’t ask me.
c. I was first.

You can find the answer at the end of this unit.

The grammatical function
The relationship between grammar and intonation takes the form of correspondences between certain grammatical structures and certain intonation patterns. In other words, certain grammatical structures have the tendency to go with certain intonation patterns.

6.5   Intonation and sentence types

From a grammatical point of view, what is relevant for intonation analysis is not the number of words in an utterance but the syntactic structures they form and the grammatical categories to which they belong.

Think first!

Read the following paired grammatical structures and note how intonation helps to distinguish between them.
Remember that the placement of the tone boundary is important.

    a The Conservatives who like the proposal are pleased.
    b The Conservatives, who like the proposal, are pleased.

Check your answer against the explanation below.

The intonational pattern used should make clear the difference between (a) restrictive and (b) non-restrictive relative clauses; (a) implies that only some Conservatives like the proposal, while (b) implies that all the Conservatives like it.
An instance where a given intonation pattern is associated with a certain grammatical structure is represented by complex sentences. Subordinate clauses usually end in a rising tune especially when initial in the sentence:
By the time he gets  there, it will be  much too late.
If I can get a   job, I'll pay it back  at    once.

6.5.1   Declaratives

Most English declarative sentences, in their neutral, unmarked version, take rise-fall intonation contour and the tonic stress on the last lexically important word in the utterance:

I have to   leave.

I’ll give it to    John.

6.5.2   Imperatives and exclamations

Like declaratives, imperatives (often referred to as commands or requests when viewed pragmatically) generally have rising-falling intonation, but they are often more forceful or affectively loaded than declarative sentences:

Write more POEMS!

Like declaratives and imperatives, exclamations also exhibit rising-falling intonation, but they sometimes give prominence to two constituents rather than one:

WHAT a perFORmance!

`    6.5.3   Questions

YES/NO questions
Neutral or unmarked YES/NO questions (i.e. questions that involve the inversion of the subject and the auxiliary verb or the addition of do as the auxiliary in sentences that have no lexical auxiliary verb) generally follow the rising intonation. Different realizations of the rising contour are possible depending on which constituent of the utterance is being emphasized:

Does John write POEMS? (emphasis on “poems” )
Does JOHN write poems? (emphasis on “John”).

Neutral or unmarked WH-questions (i.e. questions where the constituent being questioned appears in the form of a wh-word (what, who, when, where, etc) are accompanied by the rising-falling intonation. Again, different realizations of the contour depend on which constituent of the utterance is in focus:

What does John WRITE? (focus on the result/product)

What does JOHN  write? (focus on agent).

Such rising-falling intonation surprises some non-native speakers of English, who assume that all questions, regardless of type, should be spoken with rising intonation.


Transcribe the pronunciation of the following utterances, paying attention to the meanings given within brackets:

What does John WRITE? (Tell me more exactly what John writes)
What does JOHN do? (Tell me more clearly what John in particular does.

You can find the answer at the end of this unit.

Question tags
As question tags are used most frequently to seek confirmation or to make a point, the (pitch) contour which usually accompanies them in English is the rising-falling pattern:

It’s a nice   DAY, IS     n’t it?

People are worried about  eCONomy, ARE  n’t they?

This is a problem for non-native speakers as many of them speak native languages where all question tags have rising intonation regardless of discourse function. The solution proposed by discourse analysts is this:

“Students must learn that in English the speaker has a choice between using a tag to confirm an assumption (using the rising-falling pattern) or to ask an informal type of yes/no question (using rising intonation)”. (Celce-Murcia and Olshtein, 2000: 42)

The intonation of question-tags is often quoted as a case of a difference in meaning due to the difference between falling and rising tone. When the question-tag has a falling tone, like in (1) the implication is that the speaker is certain that the information is correct, and he simply expects the listener to provide confirmation. The rising tone of the question-tag indicates a lesser degree of certainty so that the question-tag functions more like a request for information as in (2):

(1)They are coming on Tuesday, aren’t they?    

(2) They are coming on Tuesday, aren’t they?   

Alternative questions
True alternative questions generally show a rise on the first part, a pause* and then a rise-fall* on the second part:

Would you like JUICE or COFfee?

Sometimes question-like utterances are not actually questions but statements or exclamations. One can distinguish between them by means of the intonation pattern that is used:

Isn't she  cute? (question)

Isn't she  cute! (exclamation).

The discourse function
Intonation may be studied in relation with discourse in terms of “attention focussing”, i.e. the use of intonation to focus the listener's attention on aspects of the message that are most important.
For example, the tone chosen can indicate whether the tone-unit in which it occurs is being used to present new information or to refer to information which is felt to be already possessed by  speaker or listener.
Thus, in a sentence like / Since  the last time we met / when we had that  huge  dinner /  I've  been on a  diet /  the first two units present information which is relevant to what the speaker is saying but which is not something new and unknown to the listener. The new information is present in the final tone-unit.
Researchers have shown that words expressing old or given information are generally spoken with weak stress and low* pitch whereas words expressing new information are spoken with strong stress and high pitch. For example, in the conversational exchange given below, whatever information is new, tends to receive special prosodic attention, namely the word is stressed and receives high pitch:

A: I’ve lost an umBRELla.

B: A LAdy’s umbrella?

A: YES. With STARS on it. GREEN stars.


Which syllables are the speakers most likely to make prominent? Remember that new information tends to come toward the end of the utterance.
Write your answers in the spaces provided below.

A: Can I help you?
B: Yes, please, I’m looking for a blazer.
A: Something casual?
B: Yes, something casual in wool.

You can find the answer at the end of this unit.

6.6   Contrastive analysis of intonation in English and Romanian

Starting from the rule of compensation at work in language, one can notice that the more rigid or fixed a grammatical structure, the richer the use of intonation.
Since English has a more rigid word order than Romanian, it has a relatively free placement of stress, depending on what part of the utterance the speaker wants to render more prominent:

JOE Callaher left home yesterday. (not George, the baker)
Joe CALLAHER left home yesterday. (not Joe Smith)
Joe Callaher LEFT home yesterday. (not came home yesterday)
Joe Callaher left HOME yesterday. (not the hospital)
Joe Callaher left home YESTERDAY. (not last week)

Both in English and Romanian there are rising and falling tunes. While a fall-rise seems to operate in both languages, the rise-fall is peculiar to English only and consequently difficult to acquire by Romanian learners:

Isn't it    awful!

Human attitudes indicated by intonation are expressed roughly by the same patterns in both languages. An area of contrast between the intonation patterns of the two languages refers to the way in which they correlate with grammatical structures.
Romanian and English show an important contrast in relation to the use of intonation in interrogative sentences; while in Romanian the use of a rising tune is the only formal means of signalling the interrogative nature of a sentence, in English a similar change in tune normally accompanies other changes in the structure of an affirmative sentence in order to function as a question:

A plecat la mare. (statement)
A plecat la mare? (question)
He has left for the seaside. (statement)
Has he left for the seaside? (question)

There are instances in which connotative shades of meanings are expressed:
by specific intonational contours in English:

You know how he is.
Wouldn't it be better to postpone our departure?

by lexical devices in Romanian (e.g. doar, oare)

Il stii doar cum e el.
N-ar fi mai bine oare să amânăm plecarea?

Since English is a language with a fairly strict word order, it will be more difficult to use word order alone as a device of emphasising certain parts of the utterance. In Romanian, one can arrange the sentence components more freely and they do not have to resort very often to prosodic features.


Effective oral communication in English requires control of prosody perhaps as much as (if not more than) control of the target language vowel and consonant sounds.
The choice of the nucleus in an utterance depends on the speech situation. The shift in nucleus location is accompanied by a change in meaning.
The attitudinal use of intonation is something that is best acquired through talking with and listening to English speakers.
At discourse level, the general pragmatic strategy used by English speakers is to emphasis new information and de-emphasis old or shared information.
The connection between intonation and grammar can be seen in the associations between intonation patterns and various types of sentences. Thus, a falling pattern is appropriate for statements, wh- questions, commands and exclamations, while a rising pattern is associated with yes / no questions and requests.
Intonation must be learnt and taught not on the basis of isolated sentences or tone-units but within their linguistic and situational context.

Key concepts

accentual function
attitudinal function
discourse function
functions of intonation
grammatical function
tone language
tone unit/intonation pattern/tune
tonic syllable/nucleus

    Further reading

1.Celce-Murcia M. and Olshtain, E.. 2000. Discourse and Context in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 30-50
2.Thorne, S. 1997. Mastering Advanced English Language, London: Macmillan, pp. 48 – 72.
3.Rogers, H.. 2000. The Sounds of Language. An Introduction to Phonetics. Harlow Essex: Pearson Education Ltd., pp. 96-108.

Answers to SAQs

Should your answer to SAQ 1 be different from the one suggested below, please read again section 6.2.

There is no need to be so upSET about it.
the nucleus is the syllable SET in upSET
the head is no need to be so
the pre-head is There’s…
the tail is about it

Should your answers to SAQ 2, SAQ 3 and SAQ 4 be different from the ones suggested below, please read again section 6.3.




I don’t MIND.

c.I’ m EASY.

Should your answer to SAQ 5 be different from the one suggested below, please read again sections 6.3.and 6.4.


            a. All OF  THEM!

            b. You DIDN’T ASK me.

            c. I  WAS first.

Should your answers to SAQ 6 and SAQ 7 be different from the ones suggested below, please read again section 6.5.3.


What does John WRITE? (Tell me more exactly what John writes)

What does JOHN do? (Tell me more clearly what John in particular does.


A: Can I HELP  you?

B: YES, please, I’m looking for a BLAser.

A: Something CASual?

B: Yes, something casual in WOOL.




Unit outline

Unit objectives                                      


The nature of the syllable                    


The structure of the English syllable  


Types of syllable                                   


The nature of stress                              


Primary and secondary stress             


Stress and vowels                                 


Predicting stress in derivatives           

Strong suffixes                                       

Weak suffixes                                         



Stress in compounds                           


Rhythm and its influence on word stress                                                                                   


Stress shift and semantic implications                                                                


Key concepts                                                                                                                                          

Further reading                                    

SAA No. 4                                              

Answers to SAQs                                 

After you have completed the study of this unit you should be able to:
use stress correctly in English noun-verb pairs
explain the correlation between stress and the phonetic duration of vowels
show how the pronunciation of words changes when certain affixes are added
discriminate stress placement in compound words from stress placement in corresponding noun phrases
distinguish the rhythm of English, a stressed-time language, from the rhythm of Romanian, a syllable-timed language.

As pointed out in a previous chapter, in spoken language it is unusual to find isolated sounds, because sounds string together to form larger units. Thus, sounds group themselves to form syllables, syllables will form words, words will form phrases and phrases will form sentences.

5.1   The nature of the syllable
What is a syllable?
Physiologically, the syllable corresponds to one chest pulse resulting from the movement of the intercostal muscles. Phonologically, the syllable is the lowest phonological unit into which phonemes are combined. A syllable may be defined as a unit of pronunciation which consists of a vocalic sound either alone or surrounded by consonants (one or more) arranged in a certain sequence.

Think first!

    Think of examples of English monosyllabic words made up of a vowel only.

Write your answers in the space provided below.

If you read through section 5.3 carefully you will find such examples.

5.2   The structure of the English syllable

In structural terms, syllables must contain a vowel or vowel-like sound. Syllables are constructed according to the principle of sonority. The sonority theory holds that there are as many syllables in a word as there are peaks of prominence or sonority.
The sonority peak is preceded or followed by a sequence of segments with progressively decreasing sonority values. The most sonorant* sounds are vowels, then semi-vowels*, liquids* /l, r/, nasals /m, n, /, voiced consonants /b, d, g, v, ð, z, d/ Consonants which act like vowels are called syllabic consonants*.

The syllabic nucleus
The centre of a syllable (the syllabic nucleus) is defined as the place where sonority is greatest. This central segment of a syllable, also called its peak, is compulsory. Some monosyllabic words consist of the central segments only: err, are, awe, ear, oh, I, eye. In English, the vowels /e/, /æ /, //, // do not occur in final position and /u/ does not occur in initial position.
The sounds which can serve as peaks in English are all the vowels and /m, n, I, r/ when situated in final position, e.g.: rhythm, button, bottle.
The basic (C) V (C) structure of the syllable can be expanded by additions of initial and final segments.

The onset
In addition to the nucleus, syllables may have one, two or three consonants preceding them. This initial segment of a syllable is called the onset and is optional. It may have the structure C- (tea), CC- (three), CCC- (straw).

The coda
The final segment is called coda and may consist of:
a single consonant (-c) as in egg, it, of, art
two consonants (-cc) as in east, beans, cast
three consonants (-ccc) as in asked, ants, aunts
four consonants (-cccc) as in attempts, instincts.

The English consonants, /r/ (in British English) //, /h/, can never end a syllable. The generalized formula that can be ultimately reached is CCC V CCCC (strengths). The group of consonants in final and initial positions are called clusters. Final clusters in English are much more complex than initial ones. While Romanian employs more consonant clusters than English in initial position, English is far richer in such clusters in final position.
English consonant clusters in final position express different grammatical categories such as NUMBER (texts), TENSE (mixed, breathes) or indicate PART OF SPEECH such as nouns (depth, width), verbs (deepen, harden), etc.


    The following words display characteristic syllabic structures in English. Can you mention the pattern for each of them?

1.owned        ………....….

2.ropes        ………....….

3.ground        ………....….

4.snake        ………....….

5.strives        ………....….

6.against        ………....….

7.even        ………....….

8.civil        ………....….

9.relaxed        ………....….

10.hasn’t        ………....….

Write your answers in the space provided and check  them against those in the key section.

5.3   Types of syllable
A study of the syllable in English and Romanian involves a distinction between open and closed syllables.

The open syllable
A syllable is open / free / unchecked when it ends in a vowel, i.e. it is of the type V, CV, e.g.: oh, no, tea, do, raw. While Romanian is a language in which free syllables predominate (nu, sta, spre, pui), English is a language of the checked-syllable type (shirt, failed, smoke, drive)

The closed syllable
A syllable is closed / checked when it ends in a consonant, i.e. it is of the type VC, CVC: art, ought, I'd, it, keep, sheep, cheap.

5.4   The nature of stress

Definition of stress
Stress is defined as the perceived prominence of one or more syllabic elements over others in a word. It is an aspect of the suprasegmental phonology of English and it can be a property of syllables (word stress*) or of larger utterances (sentence or syntactic stress*).
Stress can be considered from both the point of view of the speaker and of the hearer. To the latter, stressed syllables appear to be louder than unstressed syllables, whereas for the speaker, stressed syllables give the impression of being produced with greater effort. Stress is thus both a phenomenon of perception and a phenomenon of production.
Following Roach (1994:86) we can maintain that stress is a combination of loudness* (i.e. the degree of force with which a sound or a syllable is uttered), pitch* i.e. the relative height of the tone* with which it is pronounced), quality (i.e. vowels are more prominent than consonants; among the vowels the more open ones are the more prominent) and quantity (i.e. long vowels and diphthongs will always render the syllable prominent).
In English, all these factors, i.e. loudness (intensity)*, pitch, quality and quantity (duration), are associated with prominence. Accordingly, the English stressed syllable – especially its nucleus, tends to have a greater degree of length, loudness and pitch associated with it. It therefore tends to be much longer, much louder and either much higher or much lower in pitch – i.e. to be the locus of a dramatic pitch change in comparison to the surrounding context than the unstressed syllable.

Stress shift* in noun-verb pairs
Like the segmental* phonemes, stress has a distinctive function since it can signal differences in meaning. For instance, comparing the verb record as in “I’m going to record the tune” and the noun record as in “I’ve got a record” the contrast in word accent between the verb and the noun is made by the syllables differing in loudness, pitch, quality and quantity.
Generally, these four variables work together in combination, though syllables may sometimes be made prominent by means of only one or two of them. Experimental work has shown that the strongest effect is produced by pitch and length: loudness and quality have much less effect. The four variables will also be found in the notion of sentence or syntactic stress.


    What syllable is stressed in the italicized words? Note that in some noun - verb pairs, the vowel in the first syllable is different in the noun and the verb. In other pairs, the vowel is the same. Read these sentences and transcribe the words in italics: e.g.

The rebels in the hills will never surrender. /’rebəlz/   
Every child rebels against authority at some stage. /ri’belz/

a. The perfume smelled nicely.        …………………
b. I never perfume my clothes.        …………………
c. They won’t let you in without a permit.    …………………
d. The coming floods do not permit any delay.  ………………
e. They could see every detail in the picture. ……………..…..
f. They couldn’t detail all the facts.        ………………….
g. He gave way without protest.        ………………….
h. I protest being called a fool.        ………………….
i. There has been a decrease in the birth rate.  ……………….
j. The number of members is expected to decrease.

Write your answers in the space provided and then compare them with the ones given at the end of unit 5.

Place of accent and types of languages
According to the place within a word where stress falls, languages have been grouped into:

free-accent languages in which stress may fall on any syllable (e.g. English, Romanian, Russian).
fixed-accent languages in which stress is tied to a particular place in all the words. For example, in Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Estonian and Finnish, stress regularly falls on the first syllable, in French, Armenian and Turkish it is commonly on the last syllable and in Italian, Welsh and Polish, it is on the last but one syllable.

5.5   Primary and secondary stress

Monosyllabic and polysyllabic words
When they are pronounced singly, all monosyllabic words carry what is called primary stress*, the strongest type of stress. In dictionaries, it is represented in transcription with a high mark or superscript (‘).
Polysyllabic words, those which consist of more than one syllable, all have one primary stressed syllable - just like monosyllabic words. But in addition, they also have a secondary*-stressed syllable and/or syllables with no stress. In the examples below primary stressed syllables are marked with a superscript while secondary stressed syllables are marked with a subscript:
two syllable: ,an ’ti que, ‘cot ton
three syllables: ,mag a ’zine, ‘inn o ,cence
four syllables: re ’mar ka ble, ,cir cu ’la tion

The English secondary stress
English differs from Romanian as regards the use of secondary accent in polysyllabic words. A word like university /uni’və:siti/ has a secondary* accent in English which is absent in the Romanian universitate /universi’tate/. The secondary stress precedes the primary stress, but it may also follow it: granddaughter /’græn,d:tə/.

Is English primary stress predictable?
In English, which is free-accent language, stress is more unpredictable than in Romanian; while in Romanian stress generally falls on one of the last three syllables of a word (e.g. dezi’rabil, accep’tabil, admi’rabil, prefe’rabil) in English words (e.g. de’sirable, ac’ceptable, ‘admirable, ‘preferable) there is no such regularity.
Words with the same number of syllables may have different accentual* patterns as in amateur /’æmətə/, illicit /i’lisit/, cigarette /,sigə’ret/. This is why the unpredictability of primary stress is one of the significant difficulties foreign learners of English have to cope with.

English and American patterns
In American English the secondary stress is used more frequently than in British English. Verbs ending in -ate have a secondary stress on the suffix in order to render the contrast with the corresponding adjectives more evident.

    BE                AmE
    alternate /':ltəneit/        alternate /':ltə,neit/
    moderate /’m:dəreit/        moderate /’m:də,reit/

Verbs ending in -ment have a secondary stress on the suffix in order to differenciate them from the nouns having the same suffix.
BE                    AmE
    ornament /’:nəment/        ornament /’:rnə,ment/
    supplement /’spliment/        supplement /’splə,ment/

Some disyllabic words have a secondary stress while the same words in British English have not: contract /’k:nt,rækt/, syntax /‘sin,tæks/.
This secondary stress may be explained by an association with the corresponding verbs which have their second syllable stressed.
In longer words ending in -ary, -ery, -ory, Americans use a secondary stress on these suffixes.

BE                    AmE
        dictionary /’dikənəri/        dictionary /’dikən,eri/


    Give the phonetic transcription of the following words to illustrate the accentual pattern used in British English and in American English:

e.g. adversary BE /’ædvəsəri/ - AmE /’ædvə,seri/

    BE            AmE
1.stationery        …………..            ……………
2.ceremony        …………..            ……………
3.January        …………..            ……………
4.territory        …………..            ……………
5.milkman         …………...    ……………
6.secretary                     …………..        ……………

Compare your transcription with those given in the key section.

5.6   Stress and vowels

The unstressed (reduced) schwa vowel
In English, there is an important relationship between vowels and stress. Some vowels occur mainly in stressed syllables, others may occur in both stressed and unstressed syllables. One unstressed vowel, // or schwa appears only in unstressed syllables: better, about, confusion. It can be observed in pairs of related words that show different stress placement such as considerate /kən’siderət/ versus consideration /kənsidə’rein/. Note that the fourth vowel, which is unstressed in the word considerate, is pronounced /ə/. But when the same vowel is stressed, as in consideration, it is pronounced as /ei/.
The reduction or weakening of vowels in unstressed syllables is a fundamental and very important phenomenon in English. A change of stress in a word, perhaps as a result of adding a certain ending (called ‘strong suffix’) may have a significant effect on pronunciation. Similarly, if we add -y to photograph /’fəutəgr:f/, stress changes and with it the quality of all the vowels: e.g. photography /fə’tgrəfi/, i.e the first vowel is pronounced /əu/ when stressed and /ə/ when unstressed.

Stressed, full vowels are longer
In conclusion, we can say that vowels in stressed or stressable syllables (i.e. the full vowels) are significantly longer than those in unstressed syllables (the reduced vowels). Failure to use correct reduced vowels in unstressable syllables may result in severe problems of rhythm* which make the whole stream of speech difficult to understand.


    Transcribe the following words, noting the place of the primary stress and the changes in the vowel quality* induced by the shift of stress:

Write your answers in the space provided below each word.

1.decorate        decorative        decoration

2.explain         explanatory        explanation

3.locate        locative            location

Check your transcriptions against those given in the answer section.

5.7   Predicting stress in derivatives

Despite the fact that English words have a variety of different stress patterns, a number of regular principles can help us to determine where the stressed syllables are likely to occur (Taylor, 1996: 49). Therefore stress in English may not be fixed, but it is to a certain extent predictable.
The first principle states that two stressed syllables do not normally occur next to each other in a single word (this does not apply in words containing prefixes such as re-, un- as in unknown, for instance).
The second principle is that certain endings partly determine the place of stressed syllables in words. From the point of view of their influence on the position of the accent in the word, suffixes can be grouped into strong and weak.

5.7.1   Strong suffixes

The suffixes –ion  and -ic
Strong endings affect the stress pattern of a word; this class of endings include -ion, -ic, -ity, -ial, etc. If we compare fascinate or fascinating with fascination we can see that the -ion suffix has attracted the stress to the syllable preceding it. Similarly, the -ic suffix almost always attracts a stress to the preceding syllable as we can see if we compare linguist with linguistic, telephone with telephonic. The ending –ical behaves like -ic: mechanical, methodical.


    How does the use of the strong suffixes -ion and -ic determine stress placement? Transcribe the following pairs:

a.continue – continuation
b.inaugurate – inauguration
c.interpret – interpretation
d.irony – ironic
e.optimism – optimistic
f.diplomacy – diplomatic

Check your transcriptions against those given in the answer section.

Other strong endings which attract stress to the syllable immediately preceding the ending are:

-ity: stupidity, university, nationality
-ety:   variety, anxiety, society
-ial:   remedial, official, industrial
-ify:   exemplify, identify, personify
-efy:  stupefy, liquefy
-ian:  phonetician, comedian, librarian
-ious:  superstitious, ostentatious, suspicious
-eous:  adventageous, simultaneous, erroneous

In Romanian, suffixes also tend to attract stress onto themselves and accordingly towards the final syllables of the derived words, e.g. băietan, aluniş, atrăgator, muncitor, românesc.

Strong suffixes in loan words
Some derivational morphemes (suffixes) attract the primary stress onto themselves in loan words that preserve their original accentual* structure:

-ee: employee, addressee, trainee, trustee, invitee
-eer: engineer, profiteer, mountaineer, volunteer
-ette: silhouette, casette, kitchinette, suffragette
-et: castanet, quartet, clarinet, minaret

-oo: shampoo, tattoo, kangaroo, taboo, bamboo,
-oon: ballon, cartoon, lagoon, saloon, typhoon
-ique: technique, antique, physique, unique
-esque: picturesque, burlesque, grotesque, arabesque

5.7.2   Weak suffixes

Suffixes that do not influence the position of word accent are called weak suffixes. Examples of weak endings are -ing (‘fascinate – ‘fascinating), -ed (‘expect – ‘expected), -ness (‘kind – ‘kindness), -ship (‘friend – ‘friendship), -able (‘honour – ‘honourable), –ful (‘beauty-‘beautiful), -al (‘propose - ‘proposal), -hood (‘mother - ‘motherhood), -ment (‘develop - ‘development), -er/or (‘teach - ‘teacher), -ly (‘beautiful - ‘beautifully), -ist (‘organ - ‘organist), -ous (‘scandal - ‘scandalous), -dom (‘wise - ‘wisdom),- less (‘child - ‘childless).


Use the suffixes -ly, -or, -er, -est, -ing and -able to derive words from these bases: cool, expect, clean, translate, will, publish. Is there a primary stress shift entailed by this derivation?

Write your answers in the space provided below.

e.g. cool/-ing/-er/-est

Check your transcriptions against those given in the answer section.

5.7.3   Prefixes

In English, prefixes which are very productive and have quite an obvious meaning of their own (e.g. mis-, over-, under-, un-) almost always carry a secondary accent: e.g. misrepresent /,misrepri’zent/, overestimate /,əuvər’estəmeit/.
The main difference between English and Romanian is that while English prefixes are stressable, Romanian prefixes, in most cases, are not stressable unless this is required by necessities of emphasis or contrast, e.g. a îmbrăca, a dezbrăca.

5.8   Stress in compounds

Primary stress on the first element
In most instances it is the first syllable in a compound which carries the primary accent, a fact which corresponds to the general tendency in English of placing the main accent towards the beginning of words, rather than towards their end: typewriter, car- fery, sunrise, suitcase, tea-cup.
A rather large class of compound words whose first element is stressed is represented by nouns made up of a gerund and a noun: booking-office, mowing machine, reading-lamp, sleeping-pill, gaming-house, swimming-pool, walking stick, dining-room, eating house, fishing-rod.
There are compound words that have a primary stress on the first element and a secondary stress on the second element: gun-fire /’gΛn,faiə/, granddaughter /’græn,d:tə/. In this group are included the compounds made up of two nouns, the second being derived with the suffix -er, denoting occupations: grave-digger, /’greiv,digəpeace-maker /’pi:s,meikə/, Wall Streeter (person professionally employed on Wall Street) /w:l stri:tə:/.

Primary stress on the second element
There are many compounds whose first element has a secondary accent while the primary accent falls on the second element: handmade /,hænd’meid/, headmaster /,hed’m:stə/, clearcut /,kliə’kΛt/.
Unlike compounds made up of two nouns which have the stress on the first element, compounds with an adjectival first element and the -ed morpheme at the end receive primary stress on the second element: bad-‘tempered, half-‘timbered, heavy-‘handed.
Compounds made of a numeral and a noun also tend to have final stress: three-‘wheeler, second-‘class, five-‘finger. Compounds functioning as adverbs are usually final-stressed: head-‘first, North-‘East, down ‘stream.
Compounds functioning as verbs and having an adverbial first element take final stress: down-‘grade, back-‘pedal, ill-‘treat.

Primary stress on each element
Some compound words made up of words considered equally important or having five or more than five syllables, may take two primary accents: self-determination /’selfdi,təmi’nein/, queen mother /’kwi:n’mΛðə/.

Transcribe and mark the stressed syllables in the following compounds as they are said when used on their own:

a.cupboard        ……………………

b.saucepan        ……………………

c.topmost            ……………………

d.two pence        ……………………

e.nonsense        ……………………

f.vineyard            ……………………

Check your transcriptions against those given in the answer section.

5.9   Rhythm and its influence on word stress

The English language has quite a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables – in other words, the rhythm is regular (Roach, 1994: 69). This is why English compound words with two equally strong stresses when used in isolation (e.g. ‘good-’looking) tend to lose one of the stresses in connected speech when either preceded or followed by a stressed word (e.g. The ‘girl is good-‘looking).

English has a stressed-time rhythm
In English, the stressed syllables in connected speech tend to occur at roughly regular intervals. The more unstressed syllables there are after a stress, the quicker they must be pronounced. The time taken by the pronunciation of an utterance depends primarily on the number of stressed syllables. This is known as stressed-timed rhythm. For example, each of the following phrases has an extra syllable, but in each phrase there is only one stressed syllable; all phrases are said in the same amount of time:

reading it
he was reading
he was reading it

Romanian has a syllable-timed rhythm
In Romanian, the length of an utterance depends on the total number of syllables; the syllables of an utterance are spoken with the same amount of time allotted to each of them, irrespective of whether they are stressed or not.
Therefore, the Romanian learner of English has to be careful not to pronounce the unstressed syllables with the same force and in the same time which is allotted to the stressed ones.
Another issue foreign learners of English should be aware of is that stress position may vary because not all speakers of RP agree on the placement of stress in some words. A well-known example is controversy which is pronounced by some speakers as /’kntrəvə:si/ and by others as /kən’trvəsi/. Other different possibilities he mentions are ice-cream /’aiskri:m/ or /ais’kri:m/, kilometre /‘kiləmi:tə/’ki’lmitə/ and formidable /’f:midəbl/ or /fə’midəbl/.

Think first!

Notice the primary stress of these words and phrases and then translate them into Romanian:

1.a ‘mad-doctor …………………….

2.a mad ‘doctor ……………………

3.a ‘French  teacher …………………..

4.a French ‘ teacher …………………..

5.a ‘bluebottle ………………………

6.a blue ‘bottle ……………………...
Compare your answers with the information contained in section 5.10.

5.10   Stress shift and semantic implications

Compounds and noun phrases
The distinctive function of stress and the far-reaching effects of changing the accent pattern in English are obvious if we consider some compounds and their corresponding noun phrases:

Compounds            Noun phrases
‘bookworm (person who         book ‘worm (insect)
reads a lot )   
‘crosswords  (puzzle)        cross ‘words (words showing                     anger)
‘pighead (stubborn)        pig ‘head (head of a pig)
‘blackshirt (fascist thug)         black ‘shirt (a shirt that is                    black).
In the compounds, the accent falls on the first element while in the noun phrases the primary stress is on the second element. In general, the accentuation of the compound words made up of an adjective as the first element differs from that of corresponding noun phrases made up of an adjective and a noun: the former have the primary stress on the first element and possibly a secondary stress on the second element, while the latter have their primary stress on the second element and a secondary stress on the first element: hotbed /’htbed/ vs hot bed / ht ‘bed/.
The distribution of stresses in units higher than the word also may have far-reaching semantic implications:

An 'English, teacher (one who teaches English)
An ,English' teacher (one who is English)
A 'toy, factory (produces toys)
A ,toy' factory (a model of a factory used as a toy)

The accentual pattern of whole utterances is, to a certain extent, comparable to that of polysyllabic words. The basic difference between the accentuation of isolated words and that of longer utterances is the following: while isolated words have a single accentual pattern there are more possible patterns for the latter.
Therefore, larger utterances allow for more changes of pattern than isolated words. The choice of the word to be stressed depends on the speaker's will and the meaning (s)he wishes to convey:

I've got a red coat. (not a green one)
I've got a red coat. (not a red hat)
A venit înaintea voastră. (he came to meet you)
A venit înaintea voastră. (he arrived before you)

As a rule, full-meaning words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) always carry an accent while grammatical words (auxiliaries, modals, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions) do not, unless the sentence requires it.

Mark the stress patterns of these words and phrases:

1.a briefcase    …………………
2.a blacksmith    …………………
3.a sleeping-car    …………………
4.growing children    …………………
5.a get-together    …………………
6.drinking water    …………………

Write your answers in the spaces provided and compare them to the suggestions made at the end of the unit


English derivational suffixes can be grouped into strong and weak. The former group includes endings that (1) cause stress to fall upon a preceding syllable (e.g. -ion, -ic, -ity, -ial) (2) attract stress upon themselves (e. g. -ee, -eer, -oo, -oon, -ette, -esque).
English prefixes that may have a meaning of their own are completely fused with the root to which they are attached so the word is no longer felt as a derivative and is treated as a single word. Prefixes of this kind (e.g. mis-, over-, under-, un-) normally carry a secondary stress.
Some word pairs, involving two different parts of speech, are distinguished by stress: ‘Export rose in the second quarter vs. We still need to ex’port more and They have a ‘green ‘house, but not a ‘greenhouse.
In connected speech, stress is more variable than in isolated words; the choice of the word to be stressed depends on the speaker's will and the meaning (s)he wishes to convey.
English is a language that distinguishes very clearly between stressed and unstressed syllables; what is very important to note is that in English, the recurrence of stressed syllables at regular intervals gives speech its rhythmical qualities which are quite different from those with which other languages, Romanian included, are spoken.

Key concepts

closed/checked syllable
fixed accent-language
free accent-language
open/free/unchecked syllable
primary stress
secondary stress
strong suffix
syllabic consonant
vowel reduction
weak suffix

Further reading

1.Chiţoran, Dumitru and Petri, Lucreţia. 1977. Workbook in English Phonetics and Phonology. Bucureşti: Editura didactică şi pedagogică, pp.130-138, pp. 161-166.
2.Gogălniceanu, Călina. 1993. The English Phonetics and Phonology. Iaşi: Editura Fundaţiei "Chemarea", pp. 105-114.

SAA No. 4

Transcribe the following words phonemically and try to state a rule for the pronunciation of the suffix -s and the prefix in- :

Send this assignment to your tutor.
The maximum score for this assignment is 20 points :
10 points for correct phonemic transcription
5 points for stating the rule for the pronunciation of the suffix -s
- 5 points for stating the rule for the pronunciation of the prefix in-

Answers to SAQs

If you find mistakes in your answer, you need to reread section 5.2.

a. VVCC    b. CVVCC    c. CCVVCC    d. CCVVC    e. CCCVVCC
f. V-CVCCC    g. V-CC    h. CV-CC    i. CV-CVCCC
j. CV-CCC.

If you notice mistakes in your answer to SAQ 2, please revise section 5.4.

(a) /’pə:fjum/    (b) /pə’fju:m/
(c) /’pə:mit/    (d) /pə’mit/
(e) /’diteil/        (f) /di’teil/
(g) /’prəutəst/    (h) /prə’test/
(i) /’di:kri:s/    (j) /di’kri:s/

If you notice mistakes in your answer to SAQ 3, please revise section 5.5

a) /’steiənəri/ - /’steiə,neri/   
b) /’serəməni/ - /’serə,məuni/
c) /’dænjuəri/ - /’dæ,njueri/
d) /’teritəri/ - /’teri,t:ri/
e) /’milkmən/ - /’milk,mæn/
f) /’sekretəri/ - /’sekrə,teri

If you notice mistakes in your answer to SAQ 4, please revise sections 5.6 and 5.7. 1.

/’dekəreit/        /’dekərətiv/        /dekə’rein/
/ik’splein/        /ik’splænətəri/        /,eksplə’neiən/
/,ləukeit/        /lkətiv/            /ləu’kei

If you notice mistakes in your answer to SAQ 5, please revise section 5.7.1

a. /kən’tinju:/ - /kən’tinju:eiən/
b. /i’n:gjureit/ - /in:gju’reiən/
c. /in’tə:prət/ - /intə:prə’teiən/
d. /‘aiərəni/ - /ai’rnik/
e. /’ptimism/ - /pti’mistik/
f. /di’pləməsi/ - /diplə’mætik/

If you notice mistakes in your answer to SAQ 6, please revise section 5.7.1. and 5.7.2.


All the attached suffixes, i.e. -ing, -er, -est, -or, -able, -ly are weak, so there is no primary stress shift in the derived words.

If you notice mistakes in your answers to SAQ 7 and SAQ8, please revise section 5.8.


1. ‘brief,case
2. a ‘black,smith
3. a ‘sleeping-,car   
4. ,growing ‘children
5. a ‘get-,together   
6. ‘drinking ,water




Unit outline

Unit objectives                                                        


Linking /r/ and intrusive /r/                



Regressive assimilation                        

Progressive assimilation                       

Reciprocal assimilation                         

Obligatory and non-obligatory assimilation



Vowel elision                                        

Consonant elision                                 


Strong and weak forms of function words                                                   

Uses of weak forms                              

Uses of strong forms                            


Key concepts                                      

Further reading                                    

SAA No. 3                                            

Answers to SAQs                                                         

After you have completed the study of this unit you should be able to:
explain the phonetic phenomena that occur in casual speech. i.e. assimilation*, elision*, etc
distinguish carefully between cases when function words* are in focal and non-focal positions
use the strong and weak forms* of function words properly, thus avoiding an unnatural, visibly foreign pronunciation (that can be a potential barrier to fluency and a source of misunderstanding)
discriminate careful, standard speech from rapid, non-standard speech pronunciations
distinguish British from American pronunciation variants
produce casual pronunciations of frequent sound sequences
Normal speech cannot be imagined to be spoken “one word at a time”, with pauses* corresponding to the spaces of the written language. Spoken language is a continuous sequence in which each separate unit of sound is not pronounced in isolation but as part of a larger unit. In this process, sounds undergo modifications due to the transition* from one sound unit to another.

4.1   Linking r* and intrusive /r/*

Linking /r/
Although British speakers pronounce car without the final r, the r often does emerge if the following word begins with a vowel. Linking /r/ is the phoneme /r/ in word final position which is pronounced when the next word begins with a vowel. In standard RP a written word-final r is not pronounced before a pause* or a following consonant sound. Compare, for example, the car is there with the car was there. In the first example the r is pronounced and gets attached to the following syllable. This is the linking /r/. Further occurrences of linking /r/ can be found in: Here it is, Far away or they’re at home.

Intrusive /r/
There are instances when the presence of an intervocalic /r/ is not orthographically justified, as in law and order /’l:r ənd ’:də/. This inserted /r/ between two words or syllables in sequence, where the first ends in a vowel sound and the second begins with one, and which has no correspondent r in spelling is called intrusive /r/.
Intrusive /r/ is much criticized, but is quite commonly heard in standard RP and other non-rhotic accents. It occurs after the vowels, e.g.:
/ə/: idea (r) of it, umbrella (r) organization
/:/: law (r) and order
/α׃/: grandpa (r) is ill
/з׃/ a milieu (r) in which…
Both linking /r/ and intrusive /r/ are used in non-rhotic accents to prevent the vowels of two adjacent syllables to directly succeed one another. By adding an /r/ the utterance* gains in fluidity. (Meyer, 2002: 91)

4.2   Assimilation

The effect on a speech sound of the articulation of other adjacent sounds is called assimilation. This is a common feature of speech, though one that many native speakers are unaware of. Assimilation varies according to speaking rate and style; it is more likely to be found in rapid, casual speech and less likely, in slow, careful speech. In every assimilation process we distinguish between assimilating and assimilated* phonemes.

4.2.1   Regressive assimilation

Types of assimilation
Assimilation is regressive when the preceding sound is influenced by the immediately following one. Regressive assimilation or assimilation of place (Roach, 1994:124) is most clearly noticeable in some cases where a final consonant with alveolar place of articulation (e.g. /t/, /d/) is followed by an initial consonant with a place of articulation* that is not alveolar. For instance, the final consonant in that
/ðæt / is alveolar /t/. In rapid, casual speech, the /t/ will become /p/ before a bilabial* consonant (e.g. /p/, /b/) as in that person /ðæp p3:sn /, the /d/ will become /b/ as in good people /gub pi:pl/, etc. 


Transcribe the unassimilated* and assimilated pronunciations of these phrases:

1. light blue     ………………….…..

2 . good boy   ………………………

3. a good man ……………………...

4. this shop    ……………………….

5. ten more    .……………………….

Check your transcriptions against those given in the answer section.

Think First!

Look at these spellings:

stay – stays – stayed – staying

convey – conveys – conveyed – conveying

study – studies – studied – studying

cry – cries – cried - crying

Can you remember the y to i rule stated in the previous chapter? If you do, write it down in the space provided below; if you don’t, find it in section 3.2 and then copy it in the space provided below.

4.2.2   Progressive assimilation*

A reverse type of assimilation (progressive assimilation) is found when a sound is changed by the influence of a previous one.
For instance, the third person singular -s suffix, the -s plural suffix and the 's possessive suffix, are pronounced /s/ if the preceding consonant is fortis* (“voiceless”) and /z / if the preceding consonant is lenis* (“voiced”): jumps /dmps/ cats kæts/, Pat’ s /pæts vs. runs /rnz/, dogs /dgz/, Pam’ s /pæmz/.

The pronunciation of the endings –s and -ed
Progressive assimilation is an established and regular feature of the ending –s of verbs and nouns, which usually has a voiced /z/ sound (or /ız/ after all sibilants*) but after voiceless sounds other than sibilants is /s/ (e.g. taps – tabs, hats - heeds, dock’s - dog’s, griefs - grieves). Similarly, the past tense –ed ending /d/ or /ıd/ is devoiced* to a /t/ sound after a voiceless consonant other than /t/ itself: roped, lacked, roofed, pushed versus robed, lagged,  grooved, hated, headed, etc.


Give the phonemic transcription of these words to show the progressive type of assimilation that can occur:

1.Keith’s        ….
2.youths        …..
3.eyes        ….
4.seems        ….
5.runs        ….
6.dolls        ….
7.pieces        ….
8.daisies        ….
9.offered        ….
10.fitted        ….
11.kidnapped    ….

Write your answers in the spaces provided and then compare them to those given at the end of the unit.

4.2.3   Reciprocal assimilation

Assimilation is reciprocal (double) when both sounds (the assimilating and the assimilated one) undergo changes. In twice /w / becomes partly devoiced under the influence of /t/, while /t/ is rounded because of /w/.
A particular type of double assimilation is coalescence* in which two adjacent phonemes mix to such an extent that a third phoneme emerges. Historically this has occurred in words like soldier, picture, or fissure, where the reconstructable earlier pronunciation /‘soldjər/, /‘pıktu:r/, /‘fısju:r/ has become /‘səldзə/, /‘pıktə/, /fıə/.
In current colloquial English, similar assimilation occurs in phrases such as What d’you want? /wtə wnt/ or Could you? /‘kdu:/. This coalescent* assimilation is also known as yod coalescence or palatalization*.


Historically, the phonemes /d/ and /j/ coalesced, i.e. mixed to such an extent that gave birth to /d/ in a word like soldier. In the same manner /t/ and /j/ fused and finally produced the affricate* /t/ in question. 

What coalescent* variants can be heard nowadays in:

a. intuition        ….

b. grandeur         ….

c. duel         ….

Write your answers in the space provided at the right-hand side. Compare your transcriptions with the pronunciations given at the end of the unit.

4.2.4   Obligatory and non-obligatory assimilation
Synchronic assimilation may be obligatory (or established) and accidental (or non-obligatory).
Certain occurrences of assimilation are obligatory in the sense that they represent the norm in the language. Here are such instances:

unaspiratedness* of /p, t, k/ after /s/ : speak, stake, school
devoicing* of /l, r, w, j/ after voiceless plosives*: close, from
devoicing of /m, n/ after /s/: smile, snake
rounding of preceding consonants by /w/: twenty

Non-obligatory assimilation may be illustrated by these pronunciations:

give me /givmi:/ or /gimmi/
did you /didju:/ or /diddu:/
let me /letmi/ or / lemmi/
was sure /wzu/ or /w  u/

You need to be aware of the phenomenon of assimilation in order to understand colloquial English and to make a proper use of assimilated* variants just like English speakers do.

4.3   Elision

Elision is usually referred to as the omission of a sound (sounds) in connected speech*. This phenomenon occurs when sounds occur in clusters which are difficult to pronounce (e.g. last month, cost price, next shop, landscape) or when they appear in unstressed syllables(e.g. round the corner, night time, handbag). Elision may involve both vowels and consonants
Like assimilation, elision is typical of rapid, casual speech, and it can be historical* and contextual or synchronic*. For foreign learners of English it is important to know that when native speakers of English talk to each other; quite a number of phonemes that the foreigner might expect to hear are not actually pronounced.

4.3.1   Vowel elision

Elision of schwa* //
Elision of vowels takes place in unstressed syllables. The common vowels which are usually omitted are / / and /i/.
// (schwa*) may be lost in an initial unstressed syllable when the next vowel in the word is stressed as in correct /krekt/.
The consonant which usually follows schwa can be /l/ as in police /plis/, buffalo /bflu/, /r/ as in history /histri/, temporary /temprri/, reference /refrns/, or /n/ as in reasonable.
In British English the elision of schwa is firmly established in many words ending in -ory (territory) -ery (nursery), -ary (customary), -ury, -ily, and adverbs ending in -fully, e.g. carefully.

Elision of /i/
/i/ may be lost in such words as geography /dgrfi/, university /ju:ni'vsiti/.


    Give the corresponding spellings of these pronunciations that can occur in casual speech:

a./spəuz/        …………………

b./præps/        ………………….

c./kεəfli/        ………………….

d./t’nait/        ………………….

Write your answers in the spaces provided. Compare them to the spellings given in the answer section.

4.3.2   Consonant elision

Elision of /t/ and /d/
The consonants that are most likely to be elided are /t/ and /d/ occurring medially in consonant clusters*.
The elision of /t/ occurs when /t/ follows a fortis consonant and precedes any consonant (e.g. mostly, exactly, first time /fə:s taim/).
The dropping of /d/ occurs when /d/ follows any consonant and precedes any consonant (e.g. handsome, handbag, friendship)
Final /d/ of the grammatical word and can be omitted before vowels as well as consonants (e.g. ham and / n / eggs).

Elision of /k/, //, /ð/
/k/ is deleted only in a few forms, e.g. extraordinary /i’str:dnri/, expected /i’spektid/, excursion /i’skə:n/.
Elision also affects /l/ in rapid speech, when preceded by /:/ and followed by a consonant: alright, already.
/, ð/ are omitted in clusters which are difficult to pronounce: sixth, months, twelfths, clothes.

In rhetorical terms, the removal of an element from the beginning of a word is known as aphaeresis (I' ve); the loss of a sound or letter in word-medial position as called syncope (e’er instead of ever) and in word-final position apocope (snakes and /n/ ladders).


In casual speech /t/, /d/ and /k/ when medial in three-consonant clusters may be dropped. Practise and transcribe these words and phrases to illustrate the process:

a.last year        ……………………

b.thousand points    …………………….

c.kindness    …………………….

d.asked him    ……………………..

Write your answers in the spaces provided. You will find an answer in the key section at the end of this unit

4.4   Strong and weak forms of function words

A phonological phenomenon which is characteristic of the English language and has no equivalent in Romanian is the existence of two possible pronunciations for the grammatical function) words. Thus, about sixty words including articles, auxiliaries, modals, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions adverbs, pronominal adjectives, may display two forms: a strong one, when they occur in accented (focal) position and a weak one, when they are unaccented (in a non-focal position).

Disadvantages of using only strong forms*
It is possible to use only strong forms in speaking and some foreigners do this. Usually they can still be understood by other speakers of English, but it is important to learn how weak forms are used. There are two main reasons: first, most native speakers of English find an ”all-strong-form” pronunciation unnatural and foreign-sounding, something that most learners would wish to avoid.
Second, and more importantly, speakers who are not familiar with the use of weak forms are likely to have difficulty in understanding speakers who do use weak forms; since practically all native speakers of British English use them, learners of the language need to learn about these weak forms to help them to understand what they hear (Roach, 1994:102).

4.4.1   Uses of weak forms

Conjunctions and prepositions
The most frequently used form is the weak one. Several words in English have more than one weak form: and /ænd/ can be /nd/, /n/, /n/: fish and chips, food and drink.
Prepositions are used with their weak form whenever they carry no accent:
for is pronounced /f / when the word which follows begins with a consonant (They called John for me) and /fr/ when it starts with a vowel.
from /frm/ becomes /frm/ in: from time to time, we walked from school to school
of has the weak form /v/ in: a cup of tea, the end of the road.


Practise and transcribe the following phrases, using the weak form of the function words*:

as fast as he can        ….

for love nor money    ….

for ever and ever        ….

students and teachers    ….

time and money        ….

Check your transcriptions against those given at the end of the unit.

Auxiliaries and modals are usually pronounced in their weak form:

am pronounced /m, m/: I'm in a hurry /aim in  hri/
are pronounced /, r /: When are they coming /wen  ðei kmi/
does pronounced /dz, z, s/: What does it mean? /wt dz it 'mi:n/
have pronounced /hv, v, v/: Where have you been? /we v ju bin/
was pronounced /wz/ : He was seen by everybody /hi wz si:n bai evri bdi /
were pronounced /w/ + consonant: Where were they working? /we w ðei w3:ki/
will pronounced /l/: I think I'll stop here /ai ik ail stp hi/

Think first!

Must is pronounced in its weak form /məst/, or in its strong form, /mΛst/, depending on whether it shows:

supposition (You must be exhausted)
obligation (You must study those books as indicated).

Give the pronunciation of must in the following sentences:

1.You must be tired.               
2.Of course we must try.           
3.They must obey the rules of the game.   
4.You must have met him in England.   
5.He must buy it and so must I.       
6.We must learn it by heart.            

Compare your answers with the information below.

could pronounced /kd/: He could have been more helpful /hi kd v bin m: helpful/
should pronounced /d/: They should come earlier /ðei d km 3:li/
must pronounced /mst/: I must answer that letter /ai mst ans ðæt let/.

Weak forms of modal verbs are more often used in colloquial speech than strong forms.


Practise reducing the auxiliary and modal verbs in the following:

have watched     ………………………………

were to do    ………………………………

could try    ………………………………

should go    ………………………………

would make    ………………………………

You can find the suggested answer in the key section at the end of unit 4.

4.4.2   Uses of strong forms

In general, function words are used in their strong (unreduced) form when they are uttered in isolation and for reasons of contrast (when emphasis is implied).
Prepositions are used in their accented form when they are situated at the end of sentences or sense groups:

at /æt/: He was being laughed at.
for /f:/: I was called for at ten.
of /v /: What is it made of?
to /tu/: Who are you talking to?

The strong or weak forms of prepositions may be used when they occur before unstressed pronouns: He was unknown to me.
/hi wəz Λn’nəun tə/tu: mi/.

Auxiliaries and modals
The strong forms of auxiliary and modal verbs are used when they act as main verb substitutes:

does pronounced /dz/: Of course, he does.
should pronounced /ud/: Yes, I should.
can pronounced /kæn/: Of course, he can.
must pronounced / mst / yes, I must.

The strong form of modals is also compulsory when they are used in the negative contracted form. Compare: 
You can do it /ju kən du: it/
You can’t do it /ju k:nt du: it/

The modal verb have is always used in its strong form, /hæv/:
I have to leave now.

There adverb and empty pronoun (in there is/are)
As for there, it is pronounced /ðe(r)/ when it is a demonstrative (Don't go there) and /ð(r)/ in the verbal phrase there is, there are (There aren't any flowers).


    Read and transcribe these phrases and sentences, noting carefully the difference between there as an adverb and as a semantically empty pronoun:

a. over there
b. There’s a car in front of the house
c. Is there any coffee left?
d. What’s there?
Check your answers against those suggested in the answer section.

That (demonstrative and conjunction)
The demonstrative that is pronounced /ðt/ when it is a conjunction or a relative pronoun: I hope that he will. Its strong form /ðæt/ is used when it is a demonstrative: I don't like that book.

Connected speech causes individual words to be adapted in various ways. Linking elements may have to be added between words ending and beginning with a vowel, elision may be needed, and especially consonants may be adapted to each other, which is known assimilation. 
Many function words (e.g. articles, auxiliaries, modals,  pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions) change in quality and/or quantity according to whether they are unstressed (as is usual) or stressed (in special situations or when in isolation).
The tendency to weaken vowels towards schwa in conversational English may be to be a difficult aspect of English to learn for most non-native speakers, partly because of an over-reliance on spelling as a guide to pronunciation.

Key concepts

accidental assimilation
intrusive /r/
linking /r/
obligatory assimilation
progressive assimilation
reciprocal assimilation
regressive assimilation
consonant elision
strong form
vowel elision
weak form

Further reading

1.Chiţoran, Dumitru şi Hortensia Pârlog. 1989. Ghid de pronunţie a limbii engleze. Bucureşti: Editura ştiinţifică şi enciclopedică, pp. 140-147
2.Meyer, Paul Georg et al. 2002. Synchronic English Linguistics. An Introduction. Tubingen: Gunter NarrVerlag Tubingen, p. 87-91
3.Pârlog, Hortensia. 1997. English Phonetics and Phonology. Bucureşti: Editura ALL, pp. 114-119.

SAA No. 3

Give the transcription of the following phrases and sentences. Identify the phonetic phenomena which may occur in rapid, colloquial speech:

1.closed door
2.blocked passage
3.in my room
4.What you want?
5.Would you?
6.In case you want?
7.Has your car come?
8.We sang and danced.
9.I saw Helen and Nick and Bob.
10.The car that is broken belongs to their firm.
11.What’s that for?
12.Which book do they need?
13.I do try to cook your lunch.
14.He must buy it and so must I.
15.We must learn it by heart.

Send your answer to the tutor.
The maximum score for this assignment is 20 points:
- 15 points for correct phonemic transcription;
- 5 points for correct identification of phonetic phenomena.

Answers to SAQs

Should your answers to SAQ 1, SAQ 2 and SAQ 3 be different from the ones suggested below, please reread section 4.2.

a./’lait ‘blu:/ and /’laip ‘blu:/
b./gud b
c.ə gud mæn/ and /ə gub mæn/
d. /ðis p /and /ðı p/
e. /ten m:/ and /tem m:/

a.  /kiθs/
b. /ju:θ s/
SAQ 3   
a. intuition /Int∫u׃’I∫(ə)n/
b. grandeur /’grǽndə/
c. duel /’du׃əl/

Should your answer to SAQ 4 be different from the one suggested below, please reread section 4.3.1.


Should your answer to SAQ 5 be different from the one suggested below, please reread section 4.3.2.

a. /l:s jiə:/
b. /Θauzn pnts/
c. /kainnəs/
d. asked him /:st im/

Should your answer to SAQ 6 be different from the one suggested below, please reread section 4.4.1.

as fast as he can /əz/
for love nor money /fə/
for ever and ever /fər/, /nd/
students and teachers /ən/
time and money /n/

Should your answer to SAQ 7 be different from the one suggested below, please reread sections 4.4.1 and 4.4.2.

/həv wət
/wə tə du/
/kəd trai/
/əd gəu/
/wəd meik/

Should your answer to SAQ 8 be different from the one suggested below, please reread section 4.4.2

a. əuvə ‘ðεə/
b. /ðər’iz ə ‘k: in frnt əv ðə ‘hus/
c. /iz ðər æni ‘k
d. /wðεə/