Monday, 23 March 2009

imaginary secondary stress


Intrigued by Justin Watkins’s posting on Facebook of a video clip of himself jumping into a pool under the headline “cenote plunge”, I looked up the word cenote. Where does one most conveniently look up a presumed technical term these days? In Wikipedia of course, where I duly found
A cenote (pronounced in Mexican Spanish [seˈnoˌte], in Iberian Spanish [θeˈnoˌte] and in English [səˈnəʊˌteɪ] …) is a sinkhole with exposed rocky edges containing groundwater.
When you find an error in Wikipedia you’re supposed to just quietly correct it, not publicize it. But I thought it worth while drawing attention to this over-use of the secondary stress mark by some would-be phoneticians.
Not every unreduced vowel has secondary stress! Particularly not in languages that, like Spanish, do not go in for vowel reduction. The Spanish pronunciation should most definitely be shown as seˈnote, θeˈnote, and the English, in my view, as səˈnəʊteɪ.
Few if any Spanish words have more than one stress (the claimed exceptions are usually adverbs in -mente). And none have post-tonic secondary stress.
In English we have post-tonic secondary stress in compounds such as ˈgrandˌfather and ˈwashing maˌchine. But not (in my view) in words such as ˈeducate (not “ˈeduˌcate”) or ceˈnote.

10 comments:

  1. I always wondered why you make a difference between post-tonic elements of compounds with more than one syllable and one-syllable ones, by assigning a secondary stress to one of the syllables of multisyllabic ones (such as /"grand%father/)but not doing so in the case of unisyllabic ones (such as /"battleship/). I understand those authorities that assign an (at least)secondary stress to all syllables which have strongly realized phonemes, but that would make /"edu%cate/ and /ce"no%te/ have secondary stress. You don't use the post-tonic secodary stress-mark as just an underlying cause for various phonological alternations (vowel reduction etc.), but as something that stands for actual stress. But I don't feel any difference of stress between words like /"iron%monger/ and /"educator/. I read it some sources that in words that you mark as having a post-tonic secondary stress the rising part of a fall-rise pattern begins at the secondary stress. Is that what you regard as stress? Or is there something else?
    I also feel that some kind of stress marking would be neccessary in words that you mark as not having any post-tonic stress, to show e.g. that /t/ is very often realized differently in /"attic/ and in (what I think should be analyzed as) /"luna%tic/. The presence/absence of minor stress is also an alternative explanation for differences like that between "cities" /"sItiz/ and "bases" /"beIsi:z/. We could transcribe the two words as /"sIti:z/ and /"beI%si:z/, or rather, /"sItiz/ and /"beI%siz/ respectively (as most American dictionaries already do).

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  3. I don't perceive a secondary stress in words like "cenote" or "veto", but I do perceive one in "battleship" and "educate". To me, the stress patterns in these two words seem no different from the one in "grandfather", and when I try to pronounce them without any secondary stress, they sound clipped and unnatural.

    Likewise, in the cases of "brandish" versus "bran-dish" and "selfish" versus "shellfish", which you've written about elsewhere, I perceive the salient difference to be not syllable boundaries but rather the presence of a secondary stress in the latter word.

    [Sorry, I've reposted to fix a mistake.]

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  4. I've corrected the Wikipedia article.

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  5. @Tonio68: any reason why you changed the əʊ to oʊ in the English pronunciation example?

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  7. oʊ is American English, whereas əʊ is British English.

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  8. Also, Wikipedia's in-house transcription for English (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:IPA_for_English), which aims to cover RP, GenAm and GenAus at least at the phonemic level (if not always with high phonetic accuracy), calls for /oʊ/.

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  9. The secondary accent might show the author's unconcscious intention to prevent the -e from being pronounced as a schwa.

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  10. In my view, the spelling of Spanish words in -mente is what's at fault; such words bear two (primary) stresses, and should be written thus: lenta mente, which would also have the mild advantage of clarifying the etymology.

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