The reporter talked about possible reductions in child BENefit, and then later about the question of HOUSing benefit. I realized that these stressings agree with my own intuitions on how to stress these particular compounds. And there’s no logic in it.
It’s very important when discussing the stressing of compounds to disregard two well-known effects that can cause the default (lexical) pattern to be overridden: (i) contrastive stress and (ii) stress shift.
For anyone who shares my intuitions about the two kinds of benefit, contrastive stress would nevertheless lead us to say, for example,
They get not only HOUSing benefit but also CHILD benefit.
She works in local government for the HOUSing department. Her job involves the determination of housing BENefits.—both of which go against the default pattern.
Similarly, just as we have AFTernoon TEA, FIFteen PEOPle and TOWN Hall STEPS (despite afterNOON, fifTEEN, and Town HALL), we might say
There are going to be severe CHILD benefit reDUCtions.
Having got those two disturbing factors out of the way, I am left with the conclusion that as dictionary entries I would give ˌchild ˈbenefit but ˈhousing ˌbenefit. I have no idea how widely these patterns would be agreed to by other speakers of BrE, and I wonder what non-Brits unfamiliar with these expressions would say.
The stressing of compound nouns is a notorious difficulty for EFL. Although the basic rule is clear (the main stress goes on the first element of a compound), there are not only several well-established classes of exceptions (e.g. if the first element names a place, time, material, or ingredient), but there is also a long tail of cases where all one can say is that there is no firmly established pattern. We can coin new compounds on the fly (or indeed recoin compounds of whose existence we are unaware), and it may be impossible to determine whether or not there is some implicit contrast involved or what you would say in a contrast-free context. Meanwhile we have some well-known sets of illogicalities.
I’ve sent her a BIRTHday card.
She bought me a BIRTHday present.
Here’s some birthday chamPAGNE for you!
I’ve written him a birthday TRIBute.
I quite often get emails from NNS EFL teachers asking me for the stress pattern of this or that compound not listed in dictionaries. I may supply an answer, but I would be less than honest if I claimed to be always entirely certain whether it was the correct answer. For example, Martín Capell wrote
Could you please tell me whether I should say FAmily MEMber or FAmily member. In other words, is this compound single- or double-stressed?I replied
I don't think there's any fixed pattern. On the whole I’d go for “family MEMber”.Other NSs might disagree.