Thursday 1 October 2009


Some twenty or more years ago I invented the term “buttressing” to refer to the use of the strong form for an unaccented preposition with a pronoun complement, after the nucleus in sentences like
(1) I had a letter from him.
aɪ ˈhæd ə ˈletə frɒm ɪm.

(2) I had a note from him.
aɪ ˈhæd ə ˈnəʊt frəm ɪm.

The use of strong or weak form can go either way in both cases, but on the whole we tend to use a strong form (frɒm) in (1), a weak form (frəm) in (2). The more weak syllables intervene after the nucleus, the more likely a strong form.
I used this terminology when I gave some lectures on English phonetics in Buenos Aires in 1992.
Later I decided (or perhaps was persuaded by my colleagues) that it is not necessary to have a new term for this phenomenon: we can just call it “rhythmic strong form”. It complements “stranding” (What are you looking at?): the two principles together account for strong forms in unaccented syllables.

When I returned to Buenos Aires last month several people approached me to say how much they liked the term “buttressing”. Why had I abandoned it? Would I reinstate it?

I have a slight feeling of guilt at having invented, or at least popularized, rather a large number of new technical terms in English phonetics, and try to keep them in check. (For instance, I abandoned the Latinate “correption” in favour of the English “smoothing”.)

But perhaps I needn’t feel guilty after all.
_ _ _ _

From tomorrow I shall be travelling again, and this blog will be suspended. The next entry will be on Thursday 15 October.


  1. on the whole we tend to use a strong form (frɒm) in (1), a weak form (frəm) in (2).

    Hmm -- I would always use the weak form in both, unless there were some particular reason to emphasize the word "from". Is this a US/UK thing?

    (I don't think I ever used the strong form, even when I lived in the UK, but I've learned not to trust my memory on such matters).

  2. What about the stressing of this word? Not BUTtresSING, surely?

  3. No, it's BUTtressing. Strong-weak-weak.

  4. @vp: I tried both sentences in my own American idiolect, and again in RP. Based on this completely unscientific experiment, I think you may be right - that the use of the strong vowel (though without any further lengthening) is a UK thing and not, for the most part, as US thing.

  5. Dear Bebedora, please say this "BUTtressing" aloud. Does its rhythm resemble that of the Spanish command "¡Cuádrese!", with a weak bouncing on the last syllable?

  6. @Amy: would this example work in AmE?:
    i. I've got a _pres_ent for you. (strong fɔː(r))
    ii. I've ɡot a _ɡift_ for you. (weak fə(r))

  7. @John Wells

    I'm not Amy, but (i) is indeed more likely (though not certain) to elicit the strong form of "for" from me. My intuition is that the consonant clusters "pr" and "nt" in "present" function like a speed bump, slowing me down enough to make the strong form a rhythmic possibility.

  8. @ Amy

    hhmm.. it seems that you've got a point.

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  10. "I'll do it for you"
    It seems to me that (at least in the U.K.) there is usually the strong form in "for" here.
    I understand now it is because there is another weak vowel after the nucleus "do"?

  11. Yep, that's the idea.
    Even more likely with more weak-vowelled syllables intervening:
    Here's another memory for you.
    I'll bring the sandwiches for you.
    I've been labo(u)ring at it.
    Here's a cake for you.
    I'll bring the rice for you.
    I'll work at it.

  12. Nice information, It was worth to visit here, Regards.

  13. Hi,
    Your invention is interesting to get in detailed look.Your buttressing may good at some great statement at any event.

    handy zubehör

  14. @ Spanish speakers
    Can anybody think of any rhythmically equivalent examples in Spanish?
    e.g. "¡ColGAD las \SÁbanas!DIje" would be similar to "I'll BRING the \SANDwiches FOR you".
    Also: \WORking AT it = ¡\GUARdias!DIje = \IRriTAting

  15. Sorry, where can I find the 'etymology' of the word 'buttresing'?



      Scroll down to the Origin section


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