Thursday 13 May 2010

Cameronian deaccentuation

As is well known, in English we dislike placing the intonation nucleus on the same word in successive intonation phrases.
This dislike extends to reaccenting a word with the same meaning, and even to reaccenting a repeated morpheme.
If we want to say
That is destructive, not constructive criticism.
we obviously need to use contrastive accentuation. But we feel awkward retaining the lexical stresses
That is destructive, | not constructive criticism.
Rather, we tend towards
That is destructive, | not constructive criticism.

However, there may be some difficulty in identifying what exactly counts as “the same morpheme” in this connection.
I wonder how many of you noticed, as I did, the way David Cameron, at his first joint press conference yesterday with his new coalition partner Nick Clegg, promised that
cooperation | wins out over confrontation.

Clearly, he felt that the second -ation counted as a repetition of the first, so chose to shift the accent to the earlier part of each word.
Personally, I suspect that I’d’ve stuck with
cooperation | wins out over confrontation.

Alternatively, I might have gone for
cooperation | wins out over confrontation.

But we make these deaccentuation decisions on the fly, and can be very inconsistent about them, coming out with accent patterns we might later have preferred to repair.
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  1. Rather than consideration of the 'same' morpheme, I feel that Cameron was treating the prefixes as virtual words in contrast -- irrespective of whatever morphemes they happened be attached to.

    co | wins out over con

    Along the lines of Sam Goldwyn's

    in two words: im | possible

  2. I was struck by your suggestion of conFRONTation, as I would find that impossible to pronounce non-awkwardly - for me, an American, the second vowel in that word is a fully reduced and unstressable schwa. The Cambridge Online Dictionary confirmed for me that BrEng uses an unreduced /ʌ/ in this case, in contrast to /ə/ in AmEng. This reminded me of a seemingly analagous case which I was already aware of: the British pronunciation of San Francisco as /sæn fræn'sɪskəʊ/ in contrast to the American /sæn frən'sɪskoʊ/.

  3. I agree with David Crosbie. I think Cameron (probably unconsciously) stressed the co- in cooperation to emphasize the meaning of the initial morphemes. In other words, he wanted to stress "co" over "con" in order to stress the nature of the coaltion.

    Professor Wells notes reduced /ə/ in AmE in his dictionary. I think an unreduced /ʌ/ is possible there as well, and given the context of contrastive accentuation, I don't think I would find it surprising. Haven't been in the States for a while, however.

  4. David, that was exactly what I felt about it. "Virtual words" is the key concept, reflecting the however regrettably irreducible psychologistic element of the Saussurean sign, which asserts itself over the linguistically sophisticated awareness that the co- and con- are supposed to be allomorphic variants of the same morpheme.

    So Lazar, it is this awareness which makes it possible for John to suggest coOPeration and conFRONTation. I may well be no less morphologically aware than him, but I don't think I'd've thought I could get away with that even as a BrEng speaker who uses an unreduced /ʌ/ in this case. Like him I suspect that I’d’ve stuck with "coopeRAtion wins out over confronTAtion".

    I didn't in fact hear how David Cameron said it, but I hope he at least gave secondary stresses to the -Ations!

  5. Mallamb

    It hadn't occurred to me that the con- in confrontation is etymologically related to the co- in cooperation.

    For our analysis to work, the prefix con- must have been somehow equated with the real word con, that is to say the the one that's the opposite of the word pro.

  6. And Contrasted with the "real word" co of co-worker etc. (And, who knows? of & Co!) And not just somehow equated, btw. Psychologistically equated is clearly the best guess for both of us! And of course for John, who I suspect may have been being a bit arch in saying there may be some difficulty in identifying what exactly counts as “the same morpheme” in this connection.

    I think I can cap Sam Goldwyn's im | possible. In Ulster they say "in tew words: rad | dackulous"!

  7. In case anyone is mystified by this talk of Saussurian psychologism: whatever the psychology of DC's identification of what exactly counts as “the same morpheme”, it is psychologistic of us to speculate about the linguistic status of any such candidate morpheme!

    This of course applies equally to the recent wrangle about prosthetic e and i before initial sC in Spanish and Italian.

  8. As an American, I think I'd go with "coopeRAtion wins out over confronTAtion". The other option you gave is impossible for me.

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  10. Worth listening to. Well spotted, Kevin. But I don't think this has all been a fuss about nothing.

    I don't after all think it's a matter of what exactly counts as “the same morpheme” in this connection: if I may persist with the psychologism, naive speakers are not really much aware of morphemes in the first place, and are perceiving these things as more akin to rhymes, whether rich rhymes like "acceleRAtion and DEceleration" or near rhymes like "coopeRAtion and CONfrontation".

  11. I don't understand how those rhyme.

  12. I mean, I do understand how they rhyme obviously, but when you put the stress on those syllables, it sort of takes away the rhyming effect for me.

  13. Kevin

    I hear the stresses that you hear, but not all of them as intonation-carrying tones.

    To my ears, cooperation caries what David Brazil calls a 'referring tone'. This can be a RISE, but in this case is a FALL-RISE distributed on the first and third syllables.

    Again to my ears, confrontation carries what Brazil calls a 'proclaiming tone'. This takes the form of a FALL (a HIGH one) concentrated on only one of the stressed syllables -- the first one.

    So what I hear is

    ̀CO-oper ́Ation | 'wins 'out' 'over ̀CONfron'tation

  14. I had tried to hear that, David, but I really couldn't. Then again I'm at my wits' end trying to get Firefox to buffer properly so that I hear anything but clicks!

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  16. I agree with Professor Wells and David in terms of stress. I'm not sure if I hear the fall-rise on the initial syllable in "cooperation," however. I think the pitch falls on the second syllable (but we are not talking about a steep fall). I also think that the initial syllable is on a higher pitch than usual and the VOT of the initial consonant is longer than usual, all of which, to me, leads to perception of stress being on the first syllable.

  17. Kevin, Mallamb

    On re-listening, I'm not so sure.

    I still feel there's a sort of referring tone on cooperation. But the A syllable starts relatively high, which ditches my theory of FALL-RISE spread over the two stressed syllables.

    My best suggestion is still FALL-RISE, but located at the end of the word.

    The phrase sounds like the halves of two different phrases involving invented words

    1 cooper'ation not cooperer'escence

    2 'disfrontation not 'confrontation

    In [1] the contrasting syllables are the penultimate. In [2] the contrasting syllables are initial.

  18. David (and others),

    I think my perception is that the first four syllables of cooperation have a pretty level pitch, but with the highest on the first syllable). Then there is a fall and rise on the last syllable. With confrontation, the pitch is falling on each syllable (but, again, with the pitch highest on the first syllable, then the next highest on the second, and so on.

    Not sure where this would fit in with the distinction between referring tones and proclaiming tones, however. And I'm not sure whether Cameron just continued the intonational contrast of the phrases that came before NAtional interest -- PArty interest).

  19. Yes anon, I think you've got something there with the idea of parallelism as a rhetorical device which he couldn't quite pull off.

    So David, when I said I had tried to hear the part of the referring tone carried by the co-, but really hadn't been able to, I had concluded it was probably an illusion, and that is why I gave "acceleRAtion and DEceleration" as an example of an uncontroversial identification of “the same morpheme” which nevertheless may in context have no accent on the first of its contrasting prefixes.

    But as I said I thought John may have been archly suggesting, while we may hope for competence in a language, what we get is performance, and that whole scene was quite a performance. There is no guarantee of competence in rhetorical devices either, and this is why we get anon's iffy parallelism and whatever sort of tonic chiasmus you are hypothesizing with your invented words.

    BTW is cooperer'escence intended to be coope'rescence?


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