Wednesday 11 May 2011

double-stressed◀ adjectives

Petr Rösel asked, gnomically,
What's the stress 'patten' in long-legged? Like the one in long-haired or long-headed?

The question is odd because as far as I am aware the two compound adjectives long-haired and long-headed have identical stress patterns. (And was he making some subtle point about the nonrhotic pronunciation of pattern, homophonous for me with Patton, patten and paten?)

So long-legged is like both of the other long- compounds he mentions, namely ‘double-stressed’. Indeed this is the usual pattern for all adjectives of this structure, in which an adjective is joined to a noun, the noun usually being turned formally into the participle of a denominative verb by the addition of -ed or -ing: big-boned, broad-chested, cold-hearted, fine-sounding, good-natured, half-hearted, old-fashioned. It’s a very productive process, and because of this dictionaries typically list only a small selection of the compound adjectives that are available. Linguists happily write and say long-vowelled (as in a long-vowelled verb stem), though it’s not in any dictionary known to me.

These adjectives are most typically used not predicatively but attributively, before a noun which is likely to be accented. Therefore ‘stress shift’ kicks in, and we get an accent on the first element of the compound adjective, but probably not on the second. That’s why the dictionary entry in LPD and LDOCE includes the stress-shift mark ◀.

• a ˈlong-haired ˈlayabout
• a ˈfine-sounding ˈslogan
• a ˈhalf-hearted atˈtempt
• ˈold-fashioned ˈclothes

If the conditions for stress shift are not met, we get the basic pattern.

• ˈThis ˈPeter, | is he ˈlong-ˈhaired?
• Their ˈslogan | was adˈmittedly ˈfine-ˈsounding.

The problem (if it is a problem) is that some adjectives of this type are virtually never used predicatively. Consider long-haul. We speak of ˈlong-haul ˈflights and ˈlong-haul ˈpassengers. Do we also say ˈthis ˈflight | is ˈlong-ˈhaul? Yes, I suppose, but rarely.

That is the reason for the discrepancy that some have remarked on between different dictionaries. LDOCE shows long-haul as having initial stress, while LPD and CEPD (I think correctly) show it as double-stressed.

In German it’s different. Adjectives with this type of structure are stressed on the first element under all circumstances (I think): ˈkurzfristig, ˈlangweilig, ˈschöngeistig. And the newly triple-elled ˈschnelllebig — don’t you love the reformed spelling?

The other interesting question with long-legged is how many syllables there are in the second element. But that’s another issue entirely. (See LPD s.v. legged.)


  1. As expected, the LPD has ˈleg.ɪd as the first pronunciation. But then one goes over to Merriam–Webster and sees this: British usually 'legd. Fun.

  2. For more on stress-shift, you can have a look at these posts of mine:

    BTW, John, how do you pronounce the expression "to stress-shift"? Is it for you early-stressed or late-stressed?

  3. Alex: verbs of this structure (where the first element names the direct object) have initial stress: to ˈface-paint, to ˈtrain-surf, likewise to ˈstress-shift.

  4. I'd interpret Like the one in long-haired or long-headed as giving two examples of the same thing, and the question as asking whether the one in long-legged is the same as well.

  5. John, I'm puzzled by your inclusion of "fine-sounding" as a structure in which an adjective is joined to a noun, the noun usually being turned formally into the participle of a denominative verb by the addition of -ed or –ing. Wouldn’t you say that the last time 'sound' was a denominative verb was in early Latin at the latest? Whether 'fine' in constructions like 'sounds fine' is an adverb is of course moot, but e.g. 'hardworking' has adverbial 'hard', and behaves the same as in your analysis. But there are other disparities:

    1. Their ˈslogan | was adˈmittedly ˈfine-ˈsounding.
    2. His ˈcriticism | was a bit ˈheavy-sounding.

    I don't think 2 can be differentiated from the attributive use. In fact it makes me wonder whether ˈfine-sounding isn't also possible predicatively if there's no implied contrast in the 'sounding'. They do seem not to be entirely congruent with the more uncontentious adjective+denominatives.

    I'm impressed that you have only /-lɪvd/ for UK 'long-lived' and 'short-lived' in LPD. I hope my mention of that doesn’t start one of the tedious wrangles that crop up all over the internet about these particular double-stressed adjectives, but I have never contributed my two-pennorth to them so please forgive my taking this opportunity to do so.

    Because look at «This compound is not derived from ''to live longly'' (you can't say that) but from ''having a long life'' and should be pronounced accordingly. The plural stem, live(s), is always used: "short-lived," "many-lived," "triple-lived."»

    In BrE and perhaps to a lesser extent in AmE it's a prescriptivist etymologizing fantasy to argue that “long-lived” and “short-lived” are parallel to “many-lived” and “triple-lived” etc on the analogy of adjective+denominatives like "long-haired". Of course you can't say "live longly'' but you CAN say "live long", and you can’t say live short/many/triple, but that is irrelevant, and "long-lived" has to be reanalyzed as parallel to other verbal uses like "long-gone".

    OED's /-laɪvd/ is uncompromising, but there are notes under the etymologies: "Often pronounced /lɒŋlɪvd/, as if etymologically parallel to smooth-spoken, etc." and "Often apprehended as < lived past participle of live v.1 (compare smooth-spoken) and pronounced /-lɪvd/."

    I find it quite hard not to suspect that the quotations from Shakespeare on for the "transferred" sense 2a 'Lasting only a short time, brief, ephemeral' reflect a parallel verbal derivation from the start.

    Don't forget 'ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties'.

  6. Mallamb, I don't think I've never heard anyone actually pronounce long-lived in the way the OED prescribes. Have you?

  7. Thank you, John! Sometimes my proficiency in both Italian and English just fails me! Mea culpa...

  8. John,
    Nope, not even the transpontines of whom it's claimed.

  9. For me the "gnomic" question is cogent and sensible, and until I read this entry and its comments, I would have unhesitatingly replied "Like long-haired, not like long-headed", because for me the former is always initially stressed, whereas the latter is subject to stress shift. I think it's at least partly a matter of the second part of the compound being a monosyllable: ˈlong-eared, ˈlong-horned, but long-ˈfingered. I have stress shift on long-ˈlived, short-ˈlived, though, so syllable count can't be the whole story.

    And yes, my pronunciation of those two words does use the PRICE vowel, and it is artificial in the sense that I decided to adopt it rather than acquiring it directly from my environment, but it has now become entirely habitual to me. It is parallel to my adoption of the MOUTH vowel in route, router, routed when speaking of computer networking. I'd do a double-take if someone spoke to me of "hooking up a rooter", though I retain the GOOSE vowel characteristic of my regional accent in all non-computer senses of these words. For that matter, some words can only have artificial pronunciations, because we learn them from books (including dictionaries): the only question is whether we adopt other people's artificial pronunciations or invent our own.

    The OED2's 1607 quotation under long-lived "T. Walkington Optick Glasse 41 Little eyes denotate a large cheverill conscience ... spacious breasted, long-lif't." shows that the KIT pronunciation in this word is old.

  10. Mallamb, ha! :) May I ask you how exactly does one pronounce your username? mæl læm, məˈlæm, mɔːl æm, ˈmælæm?

  11. I wonder whether Petr Rösel was simply asking the "other question": whether long-legged has two syllables like long-haired or three like long-headed.

    For me the default stress, even predicatively and in citation form, is on the first syllable in all the sample words in the OP. Double stress is a more plausible variant for some than for others.

    I don't know that the 1607 "long-lif't" proves a KIT vowel: might it merely indicate that "-lifed" has one syllable rather than two?

  12. John: "I have stress shift on long-ˈlived, short-ˈlived, though, so syllable count can't be the whole story."

    I might be grappling in the dark here since I'm hardly an expert on the history of the English language but what you've described immediately gave me a vision of a very specific pattern of development.

    If your stress accent pattern had been established at a time when lived was still /lɪv.ɪd/ but horned had already shortened to /hɔːnd/, let's say, it would explain away the seeming randomness by still attributing it to syllable-count but at a previous stage in the language.

    Afterall I can imagine that the change to -n'd was met up with much less resistance by English speakers than the comparatively more exotic sequence of -v'd. Is my idle impression historically correct?

  13. The annoying orange is American and says right at the beginning of this video, "you're 'funny-looking"

    (or can I not hear the difference between funny-'looking and 'funny-'looking?)

  14. Mollymooly: He asks specifically about the stress pattern.

  15. Avan,"funny-looking" is usually early-stressed. Look it up in LPD.

  16. Dinora,
    May I ask you how exactly does one pronounce your username? mæl læm, məˈlæm, mɔːl æm, ˈmælæm?

    How touching that you care how my username is pronounced. It doesn't have a pronunciation, but that doesn't seem to make it unpronounceable on the rare occasions when people have cause to attempt the feat. It's three initials and a surname, so logically your first suggestion was a direct hit, and it will still do for when three initials are not enough and I have to be malllamb, as I have had to before now. You may say mæɬ læm if you wish, but the ll is for Llewellyn pronounced luˈelɪn. I had never thought of məˈlæm, but I like it. It offers a choice as to whether we think of it as 'my lamb' or McLamb in celebration of my multifaceted British ancestry. Even mɔːl æm is not an unprecedented attempt: you are in august company – a former Editor-in-Chief of Collins Dictionary, no less. Now if he had consulted his dictionary, he would have found ˈmælæm as a Hausa pundit. I must confess that that's how I tend to think of it, because it's the way most people pronounce it if they pronounce it at all. The name I'm known by in real life is Michael.

    Google won't let me post on Firefox without setting up my own blog, and soon I shall have the same trouble on IE. Google are getting above themselves. I have been sent on various runarounds recently by both Google and LiveJournal. If I have to give up on them, who knows what I shall finish up as? I do hope we can all meet up again when I have crost the bar.

  17. Recapping my lost comments: I use centering diphthongs where a [+tense -low] vowel is followed by /l/ or /r/: poor, pool, peer, peel, pawl/Paul, pour, pearl, but not pal, par, pol, pour, pell, pill.

  18. John, it seems you're on the wrong thread. That comment wasn't lost. A version of it appeared before the outage, and so did my reply to it, re the entry "What's this l like" of 10 May. They seem to have stayed there, but what did not was your reply to my post there of 11 May 16.48 and my post further to that. So I will take the liberty of reposting both of them there. I save a lot of this stuff, as one so often does find that Blogger loses things at the best of times.

  19. I'll assume that my message was deleted too then.

    John: "I have stress shift on long-ˈlived, short-ˈlived, though, so syllable count can't be the whole story."

    Hmm, I wonder if this may be because, in the history of your dialect, a once-disyllabic lived had shortened to liv'd only after horn'd was already spoken. I figure that this would be in turn because /-nd#/ is easier to accept than a more exotic word-final cluster /-vd#/ in our modern pronunciation. Such an earlier stage would explain your intriguing stress pattern.

    Any historical basis for my hunch?

  20. I'm a new poster here but someone with a strong background in linguistics and phonetics. My accent is basically GA; I was born in New Haven CT but moved to Tucson AZ at age 4 and lived there till age 17.

    I don't seem to have this stress shift in the examples you give except possibly "old-fashioned".


    -- a LONG-haired LAYabout
    -- This PEter, is he LONG-haired?

    -- a FINE-sounding SLOgan
    -- Their SLOgan was adMITTedly FINE-sounding



    or perhaps more like (with equal stress on both):


    The other way:

    OLD-fashioned CLOTHES

    seems possible but somewhat strange to me.

    Same goes for "These clothes are old-fashioned."


    -- a HALF-hearted AtTEMPT
    -- This attempt was HALF-hearted (or half-HEARTed)
    -- Half-HEARTed-ly (or HALF-hearted-ly)


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