Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sentence Stress


If you've been studying English for a long time now, you probably know
that intonation can change the underlying meaning of a whole sentence.
Read on to find out which words are important to be pronounced well and clearly and which can be “swallowed”.

Languages, like French and Italian, are considered syllabic languages and each syllable is pronounced clearly, and takes up roughly the same amount of time. English is a stress-timed language and syllables may last different amounts of time. Only main words are stressed and given importance in pronunciation and small non-essential words are reduced and glided over.

Consider these two sentences:

The banks say their programs offer convenience.
I'm just calling to let you know that I'll be a little late to the game tomorrow night.

Both sentences need the same time to be pronounced, despite the second one containing more syllables. This is because they have the same amount of stressed words.
We usually stress content words, carrying the essential meaning, like nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs. When we pronounce these words we raise our voice there or may prolong the sound. The small connecting words, usually called grammatical or structure words, like auxiliary and modal verbs, pronouns, articles, and prepositions are not stressed but rather sound like one long unstressed word.
You can check this for yourself while you watch a movie in English, some TV show or the news or speak to a native speaker. Notice the way they stress the key words only and the rest of small words are scruncheddown. This will improve not only your listening comprehension but also your pronunciation, when you start stressing words correctly, yourself.

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Further reading:
Sentence Stress
Pronunciation Materials
Talking in Rhythm: How to Manage Stress of American English



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