The second thing that can happen when we stress content words and unstress functions words is that the rhythm of the sentence changes. In American-English, more time is taken to pronounce stressed content words. Un-stressed function words are pronounced together more quickly. Sometimes the function words are spoken together so quickly that they sound like one big word. Let’s look at the sentence  I have to go to work. An American will pronounce the un-stressed function words  “have” and “to”  together so quickly  that they sound like one word. I hafta go to work.

This is called a reduction. To reduce something is to make it smaller. In American-English, the time taken to pronounce function words is reduced. How is the time reduced? Time is reduced by using less pronunciation energy. Time is reduced by taking away many of the syllable stresses and by making the vowel sounds shorter.

Why are they reduced? Because the beat or rhythm between content words in American-English stays the same no matter how many functions words there are. It is as if American speakers want to hurry up and get to the most important words in a sentence.

Let's look at an exercise designed by Kenneth Beare for About.com: http://esl.about.com/od/speakingadvanced/a/timestress.htm

These two sentences have a different number of words.

The beautiful mountain appeared transfixed in the distance.

He can come on Sundays as long as he doesn't have to do any homework in the evening.

A native American-English speaker will say these two sentences in the same amount of time, about 4-5 seconds. How can this be? One sentence has 8 words and the other sentence has 18 words.

Remember, American English is a stress language. Content words are stressed and function words are unstressed. Plus, function words are spoken together quickly. This is how native American English speakers can keep the same amount of time between content words.

Most languages are syllabic languages. Each syllable in each word gets its proper stress. Nothing is reduced. In syllabic languages the rhythm comes from the number of syllables. In a stress language like American-English, the rhythm comes from keeping the beat between the content words the same.

Click the play button in the video window and practice pronunciaiton rhythm with Chris as he pronounces this set of sentences.

                     CLAP                 CLAP              CLAP
MICE                EAT           CHEESE
The MICE                EAT           CHEESE
The MICE                EAT     the CHEESE
The MICE will                EAT     the CHEESE
The MICE will have                EATEN     the CHEESE
The MICE might have been                EATING     the CHEESE

Lesson from:

                                     Sentence Stress Page 1 Back |  Next: Intonation

                          Program content & web design by Chris Opall © 2011.   Page last updated   May 5, 2012



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