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It's Been Said Before

By Orin Hargraves

It's Been Said Before "examines why certain phrases become clichés and why they should be avoided -- or why they still have life left in them."

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Sounds Fascinating

By J. C. Wells

How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.

Academic Paper

Title: The Variability of Compound Stress in English: structural, semantic, and analogical factors
Author: Ingo Plag
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Linguistic Field: Phonology; Semantics; Syntax
Subject Language: English
Abstract: It is generally assumed that noun–noun (NN) compounds in English are stressed on the left-hand member (e.g. cóurtroom, wátchmaker). However, there is a considerable amount of variation in stress assignment (e.g. silk tíe, Madison Ávenue, singer-sóngwriter), whose significance and sources are largely unaccounted for in the literature. This article presents an experimental study in which three competing hypotheses concerning NN stress assignment are tested. The stress patterns of novel and existing compounds, as obtained in a reading experiment with native speakers of American English, were acoustically measured and analyzed. The results show that there is indeed a considerable amount of variation in stress assignment, and that all three hypothesized factors, i.e. structure, semantics, and analogy, are relevant, though to different degrees. On a theoretical level, the findings strongly suggest that a categorical approach cannot be upheld and that probability and analogy need to be incorporated into an adequate account of stress assignment in noun-noun constructions. The article also makes a methodological contribution to the debate in showing that experimental studies using pitch measurements can shed new light on the issue of variable compound stress.


This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 10, Issue 1.

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