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Chihiro: Hi everyone, I'm Chihiro. Stress in American English
Ryan: Hi everyone, I'm Ryan, and thanks for joining us again. We hope you find this lesson just as informative as the previous lessons. We're moving on now to sentence stress, so we're moving on to the bigger picture in the English language.
Chihiro: Right. You might find this lesson interesting even if you already have a solid knowledge in English. If you don't, it will give you a head start.
Ryan: Now, as you may or may not know, English is a stress language. This means that every word has at least one syllable that is more audible than the rest of the syllables. A syllable being the part of a word which can be said in one beat.
Chihiro: When we stress the wrong syllable, the word may be harder to understand. Also, stress only falls on vowels and not consonants.
Ryan: For example, the word "star" has one-syllable, and one stress. Over the "a". "Star"
Chihiro: A two syallabic word such as "lesson" also has one stress. This one is on the first syllable. "Lesson"
Ryan: Another two syllabic word is "forget". This one has a stress on the second syllable. "Forget"
Chihiro: Now where would the stress be on a word such as "calendar"? Can you guess? It's on the first one again. "Calendar".
Ryan: The sound that we emphasize the most is the stress, and it also is the syllable that lasts the longest for many words.
Chihiro: Now, when the stress is changed, it could change the word itself. Here are examples of words with functional difference when we change the stress
Ryan: "increase" is a noun, and "increase" is a verb
Chihiro: Right, the noun "increase" has the stress on the first syllable, and the verb "increase" has the stress on the second syllable.
Ryan: And here's an example of how sometimes it's hard to understand different accents.
Chihiro: The word is pronounced "aluminum" in American English, but I believe the accent falls on the third syllable for British and sounds like "aluminium". There's also a spelling difference too!
Ryan: Mmm... interesting! That's why sometimes it's interesting to see an American and British person talk. And see how they can misunderstand each other. And then get frustrated. It's pretty funny. But anyways, some words may have a secondary stress as well, such as the word "pronunciation." It may seem as though this word has two stresses, but the "a" is the main stress, and the "u" is the secondary stress. So once again, that's "pronunciation".
Chihiro: It's usually the longer words that have a secondary stress. The secondary stress is softer, but you can hear it better than the other sounds. Now, onto the bigger picture. In a sentence, nouns, verbs, and adjectives are known to be content words in a sentence, which means that they have a meaning on their own. We usually hear the stress in these words in a sentence, which sets the rhythm of a sentence.
Ryan: For example, in the sentence
Chihiro: "I saw a friend last weekend."
Ryan: "saw," "friend," and "weekend" are the content words, at least the way Chihiro said it. Thus, hearing the sentence as a whole, those are the words that have the most audible stress. The other words, "I," "a," and "last" are not as important; therefore, we do not stress them as much when we are speaking.
Chihiro: This does not mean that we don't say them, but we just don't emphasize them as much. Of course, depending on what you want to convey, the stress of the sentence may change. If Ryan says,
Ryan: "I saw a friend last weekend."
Chihiro: You can tell that he's trying to make it clear that it was "last" weekend and not any other weekend.
Ryan: So in this sense, the content words can change according to what I want to convey.
Chihiro: You might think, how do people understand the unstressed words if you can barely hear them? If you think of the unstressed sounds as the minor characters in a play, and the stressed as the leading roles, then you can see how they both need each other. The story wouldn't make sense without the minor characters, yet most of your attention is on the main character.
Ryan: Stress is an important aspect to know and understand when learning English. It will also set the stage for the next lesson.
Chihiro: If your native tongue is not a stress language, then it may be hard to pronounce words as well as hear and understand them at first.
Ryan: But once you recognize the difference, you will know what to look out for and what to practice.
Chihiro: You can take out a book and read the sentences out loud for practice. Which do you think are the content words? When you practice reading out loud, you might want to exaggerate the content words.
Ryan: See you all soon!
Chihiro: Bye for now!