CSD 232

Syllables, Stress, Vowels, and Diphthongs
Study Guide

1. Every word has one or more syllables.

2.  Every syllable has a syllabic peak. There are three kinds of syllabic peaks:
       (a) Vowel
       (b) Diphthong
       (c)  Syllabic consonant (a syllabic version of the sounds [l], [n], [m].  Syllabic [r] is represented by the vowel schwar.)

3.  Each syllable in a word has a certain level of stress. Linguists differ on how many levels of stress are needed to describe English. In Shriver and Kent's textbook, Clinical Phonetics, 3rd Edition, three levels are recognized:  Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary (indicated by a 1, 2, or 3, respectively, over the symbol for the syllabic peak.

4.  The three physical attributes (or correlates) of stress are
       (a)  Increased intensity (louder);
       (b)  Higher pitch (higher fundamental frequency, F0); and
       (c)  Longer duration.
       This is the general situation.  Sometimes one or another of these physical attributes may be absent.

5.  We use the term "VANA words" to refer to the Verbs, Adverbs, Nouns, and Adjectives   We use "nonVANA" to refer to words that belong to other parts of speech, such as pronouns ("I", "he", "his", "her", etc.), articles ("a", "an", "any", "the", etc.), demonstratives ("this", "that", "those"), and prepositions ("of", "to", "in", etc.). Names ("Mary", "Ashley", "Jim", "Lansing") are proper nouns and therefore are considered VANA words.

6. Every VANA word has exactly one syllable with primary stress.  It follows that for VANA words with only one syllable (monosyllabic VANA words), the one syllable of the word has primary stress.

7.  Grammatical or Functor words (nonVANA words) tend not to have primary stress.  They often have variants which are shortened or with vowels reduced to schwa.

8.  The mid-front and mid-back vowels in English are usually pronounced as pure vowels when they are unstressed and are diphthongized when they occur in syllables with primary stress.

9. The rhotic vowels (the "er" sounds) have different symbols for their (primary) stressed and unstressed versions.

10.  The schwa (mid-central nonrhotic unstressed vowel) is used for the "uh" sound when it is in a syllable that does not have primary stress, but in a primary stressed syllable, the "uh" sound is represented by the caret (low-mid central vowel).

11.  Note that a diphthong can occur in an unstressed syllable, although the two diphthongs for the mid-front and mid-back vowels are always in stressed syllables.