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phonetics of verbal structures

asked 2015-03-19 14:37:39 -0400

anonymous user


I want to know the phonetic differences between verbal structures.

Group A

(1) He lived a misearble life.

(2) She dreamed a beautiful dream.

Group 2

(3) He took a walk in the park.

(4) He gave a cry.

As for (1)(2), they contain cognate objects, for (3)(4) they contain light verb structures.

I hold that there are differences about sentence stress between Group A and B.

For Group A, sentence stress falls on 'lived' & 'miserable', first 'dream' & 'beautiful'.

For Group B, 'walk'and 'cry' receive stress other than light verbs.

Therefore information focus differs in terms of the two kinds of structures.

I am not a native English speaker. I wonder whether my judgement is true. Have linguists already pointed out the difference?

I express my gratitude if any scholar could give me a reply.

Zhang Aipu (China)

(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)

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answered 2015-03-21 21:19:22 -0400

usagi5886 gravatar image

Like Geoffery Sampson, I'll assume you intended the stress patterns to be as follows (with stress marked in bold capital letters):

  1. He LIVED a MIS -earble LIFE.
  2. She DREAMED a BEAU -tiful DREAM.
  3. He took a WALK in the PARK.
  4. He gave a CRY.

As others have noted, there is significant variability in stress patterns in English. So, as a native speaker of American English, it's far from ungrammatical for me to produce (1) and (2) with no stress on 'lived/dreamed', and it's also perfectly fine for me to produce a stress on 'took/gave' in (3) and (4).

However, I think your question is indeed getting at something. The fact that the relevant words in (3)-(4) are light verbs means that they are probably less likely to be stressed. In a sense, on the content word to function word continuum, they would be slightly more toward the function word side (at least in their specific use here in these sentences).

This is just my introspection, though. In order to get good empirical evidence of this, you would probably need to do an actual elicited production study.

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answered 2015-03-19 14:39:16 -0400

anonymous gravatar image

I understand you are interested in finding out how prosody interacts with grammatical structures, in English. Prosody/grammar interaction is specific to specific dialects of any language, though you don’t say which variety of English your observations concern.

Three chapters in D. Hirst and A. Di Cristo’s edited book Intonation Systems should help you: the introductory chapter, and the chapters dedicated to British and American English, respectively. Book URL:

For a comprehensive overview of the forms and functions of intonation patterns in English and other languages, see also A. Cruttenden’s book Intonation. Book URL:

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

I also don't really understand your question.

There is a great deal of variation in intonation from one dialect to another and one person to another. The same person will also use intonation differently in the same sentence depending on context.

There are also several different ways of analysing intonation.

I don't understand how there could be two 'sentence stresses' in one sentence. I would have thought that the most unmarked pronunciation of (1) would be with (what I would call) the tonic stress on MIS (first syllable of 'miserable), in (2) on DREAM (and the same in "She had a beautiful DREAM"); in (3) on PARK and (4) on GAVE. But I can imagine many alternatives.

Anthea Fraser Gupta

I'm not quite sure that I understand what you are saying. When you write "For group B, 'walk' and 'cry' receive stress other than light verbs", do you mean "'walk' and 'cry' receive stress and the light verbs 'took', 'gave' don't receive stress"? If so, I'm afraid I disagree. I would have thought that 'took' and 'gave' would in natural English receive about the same amount of stress as 'lived' and 'dreamed'. The only way in which the various examples differ in stress pattern, I would think, is that they have different numbers of words and syllables.

Geoffrey Sampson

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Asked: 2015-03-19 14:37:39 -0400

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Last updated: Mar 21 '15