Ray Parker on stress-timing

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Event date: 
Saturday, September 28, 2013 - 10:15
Blog - hancockmcdonald.com/blog

Ray Parker argued that, regarding stress-timing and rhythm, we have tended to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The notion that natural spoken English has a regular rhythm, he says, has been discredited by the research, but our response has been to abandon both that, and any attention to stress-timing.

  1. Ray demonstrated how English, by contrast to Italian, can fit any number of syllables within a given number of beats.
  2. A consequence of the above is that English is very schwa-rich because of the number of reduced syllables, and this is problematic  particularly for listeners.
  3. Ray elicited the content-function word distinction, and the rule that function words tend to be unstressed.
  4. He pointed out how rhythm may be superimposed, and often wrongly. Eg the limerick starter “There WAS a young lady…” with wrong stress on was.
  5. He demonstrated how and identical text in Spanish and European Portuguese seemed more difficult in Portuguese on account of it’s being stress-timed. Hence the similar difficulty with English.
  6. He demonstrated how different the experience of gap filling all the function words is from gap-filling all the content words. Native speakers do the former more easily because of their linguistic expectations, but learners find them more difficult because they are so weakly pronounced.
  7. Ironically, then, in listening, we should be focussing more on the ‘easy’. ‘little’ words rather than the big lexical items, as is more typically done in listening work.

More on the Bath Pron event here.


Thanks Ray. And Mark. I'm encouraged. 'Sszaklee wo' my speechstream exercises focus on! :-)

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