These days every teacher in Argentina is probably drowning under a pile of exams to correct, and I am no exception. But as one of the assignments I have been marking is actually testing this very topic, I wanted to draft a short post on possible connections between word stress and certain vocabulary areas. (Just to be reminded of how word stress can make us feel stressed! ;) )
I first came up with this idea a few years ago, after designing a vocabulary poster for my advanced learners at school, and then heard about this possible form of integration from Mg. Roxana Basso, who once made a few comments in passing on the connections between certain compound types and vocabulary groups, so I think this is a topic that requires some attention, as it has great classroom value.
I have claimed several times that the best way to decide on what pronunciation features to teach is by looking at our syllabus and textbook (a full related post here). So today's post will be an attempt to propose that there is a connection betweeen theme-based lexical sets and some basic word stress patterns for compound words.
****Brief Theoretical Overview
First things first, what is a compound word? This is not an easy question to answer. Compounding is a very productive process in English, and the frequent combination of two words making up a unique semantic unit usually undergoes a historical process. The combination is generally "born" as two separate words operating together, then they may become hyphenated, and then, become one word, even, through a process of monolithicity (Zenobi, 1987). There is always a debate as to whether to consider several combinations actual compounds, or just collocations, as the typical contrast between a DARKroom (a "true" compound) and a DARK ROOM (a phrase or collocation).
The truth is that combinations of two or three words in English that generally operate together may reveal different stress patterns (if you need a review of levels of stress, you may consult one of my previous posts here). We generally distinguish about single-stressed (left-stressed) vs double stressed compounds (or rightmost stressed) (Ortiz Lira,1998; Teschner and Whitley, 2004), that is, compounds in which the first item carries the primary stress versus those in which the primary stress is borne by the second item, with a secondary stress on the first item (whose location will depend as to whether there is stress shift or not...and that deserves a separate post!). A single-stressed compound could be READing glasses, and a double-stressed one, SLEEPing BEAUty.
Out of the dozen rules presented by theorists, the one that entertains me the most is precisely this ING + Noun rule, as it can lead to funny combinations, which have been illustrated in Haycraft (1994)'s funny pictures of a WALKing STICK (a stick that is walking) or a READing LAMP (a lamp that is reading!), for example, and likewise, below:
|Image credit: clickypix|
So a "SLEEPing pill" is a "pill for sleeping", whereas a "SLEEPing PILL" is what you see in the picture. ING+Noun combinations are single-stressed when they can be paraphrased with "for" (ING is a gerund), and double-stressed when they are paraphrased with "that" (then the ING form is a participle). So our ING+Noun combinations could be quite problematic at times, such as in SLIDing DOOR, which may be incorrectly associated with "a door for sliding" instead of a "door that slides".
There are some other patterns that may bring about some trouble for us in that they can present single- or double-stressed versions, and these are:
ADJ + N (typically double-stressed)
N + N (typically single-stressed)
Even though there are other tricky combinations, I am going to focus on these, since they are the most commonly found combinations in different vocabulary sets.
Adjective + Noun patterns are typically double-stressed, as they act as collocations. However, there are some combinations that have evolved from the individual meanings of their components, such as GREENhouse and The WHITE House, and which act collectively as nouns, and happen to be single-stressed. Another similar group is that of adjective + noun epithets, such as BLACKbeard or REDhead, which are called "bahuvrihi" compounds (Bloomfield, 1930), paraphrased as "a person having X" (more examples here). These compounds are exocentric, as we cannot consider any of the items to be a real head, nor in a relation of hyponymy. But then we have equally complex compounds beginning with "high", or "hot", which may present single- or double-stressed versions: compare HIGH coMMAND vs HIGH jump, or HOT poTAto vs HOT line. In general the rule is that if these combinations can be paraphrased as collocations, or as defining relative clauses, they tend to be double-stressed.
Noun + Noun patterns work differently, and we can perhaps make the following (very broad, exception-filled) generalisations:
|My own summary of rules based on Ortiz Lira (1998), Teschner and Whitley (2004) and Zenobi (1987, 1992)|
***Getting your vocabulary sets ready for word stress work
After we have selected a theme, we can start brainstorming all the words that come to mind and that we may want to teach our students in connection to the topic. We may collect our own list of items with the same pattern by consulting picture dictionaries (I looove the Oxford Duden, myself), but thanks to the Internet, we now have some online alternatives, with sound, even!
- Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary
- Language Guide. (I like this one, though I have to admit I find some of the recorded versions a bit doubtful, as some readings are oblique and produce double-stressed versions of some otherwise single-stressed compounds)
- English Picture Dictionary
- Online Picture Dictionary
- Online Picture Dictionary II
- And of course, the links to vocabulary posters you may find through Google Images.
As we collect our list, we may put together all the compound word items to find common patterns. As non-native speakers of English, we may have many questions, which is why I suggest checking the stress pattern with a pronunciation dictionary (LPD or CPD, the Oxford Learner's Dictionary) or online, Forvo, or YouGlish, as usual.
***Some (very broad) generalisations
Once you have your list of items, you may find that there are certain stress patterns which get repeated. I include a few generalisations below, but of course I invite you to make your own lists and collections!
In general, shops and buildings tend to be single-stressed, as N1 "type of" compounds or ING+N combinations(SHOE shop, BOOKstore, SHOPPing centre). There are some interesting double-stressed adjective + noun combinations, such as peDEStrian CROSSing. Street names finishing on "street" will be single-stressed, but all others will tend to be double-stressed: OXford street vs OXford CIRcus. Proper names of buldings -except those finishing in "building" will also tend to be double-stressed: emPIRE STATE building, vs TOWN HALL.
Public and Private TransportMost words connected to public transport tend to be "type of" combinations: RAILway station, TRAIN ticket, TUBE map, AIRport. However, a quick glance through the Tube map of London may reveal lots of interesting double-stressed placenames: COVent GARDen, CHARing CROSS. Parts of the car include "type of" compounds and ING+N combinations: WINDshield, STEERing wheel.
Food and DrinkYou will find a number of double-stressed compounds in menus, and the single-stressed exceptions as well: toMAto juice vs toMAto SOUP. However, I have heard some dodgy compounds in Britian, including CHOColate CAKE (yep, apparently both single- and double-stressed compounds are possible) and SAUSage roll.
Technology and the Internet
Many electrical appliances happen to have ING+N or N+N-er/-or combinations, such as WASHing machine, and VACuum cleaner.
Many electronic devices are made up of acronyms and acronym+noun combinations: CD and CD player, for example.
The world of the Internet is made up of many phrasal verbs: LOG IN, SIGN UP. There are interesting Adverb + Verb combinations which change their stress as verbs or nouns, DOWNLOAD vs DOWNload, for example.
School objects are generally "type of" or "instrument" compounds, also N+Ner combinations: PENcil case, PENcil sharpener, HISTory book. School subjects may be double-stressed as acronyms (e.g.: P.E.) and/or adjective+ N combinations: SOCial SCIences.
These are but some of the topic areas you may be introducing in your lessons. Working on compound word stress is yet another form of building students' awareness of how accentuation works in English, and how the overall melody of English is built. As I always say, the pronunciation of a word is constitutive of the lexical item, which means that we need to introduce these points in some way if we intend our students to use these words orally.
Hope you have found this post useful to see yet another way of integrating pronunciation work to vocabulary teaching. Happy compounding to you all!
Acknowledgements: I want to thank my 2011 Phonetics II students who first alerted me to these word stress-vocab connections (remember our Learning Guide.org word stress lessons!) and to this year's UNSAM students whose lovely end-of-course projects inspired me to draft this post.
Ortiz Lira, H (1998). Word stress and sentence accent. Cuaderno de la Facultad Nº 16, Serie Monografías Temáticas. Santiago: Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación
Zenobi, N. (1992). A Basic Guide to English Prosody for Spanish Students at Teacher Training Schools. Compiled by Alicia Gil and revised by Laura Mermoz. Buenos Aires: Instituto Superior del Profesorado Dr Joaquín V González.
Teschner, R., and S. Whitley (2004). Pronouncing English. A Stress-Based Approach with CD-ROM. Washington: Georgetown University Press.