stress in CUBE

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There are several ways in which CUBE’s marking of stress differs from that in traditional Gimsonian transcriptions. The following chart summarizes the differences.



Stress is a property which marks some syllables as stronger than others. In billow, the first syllable is more prominent than the second, while the reverse is true in below. Traditional dictionaries do not mark stress in one-syllable words, because there are no prominence differences within the word. CUBE, on the other hand, marks one-syllable content words as stressed, because they are more prominent than the function words with which they can occur. The lie, for example, has exactly the same stress pattern as below. The noun lie is just as stressed as -low, while the definite article the is just as unstressed as be-. CUBE does not mark stress on the so-called ‘weak forms’ of function words, eg the article a(n). Such words also occur in ‘strong’ forms, for example as citation forms. CUBE lists ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ forms as separate entries. Eg both can kán and can kən, both for fóː and for .

place of stress mark

It is open to debate whether stress is a property of a whole syllable or of the vowel which makes up the nucleus of a syllable. The IPA convention is to place the stress mark before the stress-bearing syllable. However, the location of syllable boundaries is also debatable; for instance, the Cambridge online dictionary has emp.ty and cor.dite, while the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary has empt.y and cord.ite. We want to let our users search for stress patterns without specifying syllable divisions, so cube encodes stress as a property of vowels. Users can search for stressed vowels by entering them in the soundwindow in upper case.

shape of stress mark

The vertical ticks which are the official IPA stress marks are not well suited to use above vowel symbols. CUBE therefore follows a well established alternative tradition in linguistics by using an acute accent for stress in the default phonetic transcription (blue). (The official IPA usage of acute and grave accents is for lexical tone, but since English is not a tone language and does not mark pitch patterns in dictionaries, there is no potential conflict.) If you choose to display traditional Gimsonian transcriptions (by ticking ‘Gim’ under systems), these will show stress with the IPA vertical ticks.

degrees of stress

In any (non-weak) English word, one vowel will be the location of the ‘tonic’ (or ‘nuclear’) pitch-accent when the word is said in citation form, as an isolated phrase. This is standardly referred to as primary or tonic stress.

However, it is possible for an English word to have more than one stress. For example, in kangaroo, the first and last vowels are both stressed, but the final stress is the primary/tonic: this will be the location of the tonic pitch-accent when the word is said in isolation. For this reason, many dictionaries use a ‘primary' stress mark [ˈ] on the final syllable and a ‘secondary’ stress mark [ˌ] on the first syllable: ˌkangaˈroo. (Alternatively a grave accent is often used: kàngaróo.)

Since it is predictably the last stress in a word which may receive the tonic pitch-accent, CUBE encodes multiple stresses identically in its default transcription: káŋgəɹʉ́w.

Not all posttonic syllables are equally lacking in stress: to put it another way, posttonic syllables may differ in prominence. For example, in appetite, the final syllable is more prominent than the medial syllable; it may be said to have an additional, ‘posttonic stress’. By definition, however, posttonic syllables may not be pitch-accented. Dictionaries differ considerably in the extent to which they mark posttonic stresses. American dictionaries indicate them frequently, with the secondary stress mark, eg ˈappeˌtite. The stress on the final syllable prevents the occurrence of AmE t-voicing or ‘flapping’ on the first t of -tite.

BrE sources are more sparing in marking posttonic stresses, and some mark none at all. cube follows this convention; as a consequence, cube’s transcriptions are in some cases partially indeterminate as to the stress pattern. However, this may be revised in future.

Lastly, note that the FLEECE and GOOSE vowels occur in many unstressed positions where earlier BrE had the KIT and FOOT vowels, eg chimney, coffee, react, graduate (read more…) In the period when this change was establishing itself, many BrE dictionaries adopted the special extra symbols i and u (‘schwee’ and ‘schwoo’) to indicate the acceptability of either the older or the newer pronunciation. Since fleece and goose have firmly displaced kit and foot in these words, the i and u symbols now mean ‘unstressed fleece’ and ‘unstressed goose’: thus traditional dictionaries transcribe the final vowel of trustee as because it is stressed, but the final vowel of trusty as i because it is unstressed. CUBE avoids this widely misunderstood use of extra vowel symbols to indicate stress differences, both in its default phonetic transcription (blue) and in its Gimsonian transcription.

searching for stress

Stressed vowels should be searched for by means of upper case letters. Examples:

spellingASCII search codingdefault trad. (‘Gim’)
bat bAt bátbæt
record (n)rEkoHdɹɛ́koːdˈrekɔːd
record (v)rikOHdɹɪkóːdrɪˈkɔːd

Lower case vowel letters generally match both unstressed and stressed vowels. However, if you tick the ‘watch stress’ box, a lower case vowel letter will find strictly unstressed vowels. Entering any upper case vowel letter in the transcription window effectively switches on the ‘watch stress’ parameter, so upper case vowel letters find stressed vowels and lower case vowel letters find unstressed vowels.

Search:Finds:Does not find:
transcription bat
watch stress
acrobat ákɹəbat, bat bát,
combat kɔ́mbat
transcription bat
watch stress
acrobat ákɹəbat,
combat kɔ́mbat
bat bát
transcription bAt
watch stress
bat bátacrobat ákɹəbat,
combat kɔ́mbat

You can use several symbols for vowel categories in your searches. The symbols !v, !y, !v:, and !d match either stressed or unstressed vowels (unless the ‘watch stress’ box is ticked, as explained above), while !V, !Y, !V:, and !D match only stressed vowels.