American English Phonetics

Another American English Faculty Project

There are quite a number of words in English that have two stresses. An example is assimilation, which is pronounced rather as if it consisted of more than one word, that is, like aˈsimmaˈlation (/əˈsɪməleɪʃn/). Usually, the first of these stresses is on the first syllable of the word, as in refugee /ˈrɛfjəd͡ʒiː/ above. The rhythm that Dutch learners would be inclined to use here coincides with that of the GA speaker. But sometimes this extra word stress comes on the second syllable of the word, and this leads to a rhythmic pattern that many Dutch learners find extremely difficult to produce.

To test yourself here, say the word interpretation: if you pronounced it wrong, the rhythmic pattern was like Dutch in de gemeente; if you pronounced it right, it was like Dutch ’n derde meting. That is, Dutch learners regularly put this early stress on the first syllable, and pronounce assimilation like Assy Malation, i.e. AN */ˈɛsɪməˈle.ʃən/. Or again, the word familiarity is often mispronounced as Family Arrity, while it should be pronounced like for Milly Arrity, that is /fəˈmɪliˈɛrɪti/ (see also the abstract of a paper by J. Windsor Lewis in the IATEFL Newsletter of June 1979, no. 58, pp. 18-19).

Although you may find it very difficult to acquire the English stress pattern, the rule for the English words is simple enough. You will have noticed that we are again dealing with derived words, the affixes in this case being –tion and –ity. The important thing to remember is that in addition to the stress on the syllable before the affix, the accent of the base is retained in the derived word. Because it is asˈsimilate, it is asˈsimiˈlation, and because it is faˈmiliar, it is faˈmiliˈarity.

Here are some more examples:

asˈsociate asˈsociˈation /əˈsoʊsiˈeɪʃn/
conˈsider conˈsideˈration /kənˈsɪdəˈreɪʃn/
iˈdentify iˈdentifiˈcation /aɪˈdɛntɪfɪˈkeɪʃn/
inˈterpret inˈterpreˈtation /ɪnˈtɜrprəˈteɪʃn/
proˈnounce proˈnunciˈation /prəˈnʌnsiˈeɪʃn/
reˈspectable reˈspectaˈbility /rɪˈspɛktəˈbɪlɪti/
ˈspiritual ˈspirituˈality /ˈspɪrɪtjuˈælɪti/

In addition to the affixed –tion and –ity, which are particularly frequent in this type of word, there are many others that occur:

aˈpology aˈpologetic /əˈpɑːləˈd͡ʒɛtɪk/
auˈthority auˈthoriˈtarian /əˈθɔrɪˈtɛriən/
ˈcharacter ˈcharacteˈristic /ˈkɛrəktəˈrɪstɪk/
exˈperiment exˈperiˈmental /ɪkˈspɛrɪˈmɛntl/

The rule of course cannot be applied when there is no base, as in encyclopedia /ɪnˈsaɪkləˈpiːdiə/, heterogeneous /ˈhɛtəroʊˈd͡ʒiːnjəs/.