The Stress System in Spanish
There are two things that are important about stress. One is to get the two stresses placed on the right syllables. The other is to make each of them the right strength. Let us examine these two aspects one at a time.
The following pairs of words differ only in the placement of stress, and, as you can see, the difference in meaning that results is considerable.
A. Exercises on minimal stress contrasts
B. Exercises on minimal stress contrasts
In short, you can be rather drastically misunderstood if you fail to place the stresses correctly when you speak. This, of course, is also true in English, but not so obviously true in view of the greater complexity of the English stress system. We have in English also a fair number of items which can have the stresses arranged in more than one way:
Since we do not have as many nice neat minimal pairs in English as there are in Spanish , we may at first be diceived into thinking that Spanish uses stress in a way that English does not, but this is not true.
The other important thing to learn in drilling on stress is to stress syllables with the right amount of force or strength. It is at this point that the four stresses of English interfere with the two stresses of Spanish. Let us first learn what the four stresses of English are. Listen to yourself say this phrases:
Which syllable is loudest? el- in elevator. Let us indicate this by writing an acute accent over the e.
Which syllable is the next loudest? op- in operator. We'll write it with a circumflex accent.
Then we can hear that -vat- and -rat- are about equally loud, but softer than op-, so we will write a grave accent:
The syllabless that are left over are the weakest, so we write:
In doing this, we have marked four levels of stress, which we can label:
This represents a great many different levels of stress, but every English speaker (native) uses all four quiet regularly and unconsciously every time he makes an utterance.
Now, how do these four English stresses affect your Spanish? If we remember that Spanish only has TWO stresses, then it seems likely that you will get FOUR mixed up with these two, with the result you will put too much stress on some syllables, not enough on others. The correspondence between the English stresses and those of Spanish is roughly this:
Let us look back now at the basic sentences and see if any of the difficulties you had with then can be traced to this difference between the two languages.
Now because we consider this a very inportant point indeed, and because it is a point which is rarely drilled elsewhere, we have put together the following long list, arranged according to the number of syllables and placement of stresses. Until you can say these using only the two stresses that are marked instead of the four of English you cannot expect to go on ang learn complex utterances successfully. Time spent practicing these, therefore, will be very well spent.
C. Exercises on contrasting stress patterns
D. Exercises on contrasting stress patterns
You probably noticed, in listening to and imitating these items, that they seemed to be pronounced faster than English words of similar length. Actually they are not, but there is a big difference in rhythm which make it seem that they are. This difference in rhythm can be indicated something like this, using longer lines to indicate longer syllables and shorter lines to indicate shorter syllables:
Thus the Spanish way is to make every syllable almost equally long, giving a machine-gun effect, whereas the English way is to make the louder syllables longer. The two languages divide up their time differently.
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