Friday, 18 March 2011

Exercises in the shifting sands of stress

Start with the following exercise. Students will easily grasp the system behind the shift in stress:

1. Have you ever been to Berlin?
2. Gorbachev was requested by Reagan to tear down the Berlin Wall.
3. How old are you? - I'm seventeen.
4. I've been living in London for seventeen years.
5. I like the sound of a clarinet.
6. He then played a clarinet solo.
7. His BMW was second-hand.
8. She bought a second-hand car.
9. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon.
10. He had his usual afternoon nap.
11. This part of the coast is very picturesque.
12. He gave a picturesque account of his trip to Madagascar.
13. Fancy going out for a Chinese?
14. It's difficult to find healthy food at a Chinese buffet.

Now shuffle these sentences and have your students read them again. Then present them with one member of a pair only. Have them thumb through LPD 3 and look for more words with shifting stress. John Wells marks those by attaching the symbol ◄ after the transcription. Additionally, ask them to read the information box on page 284 of LPD 3.


  1. Students and teachers of EFL may also read my two posts on stress shift:

  2. @Alex: (1) Thanks for the links. (2) Usage is indeed divided with some of those words. E.g. John Wells told me that he would say "he then played a clari'net solo." So, there you are!

  3. About clariˈnet solo...

    This is a NOUN+NOUN compound and like most of these the primary stress falls in the first noun. In the sentence you quote the final syllable of "clarinet" is almost certainly not only stressed, but also the intonational nucleus, aka tonic accent, and nuclei do not undergo stress-shift.

    In an exchange like this:

    A: What came after the clarinet and oboe duet?
    B: He then played a clarinet solo.

    in B we are likely to get the nucleus on SOlo and now we do get stress-shift in clarinet...

    He then played a ˈclarinet ˈSOlo.

    Hope that's clear.

  4. As a rider to the above...

    The only other NOUN+NOUN compound in the set of sentences is "Berlin Wall", but this is one of those compounds that has late late accent. The primary stress is on Wall, so stress-shift in Berlin is OK.

    The moral is: if you're practising stress-shift with your students AVOID NOUN+NOUN COMPOUNDS!

  5. @John Maidment: What about afternoon nap? Isn't that a noun-noun compound as well?

  6. Petr,

    You are right. Missed that one. It's a late accent compound like "Berlin Wall".