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Intonation and Stress

English is known as a stressed language; stressed languages are languages that are spoken with differing levels of emphasis for the different words and syllables in the sentences. This is a feature that syllabic languages do not share; syllabic languages are languages that are spoken with equal emphasis on every syllable. Speakers of the latter cannot understand why speakers of stressed languages seem to almost rush past certain words while slowing down and stressing on others.

To explain, consider the word ‘can’. When one uses this word positively, it becomes c’n; the vowel a goes almost unsaid, unstressed, as in We can go out on Sunday. Take, on the other hand, the negative form, ‘can’t’. This never goes unstressed; it always pronounced cahnt. The result is that saying We can go out on Sunday will take less time than saying We can’t go out on Sunday.

As a result of this, it is required of any English speaker that he or she be aware of the words that are stressed in English and those that aren’t. This will of course become clearer through regular conversations, but for now, you must remember:

  1. Content words are stressed. Content words include
    1. Nouns (e.g. Hari, Sunidhi)
    2. Normal verbs (e.g. run, build, shout)
    3. Adjectives (e.g. beautiful, large, friendly)
    4. Adverbs (e.g. loudly, quickly, randomly)
  2. Function words are unstressed. Function words include:
    1. Determiners (e.g. a, the, an)
    2. Auxiliary verbs (e.g. don’t, can, was)
    3. Conjunctions (e.g. and, but, as)
    4. Pronouns (e.g. he, she, us)