Wednesday, September 23, 2009

English Syllable Stress

I decided to analyze the syllable length and stress of words in an English text. The text which I used is from the sample pages of Synergy, an English course for students in East Asia. I made a few modifications to the text so that it would be 100 words long and have 70 words of one syllable and 30 words of more than one.

Here is the English text which I analyzed:

I thought I’d just send you a quick note and let you know how I’m doing. I’m enjoying my new job very much, and all my colleagues are very friendly, but I have to work really long hours. Some days I start at eight and finish at about seven. I don’t really have a lunch break, but we order in sandwiches. At the moment I’m working on a new advertising campaign for toothpaste. I’m busy meeting clients and writing reports. How about you? How is your work in Tokyo? I’m looking forward to seeing you at the conference in August.

The syllable length of the words in this text is as follows:

monosyllabic 70/100 (70%)
disyllabic 27/100 (27%)
trisyllabic 2/100 (2%)
tetrasyllabic 1/100 (1%)

Next I analyzed the stress of the words more than one syllable in length. The disyllabic words in the text are:

doing, very, colleagues, very, friendly
really, hours, finish, about, seven
really, order, moment, working, campaign
toothpaste, busy, meeting, clients, writing
reports, Tokyo, looking, forward, seeing
conference, August

I analyzed "hours" as a disyllabic word but for some speakers it is monosyllabic. I also analyzed "Tokyo" as disyllabic although for many it is trisyllabic. In these 27 words, 24 have first-syllable stress and 3 have second-syllable stress. 88.9% of these words are stressed on the first syllable. The second syllable is stressed in only 11.1% of cases. The words with second-syllable stress are
"about", "campaign" and "reports".

The text has only two trisyllabic words. They are "enjoying" and "sandwiches". The former has second-syllable stress and the latter has first-syllable. The sample size here is too small to draw conclusions.

The only tetrasyllabic word in the text is "advertising". Here the stress is on the first-syllable. Again the sample size is too small to draw conclusions.

Based on the text, it appears that the majority of English words are monosyllabic. Monosyllabic words which appear more than once are the conjunctions "and" and "but", the pronoun "I", possessive adjective "my", articles "a" and "the" and prepositions "at" and "in".

The text also appears to indicate that most disyllabic words have first-syllable stress. Of the 27 disyllabic words in the text, 24 are stressed on the first syllable. Because only three words in the text have more than two syllables, no conclusions can be obtained about the stress of words with more than two syllables. However, two of the three words with three or more syllables have first-syllable stress, making it possible to speculate that first-syllable stress may be common in all words, but more evidence is needed to make this determination.

My analysis of the text suggests that the majority of English words are monosyllabic and that disyllabic words are usually stressed on the first syllable. The text did not include enough trisyllabic nor tetrasyllabic words for analysis. However, the fact that the text included few trisyllabic and tetrasyllabic words provides evidence that they are relatively rare in English.

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