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Hammock principle

In quadrisyllabic words with final primary stress, secondary stress usually falls on the first syllable of the word, which leaves the second and third syllables unstressed. This violates the Alternating Stress Principle, which states the preference for an alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables. For Dutch, the phenomenon at hand was first described in Zwaardemaker and Eijckman (1928:265-273). It also holds for Frisian and is commonly referred to as the Hammock principle (Van Zonneveld (1985)):

Hammock principle
Syllables at the edges of prosodic words are stressed.


A few examples of the operation of the Hammock Principle, resulting in stressed syllables at the edges of prosodic words in violation of the Alternating Stress Principle, are given below:

ekonomy [ˌe:.ko:.no:.ˈmi] economy
aristokratysk [ˌar.rɪs.to:.'kra:.tisk] aristocratic
kompatibiliteit [ˌkom.pat.ti.ˌbi.li.ˈtɛit] compatibility

While the Hammock Principle correctly expresses the general preference for secondary stress on the first stressable syllable of a word (that is, a syllable not containing schwa), the situation is more complex at the right edge of words.

We find many items with (regular) penultimate main stress, as for instance in Trisyllabic words with the stress pattern (σˈσσ). Here, the Hammock Principle is violated twice, as no word edge is stressed at all. Yet this stress pattern occurs regularly and may even be the default one. According to a strict interpretation of the Hammock principle, (ˈσσˌσ) or (ˌσσˈσ) are expected to be the only possible patterns.

Other items with (regular) penultimate main stress are Quadrisyllabic words with the stress pattern (ˌσσˈσσ). This is a very common stress pattern as well, yet it violates the Hammock principle at the right edge of the word.

It might be conjectured, then, that as far as the placement of primary stress is concerned, the Three Syllable Window is the leading principle, whereas the placement of secondary stress obeys the Hammock Principle, in that stress commonly is on the leftmost stressable syllable.

  • Zonneveld, Ron van1985Word rhythm and the Janus syllableThe Structure of Phonological Representations IIDordrechtForis133-142
  • Zwaardemaker, H. & Eijckman, L.P.H1928Leerboek der PhonetiekHaarlemDe Erven Bohn
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