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Patterns of secondary stress in words with full vowels only

The occurrence of secondary stresses in simplex words varies according to word length and the position of primary stress. First of all, the number of syllables is relevant: a monomorphemic word needs to be at least trisyllabic to potentially have a secondary stress. Words of at least four syllables always have a secondary stress, words of five or more syllables can potentially have two secondary stresses, whereas words of six or more syllables have at least two secondary stresses. In general, every other syllable in a word is stressed (according to the Alternating Stress Principle).


An overview of the possibilities of the placement of secondary stress in words with a length from three to six syllables is provided below. Additional discussion of these patterns can be found in the following topics: Secondary stress in trisyllabic words, Secondary stress in quadrisyllabic words, Secondary stress in pentasyllabic words, and Secondary stress in words with six syllables). In general, the patterns are highly predictable – only words of six syllables with final primary stress show variation in that secondary stress is sometimes on the third and sometimes on the fourth syllable.

Table 1
Number of syllables from the right PPPAPU PPAPU PAPU APU PU U Examples
3 ˈσ σ ˌσ Kanada [ˈkan.nad.ˌda] Canadakolibry [ˈko:.li.ˌbri] hummingbird
3 σ ˈσ σ aroma [ar.ˈro:.ma] aromapyama [pi.'ja:.ma] pyjamas
3 ˌσ σ ˈσ kalory [ˌkal.lo:.ˈri] caloryteory [ˌte:.jo:.'ri] theory
4 σ ˈσ σ ˌσ Metusalim [me:.'ty.za.ˌlɪm] Methuselahtarantula [tar.ˈran.ty.ˌla] tarantula
4 ˌσ σ ˈσ σ eldorado [ˌɛl.do:.'ra:.do:] eldoradoavokado [ˌav.vo:.ˈka:.do:] avocado
4 ˌσ σ σ ˈσ ekonomy [ˌe:.ko:.no:.ˈmi] economyfonology [ˌfo:.no:.lo:.ˈɡi] phonology
5 ˌσ σ ˈσ σ ˌσ kafetaria [ˌkaf.fe:.ˈta:.ri.ˌja] cafeteria
5 ˌσ σ σ ˈσ σ abrakadabra [ˌa:.brak.kad.ˈda:.bra] abracadabraaristokratysk [ˌar.rɪs.to:.'kra:.tisk] aristocratic
5 ˌσ σ ˌσ σ ˈσ parallellogram [ˌpar.ral.ˌlɛl.lo:.ˈɡram] parallelogram
6 ˌσ σ ˌσ σ ˈσ σ parasitologysk [ˌpa:.ra:.ˌsi.to:.ˈlo:.ɣisk] parasitologicalautobiografysk [ˌɔw.to:.ˌbi.jo:.'ɡra:.fisk] autobiographical
6 ˌσ σ σ ˌσ σ ˈσ kompatibiliteit [ˌkom.pat.ti.ˌbi.li.ˈtɛit] compatibility
6 ˌσ σ ˌσ σ σ ˈσ dialektology [ˌdi.ja:.ˌlɛk.to:.lo:.ˈɡi] dialectologyyndividualist [ˌin.di.ˌfi.dy.ɥal.ˈlɪst] individualist
The leftmost secondary stress is usually on the first (stressable) syllable; word-initial secondary stress is blocked when the main stress is located on the second syllable. Secondary stress to the right of a primary stress only occurs when primary stress is on the antepenult syllable. As the Three-Syllable Window prohibits the location of primary stress further to the left and the Alternating Stress Principle) prohibits adjacent stresses in simplex words, antepenultimate primary stress is the only stress location that allows for a final secondary stress (which, again, can be regarded as an effect of the Alternating Stress Principle).

While the location of secondary stress is predictable in most cases, there is variation in words of six syllables: secondary stress is on the third syllable in some cases, and on the fourth in others. As to Dutch, this was observed in Hoeksema and Van Zonneveld (1984); it also holds for Frisian.

  • Hoeksema, J. & Zonneveld, R.M. van1984Een autosegmentele theorie van het Nederlandse woordaccentSpektator13450-472
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