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The phonetic properties of stress

The phonetic correlates of Afrikaans stress are, as in most languages: pitch, duration, intensity and vowel quality. Consequently, vowels in stressed syllables are usually produced with a higher tone and they are, in addition, often longer, louder and less reduced in terms of vowel quality than unstressed vowels. Words may be accented in a sentence in order to make them more prominent than, or to create a contrast with, other words in the rest of a sentence.

For a general overview and references to relevant literature, see the topic on the phonetic properties of stress in Dutch.


Stress is associated with prominence. Prominence is mostly achieved by greater physiological effort being exerted by the speaker. Such an increase in effort in the production of a syllable, especially in the production of its nucleus (vowel), may, as mentioned in the previous section, show the following characteristics:

  1. It may make the nucleus longer;
  2. It may make it louder;
  3. The fundamental frequency (F0) of the nucleus may be raised; and/or
  4. The vowel (i.e. nucleus) may be more peripheral in terms of the traditional vowel space and, in general, be less susceptible to reduction.

Note, however, that stress is a combination of factors, and no single factor is a necessity for the perception of stress. Likewise, one cannot simply assume that greater stress corresponds to some specific level of pitch and/or amplitude, length or quality.

The characteristics mentioned above have articulatory, acoustic and perceptual correlates. These properties of stress are realised by specific articulatory efforts, have particular perceptual correlates as well as definite acoustic correlates.

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