The English Rhythm
|The English Rhythm|
by Neetu Mishra
- The Rhythm
- The Stress-timed Rhythm
- The Syllable-timed Rhythm
- Content Words
- Words with varying number of Syllables
- Rules for Word Stress
- Functional Words
- Weak Forms
- The Falling Tone
- The Rising Tone
- Practicing English Rhythm with English Nursery Rhymes
- Practice Test
- References and Further Readings
- Answers to Self-Assessment Questions
In the previous units you studied about the IPA .You became aware of consonants and vowel sounds. Now you will read about the rhythm , in particular the English Rhythm . In order to be able to speak intelligible English and to be able to comprehend what is being spoken you need to be aware of the various aspects of the English Rhythm. A failure to understand it may lead to breakdown of communication. Your awareness of the sound system will help you in checking out correct pronunciation of words in a pronouncing dictionary.
In the present unit you will get to know the basics of the English Rhythm , you will be reading about :
- the rhythm ,its definition and types
- the words which are stressed ( content words )
- the words which do not get stressed ( functional words )
- the strong and weak forms of functional words
- the intonation pattern ( falling and rising tune)
Besides , you will be involved in frequent short answer questions (SAQ) , to help you to check your progress. Interesting activities have also been included in this unit , you should not skip them , rather do them with enthusiasm , as it helps you 'using' the content covered in this unit.
| English Rhythm|
Read the definition of rhythm , given below:
The two most common rhythm noticed in the languages spoken around the world are :
- Syllable – timed Rhythm and
- Stress - timed Rhythm
|Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1|
| 1.1What is the meaning of 'Rhythm'?
1.2Name the two most commonly occuring rhythm in languages spoken around the world .
In languages with this type of rhythm , there is a regular occurence of stressed syllables.
Consequently the unstressed syllables are uttered quickly or eaten up . This regular occurence of stressed syllables gives English its characteristic lucid rhythm .
The length of the sentences doesn't affect its rhythm , i.e. a simple sentence such as :
Look at these sentences :
and a fairly long one, such as :
will take the same time when spoken with stress timed rhythm . All the bold words are the ones which are stressed , whereas the rest are uttered quickly to fill up the gap .Thus ,the time duration between 'going ' and 'Delhi/place'(sentence 1 and 2 )will remain same regardless of the fact that there is one word in between (sentence 1) ortwo words (sentence 2 ).
Let us look at another example:
Read this sentence :
People have been cursing me for choosing to write on this topic.
The words in bold are stressed, put emphasis on them and huddle the unstressed words quickly .
Funny ,isn't it ? But that is how you will be able to get a hold over the English rhythm .SO PRACTICE !
Now , listen to this recitation of Wordsworth's famous poem The Solitary Reaper.Try to read along.[The poem ]
|Syllable - timed Rhythm|
By now you must have guessed that in syllable-timed rhythm there is a regular time interval between each syllable ,Languages such as Hindi , are syllable - timed . That means that an equal time interval is observed between two syllables. Now , you know why Indians speak English in a different way ? They unknowingly make use of syllable timed rhythm while speaking English , uttering all syllables whether stressed or unstressed at equal interval of time.
Listen to the recitation of Hindi/Urdu poem ,Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna[Tamanna] . Note how each syllable is pronounced clearly , with equal stress, there is no skipping of words in between.
An interesting Hindi rendition is provided in this link to the famous nursery rhyme BaBa Black Sheep [hindiraagbaba]
In order to master the English rhythm it is very essential for us to know which words are stressed and which words are not stressed . In the next section we will know about these words.
| Content Words|
You must have noticed that while listening to English songs or dialogues in English , you are able to pick up only those words which sound prominent as compared to others . These words are generally ,
such as paper , dictionary...
such as loud , beautiful...
such as hurriedly,slowly...
such as some , that...
Action Words/ Main Verbs
such as go , sing , listen ...
These words which are pronounced strongly in connected speech , are called Content or Lexical Words.
|Words with varying number of Syllables|
In the examples cited above , you must have noticed that these content words have one /two or more than two syllables. If you wish to be able to speak and comprehend good English conversations you should know which syllable in the word is to be stressed , otherwise you may be misunderstood . For ,whether it is a mono-syllabic ,di- syllabic , tri- syllabic or a poly - syllabic content word , 'only one' syllable is stressed .
While speaking in English , one has to be careful , which word in the sentence is being stressed and which syllable of that word is being stressed . Because any mistake in this area will lead to miscommunication.For instance :
pre'sent means to present something (verb/action) on the other hand stress on the first syllable i.e
'present means a gift ( noun/thing).
Would you like to be pre'sent/ (the) 'present in the meeting ?
The choice is yours !
Look at the sentences given below :
- Can I eat 'sandwich ,'mother ?
- Can I eat sand'wich ,'mother ?
While Sentence 1 communicates the meaning that the child is hungry and wants to eat sandwich , in the second sentence the stress on 'wich' creates confusion (which ?).
Can you think of the possible confusion arising due to a mis/dis- placement of stress in the disyllabic word , object ?
The obvious error is in the use of the word as a noun /verb .
This brings us to a very important aspect , that of rules for determining which syllable in a word is to be stressed . It may seem confusing and complicated to you , but remember with out practicing the word stress you can never realize your dreams of a near perfect skill in speaking and comprehending English rhythm. The only mantra is your will and practice. So , get ready for an exciting over view of word stress rules .
|Rules of Word Stress|
Given below is a table which will give you some idea as to which syllable in a word should be stressed while speaking. It is in no way an exhaustive list , exceptions are always there.The only way to learn word stress is its constant , conscious use .
|Rules for Word Stress||Stress on||Example 1||Example 2|
|Words with weak prefix||Root||a'bove||com'pose|
|Di - syllabic Nouns/Adjectives||First||'holy||'window|
|Di -Syllabic Verb||Second||ob'ject||pre'sent|
|Words ending in -esce,-ese,-ique,-ete,-ette,-ee,-ade,-eer,-aire,-ain'||last/final/ultimate syllable||question'naire||ga'zette|
|Words ending in -ic,-ial,-ian,-ion,-ious,-ental,-ential'||Penultimate syllable||'dental||mu'sician|
|Words ending in -ate,-ise/-ize,-fy,-ty,-crat,-cy,-phy,-gy,-graph,-meter'||Ante penultimate syllable||'bureaucrat||'phtograph|
|'You should consult a pronouncing dictionary to find out which syllable of a word is stressed .'|
| Functional Words|
Functional words or Structural words are those words in a sentence which are not stressed and are uttered quickly . These are the words which you find difficult to follow while listening to English songs and dialogues. This category of words includes :
such as a , an , the
such as may , can , should
such as and , as soon as , but
such as on, above , under
such as I , you , he , she
such as his , him, their and
such as some , many , that , these
| If you need more practice in content and functional words ,check this link ContentnFunctionalwords
| Weak Forms|
Now we have before us another interesting and crucial aspect of English rhythm . So far you have studied that the Content words are stressed and uttered more clearly than the functional words which have to be uttered quickly so as to maintain the characteristic rhythm of English.
While speaking , these unstressed words can be realized in two forms : weak form or strong form . A knowledge and ability to make use of the weak forms of unstressed syllables is very essential if you want to catch the English rhythm .
Given below is a table containing the weak forms of some of the most commonly used functional words with examples.Read them aloud and practice.
Strong and Weak forms of Prepositions ,Articles , Conjunctions and Auxiliary Words
|to||tu:||tə||I want to sleep|
|for||fɔ:(r)||fə(r)||This pen is for you|
|from||frɒm||frəm||Where are you from ?|
|into||ɪntu:||ɪntə||The boy jumped into the lake|
|of||ɒv||ə(v)||Vrindavan is on the bank of Yamuna.|
|as||æz||əz||…as white as cotton…|
|at||æt||ət||She is at the door.|
CONJUNCTIONS AND PRONOUNS
|Word||Strong Form||Weak Form||Example|
|and||nd||ənd, ən, n̩||Sonia and Hari are playing.|
|but||bʌt||bət||But for the sugarthe tea was good.|
|than||ðæn||ðən||Ravi is taller than Suman.|
|that||ð¾t||ðət||That is my class.|
|you||ju:||jə||Would you like to join us ?|
|your||ʊə, jɔ:||j\(r)||What is your name?|
|her||hɜ:(r)||(h)ə(r)*||Give this assignment to her.|
|Word||Strong Form||Weak Form||Example|
|a||æ, eɪ||ə*||Bring me a cup of tea.|
|an||æn||ən||He is having an orange for break fast.|
|the||ði:||ðə, ði||This is the best film of the year.|
|Word||Strong Form||Weak Form||Example|
|do||du:||də||Where do you live?|
|are||ɑ:||ə(r)*||Jai and Mehak are here.|
|was||wɒz||wəz||I was quite interested.|
|were||wɜ:||wə(r)||They were bored|
|would||wʊd||wəd||She said she would be here.|
|could||kʊd||kəd||What could I do?|
|should||ʃʊd||§əd||They should be here by now.|
|can||kæn||kən||What can you do with it?|
|must||mʌst||məs(t)||You must be a bit more patient.|
|Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -5|
| Give the weak form of the following functional words :
Along with your awareness of content words , rules of stress in these words , weak forms of functional words , there is one more essential thing to clear your path to the mastery of English Rhythm , and that is Intonation or sentence stress.
For beginners , an awareness of the two basic tunes would suffice , these have been discussed separately in subsequent subsections .You should note the usage of each tone carefully , for misplaced usage creates gross break down of communication.For instance:
Look at this sentence :
Go and open the window .
When this statement is spoken with a rising tune it becomes a request ,
whereas when the falling tune is used for it , it becomes an order .
The same case happens with the usage of polite words such as , please and thank you .
Your usage of the tune will either make your listener pleased / angry .
|The Falling Tune|
This tune consists of a fall in the pitch from a high level to low level.
It is normally used in :
- Ordinary statements made without any implications
- Questions beginning with a question - word such as what , how,where,why etc. when used in a neutral way
- Question tags : when the speaker expects the listener to agree with her.
- Rhetorical Questions
|The Rising Tune|
This tune consists of a rise in the pitch of the voice from a low level to a high level.
It is normally used in :
- Incomplete sentences
- Polarity type Questions which demand a yes/no answer
- Non-polarity (wh-type)questions when said in a warm / friendly way
- Polite requests
- Question tags : when the speaker gives his/her listener the option to disagree with him/her
- Repetition Questions
- Expected Responses
- Alternative Questions
- Afterthought , doubt , hesitation
- Greetings , partings, apologies ,encouragement
| Activity 1
Now its time for practice.Given below is a link to an excersize for practicing Intonation. Listen to the sentences carefully and do as directed.
| Practicing English Rhythm |
Children’s nursery rhymes and songs provide excellent materials for practicing rhythm.
Given below are a few links to my favourite English Nursery rhymes and songs to help you practice the English rhythm.Listen carefully , for the first step towards good spoken English is the ability to comprehend the text being read. Also , you should train your ears to the accent and rhythm , thereafter YOU should imitate and repeat for practice.
Now , its time for some activities .Ensure that you work out thse activities. Do not skip them . Enjoy the rhythm !
|I believe, I can fly|
- In this unit we studied about the English rhythm its definition and types viz.
- Stress timed rhythm and
- Syllable timed rhythm
- We also discussed the occurrence of stressed (content) and unstressed
( functional)words in connected speech.
- In content word , we talked about words with varying syllables :
- Mono syllabic<br/.
- Di syllabic
- Tri syllabic and
- Poly syllabic words
- Besides , we also saw the rules for Word stress.
- Then , we discussed the Functional words in speech and their strong and weak forms.
- Finally we dicussed the intonation pattern in sentences , particularly :
- The Faliing Tune and
- The Rising Tune
I Do as directed :
(a)Transcribe the following sentences
(b)Give the weak forms of functional words therein
(c)Mark the syllable which receives the stress in content words and
(d)Identify the tune which should be use while speaking these sentences
- Why do you want to learn Spoken English ?
- The linguists are bad people , always on a look out for making life of people a tormenting hell.
- She’s an exceptional case.You should excuse her.
- They can swim better in the competition.
- Mrs Sonia Gandhi has a beautiful collection of cotton sarees.
- I bought a jacket, a jumper and three pairs of socks in the past four days.
- How often do you attend seminars ?
- They went to that exquisite place during summer.
- Who’s the cake for?
- She bought a canvass for Sneha and a robot for Taruna .
IIWhy is English called a stress - timed language ? Substantiate your answer with an example.
IIIGive the weak forms of the following words :
|References and Further Readings|
Abercrombie,D.Elements of General Phonetics.Edinburgh:Edinburgh University Press.1967.
PGCTE :Phonetics and Spoken English ,BLOCK-II : Intonation , Rhythm and Stress .Hyderabad: CIEFL . 1995
Elements of Pronunciation .Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.1985
Gimson,A.C.An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English .4th Edition.London:Edward Arnold.1989.
Jones , Daniel.Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary .Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.2003
O'Connor,J.D.Better English Pronunciation.London:ELBS.1970.
- Content Words :words which are essential for meaning making in a sentence ,such as, adjectives , adverbs , demonstratives,interrogative pronouns , nouns and main verbs .
- Functional Words:Words which are important to the grammar of a sentence rather than its meaning .
- Syllable :Any of the units in to which a word is divided , containing a vowel sound and usually one or more consonant sounds.
- Stressed :Pronounced with emphasis.
- Unstressed :Opposite of ‘Stressed’.
- Rhythm : A strong regular repeated pattern of sounds
- Weak Forms :Form used when there is no stress on the word .
|Answers to SAQs|
Answers to SAQ 1
- Rhythm is the regular and repeated occurence of sound or movement.
- Stress-timed rhythm and Syllable - timed rhythm
Answers to SAQ 2
- Five Examples of :
and Syllable-timed rhythm
Answers to SAQ 3
- The words in bold are stressed.
The villagers once noticed Mullah Nasruddin running towards them and he seemed very excited . 'Believe it or not . I have some excellent news today ,' Nasruddin said breathlessly. 'What is it ?' the villagers asked skeptically . 'Well , I met the king today and he spoke to me !' Mullah revealed . The villagers were suddenly impressed : 'That’s really great !And what did the king tell you ?' 'Well, the king seemed to be in a great hurry and couldn’t spend much time with me . But he said :’ Get out of my way , you stupid fool !' revealed Nasruddin.
Answers to SAQ 4
- The words in bold are unstressed.
The villagers once noticed Mullah Nasruddin running towards them and he seemed very excited. Believe it or not . I have some excellent news today ,' Nasruddin said breathlessly. 'What is it ?' the villagers asked skeptically. Well , I met the king today and he spoke to me !' Mullah revealed. The villagers were suddenly impressed : 'That’s really great ! And what did the king tell you ?' Well, theking seemed to be in a great hurry and couldn’t spend much time with me . But hesaid :’ Get out of myway , youstupid fool !revealed Nasruddin.
Answers to SAQ 5
- must məs(t)
- can kən
- was wəz
- were wə(r)