American English Rhythm and Stress
Rhythm is the musicality of English–the ups and downs, the connected speech and the linking of words, which together, change how we say sentences. Many students, though having fairly good control of sounds, still speak English in a way that it sounds choppy, foreign, or sometimes even not comprehensible. What makes their English speech unnatural? A major factor resulting in this is the improper English rhythm.
Many ESL students, may have a fairly good control of sounds and still speak English in a way that sounds choppy, foreign, and often not comprehensible to an American audience. What makes their English speech unnatural is improper English word stress and rhythm.
Rhythm comes from the combination of the three (or more) types of stress in American English:
1) Syllable stress in words (as discussed above)
2) Word stress in sentences
3) Timing of words and pauses
Ability to speak with rhythm is essential to powerful oratory and making your point clearly understood when you speak! It is an art form which can captivate the attention of your audience or bore them to contempt, depending on your mastery of stress, rhythm, timing and style. The more frequently speakers misuse stress, the more effort listeners have to make to understand what they say.
The sentence, I bought a car on Tuesday, is seven syllables long and the content words alternate with function words. We can easily tap our fingers on the table during each stressed syllable and hear that the taps are equally spaced on the verb (bought) and nouns (car and Tuesday) of the sentence. Only the first syllable of Tuesday is stressed because that is the normally prominent syllable of that two-syllable word.
A speaker can stress a word in any combination of the following three ways:
1. by slightly changing the pitch of the stressed syllable of the stressed word compared to the syllables around it
2. by saying the stressed syllable of that word for a longer period than normal
3. by saying the stressed syllable of that word louder than the surrounding syllables
I took a bus to the park.
I’ll build a fire in the fireplace.
Josh is reading a newspaper article.
The Rhythm Rule is more of a guideline than a rule because it is often not followed exactly. The main idea is that stresses in spoken English happen in regular intervals, or beats. The stressed syllables create the beats.
Later, I will write about the distinctions between Prose, Verse, and Poetry; I introduce the concepts here for the following illustration:
I like to think of words as abstract elements I use to form general ideas of objects and
concepts in the thinking of another.
I think of Pitch, Syllable stress, Word stress, Intonation, Timing of words, and Pauses as
my pallet of colors to fashion those general ideas of objects and concepts into exactly
what I want the listener to feel about those things.
American English Rhythm and Stress, is excerpted from my book, American English - Ready Set Go. These articles, written in simple easy to understand English, will give you a good foundation in understanding American English pronunciation.
Mentor Josephan P. Sterling
Are you ready to speak English or not!™