Stress in real time
The noun–verb stress contrast and the rhythmic context hypothesis in the history of English
This contribution reviews a series of studies by Kelly (and Bock), suggesting that stress preferences of English nouns and verbs for left-hand and right-hand stress patterns are partly a result of alternating rhythm in real utterances. This claim is tested on diachronic corpus data to verify its historical implications. By using verse evidence to calibrate stress values for historical word classes, the quantitative analysis confirms that distributional asymmetries regarding strong and weak syllables in the contexts of nouns and verbs have existed at least since Late Middle English. In addition, the claim that stem-final segments predict the likelihood of right-hand stress is not only confirmed but the effect is found to be independent of etymological origin.
Keywords: stress contrast, rhythmic alternation, Middle English, Early Modern English, statistical analysis, diachronic analysis, verse evidence, usage-based linguistics
Published online: 08 December 2020
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