Thursday, 8 December 2011

Stress in speech

I am on chapter 1! How exciting. It begins by saying that I have already achieved a great deal by being able to understand English well enough to read the sentence. Well that's a relief; I'd be a bit bummed if I realised at this point that the book really wasn't for me.
I am warned that the obviousness of what is about to be explained may give me a nosebleed, which leads me to wonder if English lessons were the reason for my frequent nosebleeds as a child. I always attributed them to hayfever, but maybe I was wrong.
The first section of the chapter is about how we speak, the stress we put on certain syllables and so on. I try reading the sentences putting a stress on every single syllable, which as Stephen points out, makes me sound like a computer. Try it! It's quite fun. And now I can list 'talking like a computer' as one of my skills on my CV.
Anyway.... I then learn that both the Chinese and Thai languages are monosyllabic, which means that all words are made up of only one syllable. If only the same could be said of Korean; I might just have learnt more than twenty words in an entire year.
In English, apparently we only stress important words, generally leaving unimportant ones such as pronouns and prepositions to melt into the background. I can't help feeling a bit sorry for them, as they are, after all, pretty important. 
I've been thinking for a while now that English is a pain in the butt language. One reasons is that there are so many words that are spelt the same, but pronounced differently and with completely different meanings.
An example Stephen gives is:
He proceeds to rebel
The rebel steals the proceeds
How is anyone learning English ever supposed to get to grips with these incredibly subtle but important differences?
Stephen talks briefly about the differences in stress between American-English and English-English. It's weird how over time we have just refused to be the same. Apparently in French (which I know nothing of except for how to ask for 'one baguette, please') each syllable is stressed equally. This has a great impact on French poetry, but Stephen doesn't feel it is important to go further into this, as it should be clear to the reader that the book is not going to be about writing in French. Another point at which, if you had misunderstood the purpose of the book you would be like, 'oh damn, now where did I put my receipt?'  

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