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Rhymes and Rhythm

If we enlarge the phonetic notation it is easy to see which is the most common vowel sound in the weak,
unstressed syllables.
Morocco /rno'rnkao/ Amazon /'a:'mazall/
giraffe /d3a'ra:f/ Peter /'pi:ta/
]apan / d3a'pa:'ll/ Anthony /,a:'ntani/
Felicity /fo'lrsati/ rhinoceros /rai'nnsaras/
cigarette /,srga'ret/ elephant /'elIfant/ r /,elafant/
l

]emima /d3r'marma/ or /d3a'malma/ ]anet 'd3a:'nrt or /'d3a:'llat/


Wolverhampton /,wulva'ha:'mptall/
The most common sound by far is the one in blue. This is the vowel represented by the symbol Idl and it
is the only vowel important enough to be given its own name: schwa.

( Th~ schwa (sometimes spelled shwa) is not only the most common vowel s"oundin weak syllables; it i~:
i by far the most common vowel sound in the whole of the English system. Look at its distribution in
: the words above. It is found:
I- at the start of words, just before the main stress:
! e.g., Morocco, fapan, giraffe, Felicity
I
!. following main stress (sometimes twice in • o o words):
I e.g., Peter, Amazon, Anthony
- between secondary and primary stress:
e.g., cigarette, Wolverhampton
I ..
as an even shorter alternative to short III in fast versions of certain words:
I• e.g., ]anet, femima, elephant
l ._-----""._-"._-----_._-----------------_._"--~
Schwa is not just short, it is the shortest possible vowel in English. Listen to how little difference the
presence of schwa can make to a word.
Woids without schwa Words with schwa

Ił sport = /sP):t/ support /so'po.t,'


=


claps = /klzeps/ collapse = /ka'laips/
prayed /prerd/
= parade = /pa'rerd/
train = /trem/ terrain = /tC}'reln/
blow = /blau/ below = /ba'lou/
plight /plart/
= polite = /po'Iart/
Clyde = /klard/ collide = /ko'lard/
hungry = /'hAngri/ Hungary = /'hAngC}ri/
Britney = /'bntni/ Brittany = /bntani/

(Note "that there is no single ~~'Titten"vow~1


that:"corresponds to schwa. 50 there is no point in trying to ~
ilearn aU the possible written forms where the schwa sound can be found. :
l,Note aIso that schwa is not essential. But do try to make strong syllables more important than weak ones. )
. .

Task 5 Listen to the following words, all taken from page 4, and circle the syllables
containing schwa. (Note, not al! words contain schwa.)
grower yellow aloud hun te d forgive photo
Timothy Germany bananas workmanship tomorrow Elizabeth
Argentina photograph photography photographic

8
Part I Syllables, stress and rhythm

Primary and secondary stress


Listen again to the four-syllable words. In Alexander, vvolverhampton and Mississippi, those with the o o • o

I pattern, the first syllable sounds stronger than the second and fourth, but not as strong as the third.
Think of them as:
Alexd Ilder / Wolverhampton / MisSiSsippi
A similar thing happens in the case of three-syllable words with the o o • pattem, for example:
cigarette / chimpanzee / ]apaneSe / picturesque

It is not enough, then, simply to talk of syllables as being either stressed ar weak; with words of thre~
or more syllables it may be necessary to distinguish three degrees of stress:
primary, secondary and we ak (or unstressed)

• • o

·o.
So, in the case of these two patterns it might be better to show them as:
= secondary stress + weak + primary stress, and

J
(e.g., cigarette)
• o. o (e.g., Alexander) = secondary stress + weak + prim ary stress + weak'

Weak syllables and schwa


(As a general rule we can say that every syllable contains a vowel sound.' A second general rule is that
lthe shorter the vowel, the shorter and weaker the syllable.

Now let us take another look at some of the words already exarnined, this time concentrating on the
vowel sounds in the weak sylłables. To help us do this we will start to use phonetic notation, where one
symbol = one sound. This is because standard spelling often makes it difficult to see what the sounds

~
reallyare.
]anet .0.0 Janet I'd3~mt! or I'd3~ndt!
Peter
giraffe
]apan
o.o. Peter
giraffe
]apan
I'pi:td/
!d3d'ra:f!
!d3d'p~n!
elephant elephant l'elIfdnt ar I'eldfdnt!
• oo
Anthony Anthony I'~ntdni!
• oo
Amazon Arnazon l'~mdZdn/
• oo
Morocco 0.0 Mo I'Occo /me'rokao/
]emima 0.0 lemka !d3I'malmd/ ar /d3d'malmd/
cigarette • o. cigarette !,sIgd'ret!
Felicity o. oo Felicity /fd'lIsdti/
rhinoceros o. oo rhi Fl Oceros /rai'nosaras/
Wolverhampton • o. o Wolverhampton !,wulvd'h~mpt;::m!
Mississippi • o. o Missi SSippi /,mISI'SIpi! ar !,mISd'SIpi!

l The rules of stress cover words in isolation, in their dictionary form. In Part II we will see how stress may shift according
to word function.
2 The exception is in such words as curtain or bottle where Inl and II/ may act as 'syllabic consonants', with no need for a
preceding short vowel.

7
Rhymes and Rhythm

Listen to the words once more. Two words start with a weak syllable, the rest with a strong, stressed
syllable.
o • giraffe / r-pan
• o j anet / volga / car.na / peter

Do not be surprised that there are more of one pattern than the other; the vast majority of two-syllable
nouns (names included) have the stress pattern • o. (Aswe shall see later, most two-syllable verbs are
the other way round, having the pattern o •. )
With three-syllable words there are, of course, three possible parterns:
• o o = stress on 1st syllable
o • o = stress on 2nd syllable
O O • = stress on 3rd syllable
~---------------------------------------------------------------------------------/
Task 3 Listen to the three-syllable words from the list belowand complete the table placing
them according to their stress pattern.
Manchester / Anthony / Jemima / elephant / Morocco / Amazon

• oo o. o o o.

f.

• Yes,there was nothing in the third column. In fact there are very few o o • words of any sort. They
ten d to be either imports, such as cigarette and chimpanzee, or words such as [apanese and picturesque,
where the ending is so strong that it becomes the main stress.
Nouns with the o • opattern are quite rare too, unless they are derived from verbs (accountant /
allowance / believer / enquiry / excitement, etc.). And many of them, like Jemima and Morocco, are imports
ending in a vowelletter/sound; think about banana, tobacco, spaghetti, for example.

El; Task 4 Now listen to the four-syllable words, and complete the table as before.
iii Felicity / Afghanistan / Alexander / Wolverhampton / rhinoceros / Mississippi
Only two stress patterns are given, since it is rare for four-syllablewords to be stressed on the first ar last syllable.

6
Part I Syllables, stress and rhythm

II•
Listen to the following names. Then repeat each line, keeping to the same rhythm. CIap your hands, click
your fingers or tap on the desk to keep to the beat .

• •
Iane, Susan and Timothy.
• • •
Tirnothy, Susan and Jane.
Susan, [ane and Timothy. Iane, Timothy and Susano
Timothy, Jan e and Susano Susan, Timothy and Iane .

• •
recording
• pause
• •
.you
• pause

Iane, Susan and Timothy. (lane, Susan and Timothy)


Susan, Iane and Timothy.
Timothy, Iane and Susano
, (Susan, Jane and Timothy)
(Timothy, jane and Susan)
Timothy, Susan and jane. (Timothy, Susan and jane)
Iane, Timothy and Susano (lane, Timothy and Susan)
Susan, Timothy and Jane. (Susan, Timothy and Iane)

(It d~esn't matter tha~ ~~ ~h;;~-~~~~~~~ve diff~rent numbers of syllables. And it does~~~-matt~r i~--
I which order they are said. The time between the stressed syllables remains more or less the same,
i which me ans that the beat stays the same. .
i But we can only keep to the a E Twa THREE beat if we make sure that:
! a) the
!
stressed syllable is louder and Ionger than the others;
"b) the weak syllables are really weak.
. -- ---- ---- ---

Task 2 Complete the table using the words below according to the number of syllables.

Ann / elephant / Volga / Felicity / Spain / Wolverhamptón / Nile / rhinoceros / Alexander / Jemima /
japan / Amazon / bear / George / Cardiff / Ianet / Peter / Afghanistan / giraffe / Leith / Mississippi /
Anthony / Manchester / Morocco

1 syllable 2syllables 3 syllables 4 syllables

Cities Leith Cardiff Manchester Wolverhampton

Boys' names

Girls' names

Animals

Countries

Rivers

Where is the stress?


Listen to the following two-syllable words.
Ianet / Japan / Volga / giraffe / Cardiff / Peter
Each of them has, of course, one stressed syllable and one weak syllable. But which is which?
Which words have the stress pattern • o (with the stress on the first syllable)?
And which have the pattern o • (with the stres s on the second)?

5
Chapter 1
Syllables, stress and rhythm

How many syllables?


r c--- - _o. - __ - - __ - - - - - \
I AUwords consist of one or more syllables. In that first sentence, for example, the words aLI, words, 0(, I
!, one, or and more just have one syllable, consist has rwo, and syLIables has three. I
~- - -------_._- --------_. ._-- - _._-- --------- .- - ------_ .._---_ ...- - "--- -----_._--_.~
Listen to the folIowing words. The number of syllables is given at the beginning of each group.
(one) Jane / house / bIue / Spain / pears / grow / work / watch / watched / loud / hunt / give
(two) Susan / houses / yellow / japan / apples / grawer / working / watchfuI / aloud / hunted / decide /
forgive / photo
(three) Timothy / indigo / Germany / bananas / workable / workmanship / watchfulness / decisive /
decided / forgiven / tomorrow / cigarette / photograph
(four) Elizabeth / indecisive / Argentina / pomegranates / unforgiven / unworkable / photography /
photographic

Task 1 Decide how many syllables there are in each of the following words.

biology bridge ) strength photographer


watches unabridged ) sifpport jumped
jumpers policeman ) decided obeyed

The importance of stress


r: - -- ..- . -- - -_. -. - -- -
It is important to become aware of the number of syllables in a word. But if you want to speak English
I with the correct rhythm, there is something even more important. the place of stress. :

Ił ~sten ~o the fO!1~Wing sequence

Iane, Susan and Timothy.


The first name has one syllable, the second has two and the last has three. But onIy one syllable in each
word is heavily stressed. You can see this more clearly if we change the size of the written syllables,
according to their relative importance. So, imagine them as:
• • o • o o
J ane. SUsan and Timothy
J
Stressed syllables, such as ane, Su and Ti, are different from unstressed (sometimes called weak)
syllables in a number of ways. To start wit h, they tend to be both relatively loud and long; relative, that is
not only to any other syllables in the same word but also to unimportant words such as and.
The importance of stressed syllabIes in terms of rhythm can be shown if we change the order of the
sequence of names.