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Metrical Stress Theory . Julie Nelson, Cailey Moe, and Trang Nguyen. Metrical phonology is. ...a group of subtheories of generative phonology which attempt to categorize stress and stress rules.

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Metrical Stress Theory

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metrical stress theory

Metrical Stress Theory

Julie Nelson, Cailey Moe, and Trang Nguyen

metrical phonology is
Metrical phonology is...
  • ...a group of subtheories of generative phonology which attempt to categorize stress and stress rules.
  • ...differs from generative phonology in that it does not treat stress as a segmental feature pertaining specifically to vowels.
  • ...organizes stress into rhythmic hierarchies.
a brief history
a brief history...
  • ...metrical stress theory was a response to Chomsky & Halle's (1968) proposal of a linear analysis that stress is segmental.
  • ...Liberman (1975) created the theory in his doctoral dissertation
  • ...other major contributions: Liberman & Prince (1977), Halle and Vergnaud (1978), Hayes (1981,1984, 1995)
a brief history5
a brief history...
  • can be considered a sort of sister theory to auto-segmental theory
  • ...its authors sought to provide alternatives to generative theory such as rule variables
  • ...another way to represent stress in stress languages at the same time denoting its hierarchical characteristics.
briefly generative theories of stress
briefly,generative theories of stress
  • -Generative stress rules are linear and may be considered too simplistic by some
  • -Stress is treated as a segmental feature
  • [+stress], [-stress], [1stress], [2stress]
  • -Doesn't account for the hierarchical and relational properties of stress
a sample stress rule generative
A sample stress rule (generative)
  • Penultimate stress (vowel-counting version)
  • V → [+stress] / ___ C0 V C0 ]word
  • Assign stress to the second-to-last vowel in the word.
building syllables
Building Syllables
  • All syllables have:
  • An onset: "The consonant or sequence of consonants at the beginning of a syllable"
  • A coda:"The consonant or sequence of consonants at the end of a syllable"
  • And a nucleus:"The vowel or diphthong found at the syllable's core and functioning as its sonority peak"
syllable construction
Syllable Construction
  • When building syllables, first assign the nucleus!
syllable construction11
Syllable Construction
  • Next, attach any consonants to the following syllable:
syllable construction12
Syllable Construction
  • Finally, if necessary, attach any consonants not yet syllabified with the preceding syllable:
syllable construction14
Syllable Construction
  • In other languages, like Spanish, Onset Formation can cross word boundries:
syllable weight
Syllable Weight
  • Heavy Syllables:
  • End in a consonant (aka 'closed syllable')
  • Have a long vowel or diphthong (aka 'open')
  • Light Syllables:
  • End in a short vowel (open)
  • Syllables that end in a consonant are heavy, ones that end in a vowel are light.
more about syllables
More about syllables...
  • Every syllable must have a nucleus. Depending on the language, onset and coda are not required.
  • Arabic:Every syllable must have an onset
  • Samoan: codas are illegal
metrical theories of stress
Metrical Theories of Stress
  • A summary of the typological properties of stress:
  • Culminativity:
  • Every content word has to have at least 1 stressed syllable
  • In every word or phrase there is one syllable which is stronger than the rest
  • Stress is not usually assigned on grammatical words
  • Rhythmic distribution:
  • Syllables bearing stress tend to occur in roughly equal distances
  • Stress Hierarchies:
  • Some stresses are stronger than others within a word or phrase boundary (primary, secondary, tertiary stresses, etc.)
  • Non-assimilation
  • Stress doesn't assimilate like sound features like [round] or [front] do
metrical representations of stress
Metrical representations of stress
  • 1. Metrical tree (Liberman 1975, Liberman & Prince 1977, Hayes 1984)
  • Metrical trees usually have a similar format to syntactic trees
metrical representations of stress20
Metrical Representations of Stress
  • 2. Metrical Grid (Liberman & Prince, 1977)
  • Primary stress 
  • Secondary stress 
  • syllable  =>
  • 3. Bracketed Grid (Halle & Vergnaud, 1987)
grids continued
Grids, continued
  • Grids are ways to represent certain stress phenomena:
grids continued22
Grids, continued
  • Grids roughly correspond to the categorical levels of stress
  • In this way, they convey similar information to what can be found on trees
parameters of stress representation
Parameters of Stress Representation
  • 1. Foot Boundedness
  • 2. Foot Dominance
  • 3. Quantity-sensitivity
  • 4. Directionality vs Iterativity
1 boundedness
1. Boundedness
  • Motivated by culminativity and exhaustivity.
  • Culminativity: Every content word must have at least one stress.
  • Exhaustivity: Every syllable has to be organized into feet.
  • Bounded feetcan have no more than 2 syllables (feet are binary or degenerate at the syllabic level of analysis).
  • Unbounded feet can have any number of syllables.
  • Words with an odd number of syllables begin or end with a degenerate foot.
1 boundedness25
1. Boundedness
  • Ex: What types of foot are these?
2 foot dominance
2. Foot Dominance
  • Left dominance:
  • left nodes of feet are stressed
  • Feet are trochaic (a)
  • Ex: 'problem, ('holi)day,
  • ('alter)('nation)
  • 'what a ('failure)
  • Right dominance:
  • Right nodes of feet are stressed
  • Feet are iambic (b)
  • Ex: re'port,
  • (com'puter)
  • (ex'treme)mity
  • (My 'head) (was 'hot)
3 quantity sensitivity q sensitivity
3. Quantity Sensitivity (Q-sensitivity)
  • Syllable weight influences how stress feet are assigned.
  • Q-sensitive language: heavy syllables get stressed.
  • English is Q-sensitive:
  • Light penult: stress goes to preceding syllable.
  • Ex: 'Canada, 'metrical, 'visible, 'ultimate
  • Heavy penult: gets the stress
  • Ex: A'genda, ho'rizon, de'cided, 'mango
  • Q-determined (Obligatory Branching): means Q-sensitive, but with the extra requirement that the dominant syllable node be heavy.
3 quantity sensitivity q sensitivity28
3. Quantity Sensitivity (Q-sensitivity)
  • Q-insensitive language: heavy syllables may occur in stressless position. Another way of understanding: syllables are treated as having equal weight.
  • French is Q-insensitive. Examples anyone?
4 directionality vs iterativity
4. Directionality vs Iterativity
  • Directionality: The assignment of feet starts from the left and goes right or vice-versa
  • English likes right-to-left, trochaic foot formation.
  • Ex: restoration => resto('ration) => ('resto)('ration)
  • Iterativity
  • Iterativity (bidirectionality): assign a foot at one edge, then go to the other edge and assign feet iteratively.
  • Ex: Piro language
  • Non-iterativity: other cases (words have one single foot at the edge. Ex: monosyllable or bi-syllable words)
  • [X] does not conform to metrical rules & occurs at peripheral locations.
  • Ex: why is it as'paragus
  • but not ('aspa)('ragus)
  • 'gus' is extrametrical --> poor thing gets a degenerate foot (exhaustivity)
  • Tree construction is right to left and trochaic:
  • *
  • * * * * * * * < * > * (* *)< * >
  • asparagus => aspara<gus> => as('para)(gus)
  • More examples: ('visi)('bili)ty, re('peti)tive,
the future of metrical phonology
The future of metrical phonology
  • Can regularities be accounted for by transformational rules or by output constraints?
  • How does prominence in syllables affect stress in syllables?
  • Research in languages with ternary rhythm.
  • Hammond, M. (1995) Metrical Phonology. Annual Review of Anthropology
  • 24 (pp. 313-342)
  • Hayes, B. (1995). Metrical stress theory: Principals and case studies.
  • Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Hayes, B. (2009) Introductory Phonology. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing: West
  • Sussex, UK.
  • Hogg, R. & McCully, C.B. (1987) Metrical Phonology: A Coursebook.
  • University of Cambridge Publishing: New York, NY.
  • Kager, R. (1995) The metrical theory of word stress. In The handbook of
  • phonology, Goldsmith, J (ed.) (pp. 367-402) Blackwell Publishing: Cambridge,
  • MA
  • McCarthy, J. & Hayes, B. (2003) Metrical phonology. Linguistics department
  • faculty publication series. University of Massachusetts Publishing. Retrieved
  • from:
  • Metrical Phonology. (n.d) Wikipedia. Retrieved from