The topic of syllable stress in English is a difficult concept to teach, learn, or understand. Often it is an error that is not addressed at all. Why do teachers minimize it and learners avoid it? Why are researchers baffled by it? The rules to English syllable stress are unfathomable. Oh, there are rules, but when these rules are put together, there would be enough to write a one-thousand page book in very small font. Obviously a matter this complex is very difficult for everybody to comprehend and creates quite a cognitive load when we try to process stress rules that have been learned explicitly.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have discovered that stress usually only affects the comprehension of a word if the quality of the vowel is also affected. What does this mean? I for one have witnessed numerous times in English and French classes how misplaced stress causes a second-language speaker to be misunderstood. Continue reading