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Three-Syllable Window

In the large majority of monomorphemic non-native words, primary stress falls on one of the last three syllables. Stress placement therefore is assumed to be subject to the Three-Syllable Window, a principle stating that stress can only fall on one of the last three syllables of a word.

[+]General information and exceptions

Words demonstrating the effects of the principle of the Three-Syllable Window are (longer) loanwords (see Generalizations on the placement of primary stress in loan words). This is due to the fact that native words normally contain only one full vowel (which attracts stress). If a word has more than one full vowel, it usually is a loanword. Though the principle is almost exceptionless, some quadrisyllabic toponyms and Latin grammatical terms have preantepenultimate stress, which is at odds with the Three-Syllable Window. This is illustrated in (1):

Example 1

Wageningen ['va:.ɣə.niŋ.ən] Wageningen
Scheveningen [ˈske:.və.nɪŋ.ən] Scheveningen
Amerongen [ˈa:.mə.roŋ.ən] Amerongen
ynfinityf ['ĩ.fi.ni.tif] infinitive
akkusatyf ['ak.ky.sa.tif] accusative

Köhnlein (2014) argues that stress placement in place names like Wageningen and Amerongen (see (1)) is not an exception to the Three-Syllable Window, since many of these names are in fact synchronically complex and display the phonological behaviour characteristic of morphologically complex words, derived via suffixation or compounding.

Traditionally, the Three-Syllable Window is regarded as part of the synchronic phonology of Dutch (Kager (1989), Trommelen and Zonneveld (1989), Booij (1995)). The synchronic relevance of this principle, however, is questioned by Van Oostendorp (2012), in whose view the Three-Syllable Window may rather be regarded as a diachronic effect of loanword adaptation. Frisian loanwords are usually borrowed via Dutch; they are likely to have been adopted together with the Dutch stress pattern.

  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Kager, René1989A Metrical Theory of Stress and Destressing in English and DutchDordrechtForis
  • Köhnlein, Björn2014The morphological structure of complex place names: the case of Dutch
  • Oostendorp, Marc van2012Quantity and the Three-Syllable Window in Dutch word stressLanguage and Linguistics Compass6.6343-358
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1989Klemtoon en metrische fonologieMuiderbergCoutinho